Five Questions - Kentucky

When Kansas and Kentucky square off tonight at famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, it will be a meeting not just of college basketball royalty, but of two top 15 teams. Phog.net takes a look at five questions the No. 11 Jayhawks will have to answer, if they are to leave the Garden with a victory.

1. Can Thomas Robinson stay out of foul trouble?

This one is the biggie. It's no secret the Wildcats are loaded - and we mean loaded - pretty much everywhere, but they feature a trio of elite talents down low in freshmen Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Terrence Jones.

Robinson is probably the most prolific talent of the four, but the reality Head Coach Bill Self will be unable to protect him on the defensive end against Kentucky as he will against virtually every other team on the schedule. The Wildcats simply have too many bullets in the chamber.

In the season opener versus Towson, Robinson drew two fouls before the first media timeout. Were they ticky tack? Yeah, and maybe they go uncalled in a game as high profile as this one.

But Robinson has to be smart defensively while still managing to be aggressive offensively. Whomever he's matched up with on D will undoubtedly seek to attack him from the get-go, and he'll respond in kind.

He is Kansas' most talented player, its best hope - not just for this game, but for the season. Robinson's best asset is his intensity - the carefully controlled fury with which he attacks the game.

Keep the fire stoked without letting it flare out of control, and he can swing things in Kansas' favor. Lose his head in the emotion of the moment - particularly in the early-going - and leave Jeff Withey, Justin Wesley and Kevin Young to fend for themselves? It could be a long night.

2. How will the rest of the front court hold up?

Let's face it - the post is easily the biggest question mark for Kansas in this game. Robinson is an elite talent but beyond him it's still far too early to determine what the Jayhawks are going to get from Withey, Wesley and Young this season.

To put it simply, they have to produce. The 6-foot-10 Davis is a projected Top 5 pick in the next NBA Draft - whenever it may be - and put up a double-double in last week's blowout victory over Marist.

In Withey, the Jayhawks have the rare player with the size and length capable of disrupting him. The potential issue is the Kansas junior's passive nature. In 18 minutes versus Towson, he scored 10 points and grabbed just four rebounds. That level of production is not going to cut it versus the Wildcats.

As for Young and Wesley, their best advantage is their athleticism. Wiltjer and 6-foot-11 senior Eloy Vargas may have them in skill, but the two Kansas forwards are far more explosive - quicker, faster, more bouncy. They need to find a way to use that to their advantage, as Young was able to do in the season-opener.

3. Can Kansas exploit the advantage Tyshawn Taylor represents?

No matter which Kentucky guard is matched up with the Kansas senior, the Jayhawks have the advantage - both offensively and defensively.

Wildcats freshman point guard Marquis Teague is an elite talent, a future NBA player. Not only is he inexperienced, however, but tonight he'll be matched up with as quick and athletic a point guard as exists in the college game - and a senior to boot. And while sophomore Doron Lamb is a heady, intelligent basketball player, he's not a dynamic athlete by any stretch of the imagination.

Taylor's ability to get into the lane will be one of the most potent weapons in the Kansas arsenal. Defensively, he'll need to bring the A-game Self believes he possesses. If he does, he's capable of single-handedly slowing the Kentucky attack, and taking significant pressure off the rest of the Kansas backcourt.

4. Who is going to guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?

At 6-foot-7 and 232 pounds, to say the freshman small forward is a matchup problem is...well...something of an understatement.

An outstanding athlete and competitor who excels at attacking the rim, there's no immediate, obvious answer for him on the Kansas roster. Travis Releford will likely get first crack but gives up a significant advantage in both height and weight. Young is another likely candidate, and at 6-foot-8 matches up much better from a height and length perspective - plus he's on Gilchrist's level athletically. But at 185 pounds, one has to think he's susceptible to being backed into the paint and posted up.

Shutting Gilchrist down completely is unlikely. Slowing him down is possible, and Kansas will need to find a way to do so; to keep him out of the lane and shooting jumpers.

5. Can Naadir Tharpe continue to be a steadying influence for the Kansas offense?

Self likes to talk a lot about the ball "sticking" in his half court offense - the less the better. Brady Morningstar excelled at keeping the ball from sticking, and thus far the freshman point guard has brought that same quality with him.

In the season opener, the offense didn't miss a beat when Tharpe stepped in. With the exception of the first 20 minutes of his college career - a turnover-filled exhibition with Pittsburg State - he's looked more like a seasoned veteran on the court than a wide-eyed freshman.

Of course, Kentucky represents a sharp incline in the degree of difficulty. If Tharpe is on his game, he, Taylor and Elijah Johnson can match the Wildcats in pure speed.

Keep the turnovers down, keep making smart decisions. That's the key.


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