Kansas Basketball: 5 Biggest Roadblocks to the Big 12 Title
Power-conference schools typically face a grueling schedule of deep rosters, seasoned coaches and nonstop travel in search of a conference title.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Big 12, Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks have repeatedly brushed aside those roadblocks along with internal concerns of thin rosters, unproven underclassmen and positional inconsistency to win eight straight Big 12 titles and one national championship.
Self has also won three National Coach of the Year awards, justifying his reputation as one of the five best coaches in the game.
As we enter the 2012-13 conference schedule, there remains five particular roadblocks that could prevent Self and Kansas from adding a 56th conference title to the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.
Ben McLemore's Early Foul Trouble
Ben McLemore's value as a dynamic scorer on the offensive end is unquestioned and maybe unparalleled in the Big 12.
In order to maximize this value, he must stay on the court. In order to stay on the court he must avoid foul trouble. It's quite simple.
Prior to the Temple game, the redshirt freshman is averaging 29.3 minutes and an adequately respectable two fouls per game However, those two fouls have typically come at or near the second TV timeout of the first half—if not before, as was the case in their 89-57 victory over American when McLemore picked up two fouls in the game's first three minutes.
In order to successfully exploit the expected defensive matchups in conference play, Kansas must keep Ben McLemore on the floor for a minimum of 30 minutes per game, but in order to do so, he cannot commit foolish early reach-ins on the defensive end.
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart
As a 6'4" versatile combo guard, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart is going to present matchup problems, and it will likely be no different in Kansas' two meetings with the Cowboys in 2013.
While his field-goal shooting has been subpar due to a horrific shooting percentage from beyond the arc (28.1), the blue-chip recruit has still found ways to shred opposing defenses.
The Jayhawks' best defender, Travis Releford, matches up extremely well with Cowboys' small forward Le'Bryan Nash, but without another elite defending guard, Bill Self might need to hope for another off shooting night for Smart.
Travis Ford's No. 22 ranked squad has been given cautious confidence to contend in the Big 12, but regardless of the conference standings when the Jayhawks roll into Stillwater, Marcus Smart could be a major roadblock in preventing KU from securing a much-needed road win as they look to separate themselves from the Big 12's contenders.
January 19th Through February 11th
Including Kansas, the Big 12 has three teams currently nationally ranked, therefore there isn't one game on the Jayhawks' Big 12 schedule that can guarantee them their ninth-straight conference title.
However, a tricky eight-game stretch from January 19th through February 11th features five away games and three ranked opponents.
This is not a gauntlet of Top 10 teams, but two rival games with the feisty Wildcats of Kansas State along with trips to Austin, Morgantown and Norman present ample opportunities for fellow Big 12 contenders to close the gap.
Bill Self's Ability to Successfully Juggle Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson
Bill Self was left without a true point guard entering the 2011-12 season, but that worked out pretty well as Tyshawn Taylor swooped up a First Team All-Big 12 selection in leading the Jayhawks to the national title game.
As Taylor departed via graduation, he was once again left without a true point guard, or at least an established one.
The transition to full-time point guard for senior combo guard Elijah Johnson has not gone particularly smoothly, but his improvement in offensive efficiency as of late, along with the emergence of sophomore Naadir Tharpe, has left room for optimism.
Self has done a fantastic job of juggling his point duo of Johnson and Tharpe thus far, but he must continue to improve his rotation in order to flawlessly run his pass-heavy offense.
Consistency at Power Forward
Power forwards Kevin Young, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis arrived in Lawrence with vastly different games and vastly different expectations, but have each provided a unique energy to a title-contending Kansas squad.
None of the three average over 20 minutes per game, but they collect 15.5 of the team's 39 RPG while playing within the confines of their game and expectations.
However, each have had foul trouble during the non-conference schedule, particularly on the offensive end with poor screens or over-aggressive efforts for loose balls.
This power forward trio must provide consistent minutes on both ends of the floor against the deep Big 12 rosters while also understanding their role.