There isn't another player in all of college basketball that impacts the game at both ends of the floor as much as Kansas' senior center, Jeff Withey, does.
A seven-footer with soft hands who attacks the basket, Withey had emerged as the Jayhawks' second-leading scorer this season, dropping just over 14 points per game on 57 percent shooting from the field on the opposition.
He's not as adept at cleaning the glass as you might think a seven-footer would be, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game—a number that leads Kansas but ranks 78th nationally—but Withey has a nose for the ball.
That keen sense of smell becomes more noticeable when Withey is defending the basket.
His five blocks per game and 55 blocks on the season both rank second in the nation, trailing only St. John's Chris Obekpa in both categories. But numbers only tell part of the story when you're talking about Withey and his impact on defense
He changes everything for Kansas when the Jayhawks are on defense.
That point wasn't lost on Creighton's color man, Nick Bahe, who jumped on Twitter shortly after watching Withey's performance against No. 9 Ohio State last week (via Twitter):
You almost need to watch Jeff Withey live to fully appreciate how amazing he is defensively. He blocks or alters almost everything. #ku— Nick Bahe (@NickBahe) December 22, 2012
It was never more clear than in that Ohio State game.
Even when the Buckeyes got into the lane cleanly on pick-and-rolls, none of them wanted anything to do with Withey in the paint.
When we looked at the keys for Kansas to beat Ohio State before the game, one of the things we looked at was the Jayhawks' ability to keep Buckeyes' guard Aaron Craft out of the lane.
Withey did that single-handedly.
As Craft was able to get into the lane off of pick-and-rolls and break down the Jayhawks' perimeter defenders, he wanted no part of Withey, who was there to meet him every time.
Instead of attacking the basket, Craft would kick the ball out to Ohio State's three-point shooters. It wasn't every once-in-awhile either, Craft was doing this literally every time that he got into the lane.
Craft may have had better luck trying to get the best of Withey, as Ohio State shot less than 26 percent from behind the arc (8-of-31) in a losing effort.
That's the kind of impact that Withey has on defense. He forces teams to play away from the basket, and with the jump shot becoming more of a lost art, that only helps Kansas' chances in every game that the team plays.
Withey isn't the best center in the country, nor is he the best player on his own team—that honor falls to freshman phenom Ben McLemore, a player that ESPN's Chad Ford was quick to put in the same class as another Jayhawks' great (via Twitter):
Moved Ben McLemore into the Top 5 on our Big Board. Best NBA prospect KU's had since Paul Pierce. insider.espn.go.com/nba/draft/resu…— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) December 23, 2012
So how can I sit here and say that Withey is the most important piece of the Jayhawks puzzle?
While McLemore is far more than a scorer (he's an excellent defender as well), scoring is replaceable.
There's no replacing what Withey brings to the table.
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team