Musings from press row: UT-Arlington

A few thoughts and comments from KU's Wednesday night victory, in which we discuss the Jayhawks' current defensive issues, halftime entertainers, the inevitable emergence of a nine-man rotation and the beast-like nature of Thomas Robinson.

* Walking into the Fieldhouse about an hour and a half before tipoff last night, one might have thought it was a Top 5 opponent visiting Lawrence instead of UT-Arlington. The scalper activity outside before the game was just bonkers, and the old barn was filled to the rafters well before the starting lineups were announced.

No disrespect to the Mavericks at all, but I kept looking around and wondering what everyone else knew that I was missing. An old college buddy of mine was at the game with his wife, visiting home for the holidays, and he pointed out that there could have been a bunch of people like him – all eager to make the most of their one opportunity to see the Jayhawks live during the season.

Whatever the reason, I kind of wish some recruits had been in the stands. The match-up didn't have the punch of a primetime Big 12 tilt, but how many programs in the country can fill their arenas to bursting for a 5-5 team from the Southland Conference?

* Like I said before though, I honestly mean no disrespect to the Mavs. Kansas didn't outright win that game so much as they just wore UTA down with superior talent, athleticism and depth, which is something Jayhawks fans should find a little disconcerting. Coach Self seemed something more than frustrated with the team after the game, and wasn't shy in saying his team didn't play well.

The thing that stood out to me about the UTA guards was their quickness and patience. Their gameplan was to run the shotclock as long as possible before getting up a shot, and it looked like it drove KU's guards absolutely nuts.

I wondered after the game if this maybe isn't a team that simply can't be great defensively. Twenty-four hours later I'm not sure that's true. It may be that Kansas lacks the ability to be a great interior defensive team (although I hold out hope), but there's just no reason this team shouldn't be positively smothering on the perimeter. Johnson, Selby, Taylor, Reed, Morningstar and Releford (Easily the best defender on the floor for KU last night) all have the ability to be good defenders – maybe even great. But for whatever reason it's just not clicking.

It doesn't appear to be a physical issue, because there were way too many frustrated shakes of the head after poor rotation left a man wide open on the back side. This is technical stuff, which means the light can still go on. Kansas fans need to hope it does, and in a hurry.

* Thomas Robinson is like a great rock band. As much fun as he is to watch on TV, he's so much better live.

The guy plays with an attitude and intensity beyond anyone else on the team; that much is blatantly obvious. What isn't so obvious is the sense of barely controlled fury he radiates when he's on the floor. It's not anger, although the Cal game showed he's not afraid to mix it up when provoked. It's more...well, it's tough to describe.

He just flat-out wants the ball more than anyone else, on either team. And it wouldn't matter if Kansas were playing Duke or UCONN or whoever. He rebounds with an intensity I haven't seen at Kansas in a long time, and it's really fun to watch.

As Self said after the game, he's our best big right now. I don't think it's really even that close either.

* The halftime entertainment succeeded in being entertaining, which isn't always the case. The guy was dressed like he belonged on-stage in Branson, Mo., and worked a makeshift tightrope routine.

It was a nice distraction for 10 minutes, but it did get me wondering: How does one get into that line of work? Josh Klingler of 610 Sports posited that it had to be an inherited position, and that certainly seems like the most logical explanation.

I just can't see anyone deciding one day to be a tightrope walker dressed as a flamboyant country musician, without some sort of family or childhood tie. Regardless, the dude was a great showman and probably has a lot of fun in his gig. More power to him.

* As I'm sure came through reading the post game quotes and listening to the presser, Self's frustration with the lack of talent separation on this team is palpable. He's right, there should be leaders at this point. We should know who this team's best players are, but it seems to change from game to game.

I do think the eventual nine-man rotation is starting to emerge. When it comes down to it, we'll see Selby, Reed, Taylor, Johnson, Morningstar, Releford, the Twins and Robinson getting the bulk of the PT.

Releford is the really interesting piece. He's functioning as the fourth big most of the time, but if I'm not mistaken (Haven't re-watched the game) when he was in KU typically ran a four-out-one-in offense that placed him on the wing.

He complicates things because I think he's the Jayhawks' best perimeter defender – but he's also probably the second-best post defender at worst. Which should say a lot about the struggles the Morris Twins are having in that regard this season. Releford is at a serious size disadvantage, but he's learning to use his quickness and athleticism to make up for it. I like that a lot.

* If Elijah Johnson continues to play like this, it's going to be hard to keep him off the court. I think what will happen is that Brady will get pushed to the fifth spot and play somewhere in the realm of 15 minutes a game.

Those wishing for his complete banishment are going to continue banging their heads against the wall. Self continues to state the value of playing smart basketball, and most of the time that's Brady. This team is exceedingly wild offensively – or can be anyway – so I could see Self bringing him in when things start going south to calm the waters a bit, make a few entry passes, get the gameplan back in motion and then pass over the reins until the next fire pops up.

EJ is making a really strong case for himself. He looks confident with the ball, still has the best overall court vision on the team and is nailing open threes at an astonishing clip. Couple that with his size and athleticism, and if he is coming into his talent at last, it's going to make KU that much more tough to beat come March.

* This just in: Josh Selby is human. Despite his poor shooting performance (Several shots seemed as if they were halfway down before bouncing back out), he still managed to create offense for others – as Self noted after the game.

* There are very few times during which I would not like to be a member of the KU basketball team for a few days. The coming week is one such stretch. I don't think practices are going to be very fun. At all.


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