Five Questions - Towson

Well, the 2011-2012 season has at last officially arrived in Lawrence, Kan. – or will at 7 p.m., once tonight's contest with Towson University tips off on James Naismith Court. Phog.net highlights a few story lines one might want to keep an eye on this evening, as another year of Kansas Jayhawks basketball gets underway.

1) How will Tyshawn Taylor react now that this is -ostensibly - his team?

At a minimum, the mercurial senior point guard will share leadership duties with junior Thomas Robinson, so there's no doubt many of this team's hopes for success rest on the shoulders of the 6-foot-2 point guard from Hoboken, N.J.

It's what he's wanted for three years now. At times, Taylor has appeared to struggle with finding his role on floor. Was he supposed to be a distributor? A scorer? He deferred to Sherron Collins for two years, but was he also supposed to defer to Xavier Henry and Josh Selby? Where did he fit?

His role is no longer a question. Taylor is the key component in the Kansas backcourt this season. His explosiveness with the ball and ability to knife through opposing defenses - an ability which he took to another level toward the end of last season - will be one the Jayhawks' most potent offensive weapons, and Head Coach Bill Self expects him to do it plenty.

Will there be any rust after the two-game exhibition suspension? If so, can he rid himself of it completely before next week's highly-touted showdown with Kentucky in New York?

2) Can Elijah Johnson diversify his game offensively?

Last season, the ultra-athletic junior essentially served two purposes for the Kansas offense – he used his ridiculous hops to catch alley-oop dunks of which no one else on the team was capable, and he hit open three-pointers.

Some may be surprised to learn that Johnson was actually one of the team's most dangerous shooters from beyond the arc last season, hitting 40-percent of his attempts.

Fans have been salivating over this backcourt combination for two years, and it's easy to understand why. With great size and elite level athleticism, if both Johnson and Taylor are running on all cylinders they're going to be a tough combination for anyone in the country to match from a pure talent perspective.

But the reality is this Kansas team has fewer obvious weapons than perhaps any during Self's tenure on Naismith Drive, and it needs Johnson to be more than just a spot-up shooter and dunk machine.

Can he use all of his strength and speed to beat his man off the dribble more? Can he use those opportunities to set up others? Can he get to the free throw line with greater frequency?

He's the team's starting shooting guard but also the backup point, and on the rare occasions when he's on the floor without Taylor, he has to be able to assume that role. If he can, it will not only elevate his own game to another level, it will make the Jayhawks that much tougher to beat.

3) How's the knee, T-Rob?

It sure looked totally fine Tuesday night - despite being not yet 100-percent - as the junior power forward logged an effortless double-double and did a little bit of everything.

All indications are that he's healing just fine, and the injury was minor enough to begin with. But there's probably no single limb right now in the country more important to a team's fortunes than the slightly hyperextended one attached to Robinson's leg.

His presence gives Kansas one of the top big men in the nation - a dynamic scorer, relentless rebounder and match-up nightmare for any team in the country. With Kentucky looming, another foot loose and fancy free performance from him tonight would be an excellent final test before next week's game at Madison Square Garden.

4) Can Naadir Tharpe stay sharp?

With Johnson and Taylor on the bench for the exhibition portion of the season, the freshman from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. was thrust unexpectedly into a major, major role during the first two games of his college career.

And, somewhat surprisingly, he responded like a veteran. Yes, he turned it over seven times in his first half of play. He then proceeded to protect the ball like a veteran, turning it over just four times during the next 60 minutes of game clock.

Not only that, but he dropped dimes like a change machine and provided an unexpected scoring punch. In Tuesday's exhibition finale versus Fort Hays State, he scored 19 points and canned a pair of three-pointers, the last of which even drew a wry smile from the typically-serious Self.

But there's a different flow to a game for starters compared to the other players in the rotation. Tharpe was thrown into the fire and a starting spot early, and thoroughly doused the flames.

Can he maintain that high level of play when inserted at, say, the 14 minute mark of the first half? Or when his minutes are cut from 30 to somewhere in the realm of 15-20?

5) This isn't a trap game, right?

This is probably of little real concern, as the Fieldhouse will be packed and rocking, and both Johnson and Taylor will be frothing at the mouth to get on the floor and show what they can do.

Even so, it's easy to overlook a seemingly weaker opponent when a huge game of national significance looms - which is exactly what the Jayhawks have facing them in Kentucky.

Can they duck the first-game jitters, avoid overlooking Towson and just take things one step at a time? This is where Johnson, Robinson and Taylor can make their presence felt as leaders, and show the newcomers and less experienced among them how a top-flight team takes care of business on its home floor.


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