Kansas Basketball: Power Ranking This Year's Most Important Jayhawks
At the beginning of last season, you had to get in line to start doubting the Jayhawks. It was understandable, given that Bill Self and his staff were were in the unenviable position of needing to replace Marcus and Markieff Morris in addition to a whole host of graduating seniors.
Even the ever-optimistic Kansas faithful were tempering their expectations and preparing for a "down year" in Lawrence.
Alas, Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and Co. showed everyone why you shouldn't doubt a Bill Self squad.
Still, with Robinson and Taylor gone for the NBA, surely now is as good a time as any to start doubting these guys, right?
I'm not biting. Bill Self is simply too good a coach to let his team slip terribly far. More importantly, Self is one of the best in college basketball at cultivating talent and turning young recruits into smart and well-rounded basketball players.
So who will come up big for the Crimson and Blue this year?
Without further ado, here are the most important players for the Jayhawks as they look to make another improbable run through March.
8. Justin Wesley
Of the Jayhawks to see action in both of the year's first two games, Justin Wesley has seen the least amount of time.
At first it's baffling, the 6'9" Wesley has great size and even better length.
Unfortunately, the brother of former Jayhawk great Keith Langford just seems to get lost in the shuffle when he does see extended minutes.
Bill Self will surely look to develop Wesley as the season progresses given that he has all of the tools to be a great rebounder and a force defensively.
7. Naadir Tharpe
A 5'11", Naadir Tharpe is usually going to be the smallest guy on the court. That doesn't stop the Massachusetts native from playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Tharpe is a good shooter and a great ball-handler, but he struggles to find his teammates and he can be a liability against bigger, stronger guards.
As the season progresses, look for Tharpe to see mostly spot duty where he can give Bill Self a spark off of the bench when needed.
6. Jamari Traylor
At 6'8" and 220 pounds, Jamari Traylor has the size to add quality depth to an already solid Jayhawk front-court. If his performance against the Spartans was any indication, he may have the skill to do so as well.
Traylor collected four rebounds, had three blocks, and stole the ball twice in a solid defensive effort against a good Michigan State team that features a number of quality bigs.
If the redshirt freshman can continue to progress offensively, he will earn himself more minutes and please many a Kansas fan.
5. Travis Releford
At this point, we all know what to expect from Travis Releford: exceptional perimeter defense, highlights in transition, and strong team play. That's it. No less, no more.
Coming into Kansas the 6'6" guard was expected by some to become the next great Kansas scorer. While Releford possesses the phenomenal first step to make this happen, his shot never developed and defenders have played a step off of the senior since he arrived on campus.
Releford will continue to be a leader and a solid contributor on a nightly basis, but at this point he can't be expected to lead a Jayhawk run in March.
4. Jeff Withey
This is the one I catch heat for. Jeff Withey's defense was one of the key factors in last year's run to the National Championship game and the big man is expected to be a catalyst for Jayhawk success this season.
So why the low ranking? Because we know what we are getting with KU's man in the middle. Withey has embraced a more active role on the offensive side of the ball early this season as his shot attempts per game have almost doubled since last year.
But this won't last.
As Self's freshman settle into their roles and Elijah Johnson learns to control the point, Withey's offensive touches will become less and less frequent.
Please don't misunderstand me, Jeff Withey is the best player on this team right now. But if the Jayhawks are still dancing in April, it will be because someone else on this list stepped up.
3. Ben McLemore
Ben McLemore's introduction to the world of college basketball was less than ideal. Yet, after sitting out all of last season due to ineligibility, McLemore seems to be ready to turn things around this season.
In two solid games to begin the year, McLemore has shown poise that is rare in a player of his age. Jayhawk fans can credit a full year on the practice squad under Self that has clearly helped the redshirt guard become acclimated to the college game for that.
A 14-point performance against the Spartans proved the 6'5" guard can translate practice-squad reps into success on the big stage.
Even more impressive, McLemore has done his damage without taking the bad shots that are so often forced by young players of his caliber. If Kansas puts together another great year, look for Ben McLemore's efficient scoring to be a big reason why.
2. Elijah Johnson
As you'll learn if you read many of my articles (please do by the way), I value the point guard position above all others. For this Kansas team, the position will be particularly crucial.
Well-documented is Elijah Johnson's athletic ability and general offensive prowess. Playing primarily off of the ball a season ago, Johnson was able to create shots for himself first, his teammates second.
This year, that must change.
The Jayhawks can surround Johnson with a number of quality offensive options and if the senior guard can find a balance between his own rhythm and creating for others, the Jayhawks will find great success.
If not, things could go south in a hurry.
1. Perry Ellis
The most hyped in-state recruit since Wayne Simien will be the X-factor in Lawrence.
Perry Ellis is as polished as freshmen big men come. If he's ready for the big stage he can be the leader of another special Kansas season. Following a solid debut, Ellis regressed a bit in his first game against quality competition in Michigan State.
Such inconsistency is typical in young players and shouldn't be of concern until it becomes a trend. I would look for Bill Self to use this early setback as a teaching opportunity for his young forward.
With that being said, this ranking is really quite simple. Ellis is a 6'8" forward with great length and mobility to go along with a wonderful motor. He possesses a deadly face-up game and he's a match-up problem for both bigger and smaller players.
Simply put, if Kansas enjoys great success this year, the season will have Ellis' fingerprints all over it.
That's it. Who was too high? Who was too low? Let me know what I messed up and what I got right.