Self surprised by pre-season ranking
In the past, Head Coach Bill Self has always said the coaches know more than the media, but at Thursday's local Media Day press conference he jokingly wondered if that was still the case.
Earlier in the day it was announced the league's coaches had picked the the Jayhawks as the pre-season favorite in the Big 12, a spot they shared with Texas A&M, despite losing so much production from last season's league championship squad. Gone are Marcus and Markieff Morris, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little and Josh Selby.
"We've kind of gone into the season with tempered expectations, to be honest with you," Self said. "I've tried to do that with our fans a little bit, which I think is accurate. It's not coach-speak. But I think it speaks volumes to how well some of these guys and certainly how players in the past have performed here during league play."
"We're kind of in this situation where people expect us to be decent," he added. "And we won't shy away from that."
Defense more important than ever
Last season, with all the firepower at their disposal the Kansas Jayhawks were simply able to outscore most of their opponents en route to victory, even on night's when their historically strong defense wasn't up to snuff - nights which were few and far between.
With the vast majority of that scoring punch no longer suiting up in Crimson and Blue, Self said this team will have to be elite defensively in order to maintain the standard of success set by previous teams.
"We have to be not good, we have to be great defensively," he said. "If we're able to accomplish that, that's going to be something that I really feel like will give us a chance to have a really good season. If we're not great defensively, I don't see that we'll have the firepower to just outscore folks night in and night out. And that's not being negative, that's being very factual."
Taylor, who showed tantalizing flashes of his ability last season, is one Self believes can be as good defensively as any guard in the country, and Releford isn't far behind.
Releford hasn't had the same opportunity for playing time Taylor has in the past three years, but Self believes he has all the tools to make himself an elite defender - athleticism, strength, lateral quickness, instincts and familiarity with the system.
But the biggest factor in Self's mind may be his toughness.
"People say this all the time, that it takes talent to play offense but anybody can play defense," he explained. "That's not necessarily true. But Travis is one of those guys that I think has the talent to be a really good defender, maybe potentially a great defender – if he wants to be."
Robinson, Taylor ready to lead
For three years, Tyshawn Taylor has had to wait his turn to lead - first behind Sherron Collins and then behind the Morris Twins.
Now, it's his chance to "carry the water." Well, his and that of teammate Thomas Robinson.
While neither has ever had to shoulder the load of responsibility during crunch time, Self believes his veteran leaders are up to the challenge.
It's a different kind of pressure, he said. In the past, when Robinson didn't play particularly well one of the Twins could always be substituted back in. Now, win or lose, he'll be the first one facing the microphones in the post-game.
"I think Thomas, in large part he and Tyshawn will be the ones shouldering that this year," Self said. "I think that will be different. He's very capable, but that is a different role."
As important as Robinson is to Kansas' success this season, Taylor May be even more so.
"He said he wanted it and now he's got it," Self said, of his senior floor general taking a leadership position. "And now we'll see how he reacts to it. But all indications are to me and to our staff that he's well on his way to doing a great job with it."
Newcomer Kevin Young a potential "huge impact" guy
A 6-foot-8, 200-pound combo forward, Young transferred to Kansas from San Bernardino (CA) Community College after playing two seasons at Loyola Marymount.
A high-octane player and an outstanding athlete, Self sees him as someone who could factor heavily into the Jayhawks' plans right away. Not completely a post or a win, he'll likely be used in a variety of roles during this, his junior campaign.
"We don't have a whole bunch of big guys, so now he's going to have to play inside some and on the perimeter," he said. "So he's going to have to kind of be a jack of all trades for us, but that's kind of who he is. But he's a high-energy guy, he's a great kid. He's just got to get comfortable basketball-wise, but I think he's going to be a huge impact for us."
Robinson's workload set to increase in a big way
Last season, Thomas Robinson averaged 14.6 minutes per game. This season, he's probably going to play...well...slightly more.
"We don't need to take him out that much," Self said. "If we could keep him out of foul trouble and he'll play aggressively, he's a guy that he's in good enough shape he should play 32-35 minutes a game."
In order to get to that point, however, conditioning is going to be the key.
"What he's gotta do is get in great shape," Self noted. "Because through lack of conditioning comes carelessness, comes lack of discipline, comes fouling. And all of a sudden you've just put your team in harm's way of not winning."
Withey a potential defensive force
Not that the Kansas perimeter players have ever been anything less than stellar defensively under Self, but during his two years as a starter Cole Aldrich managed to clean up just about every mistake they did make with his pterodactyl-esque wingspan and shotblocking abilities.
They're abilities Self sees within junior center Jeff Withey, who figures to play major minutes for the first time in his career.
"I think Jeff, he has the potential to lead the league in blocked shots if he plays enough minutes," he said. "We should be a better rim protector than we were last year."