Kansas Jayhawks: Spark Off the Bench Helps Jayhawks Overcome Inconsistencies

Peter HillCorrespondent IIDecember 14, 2010

Key Bench Players Thomas Robinson, Mario Little, and Travis Releford celebrate late game buckets
Key Bench Players Thomas Robinson, Mario Little, and Travis Releford celebrate late game bucketsEthan Miller/Getty Images

When college basketball rolled around this year, many experts considered the top teams to be Duke, Michigan State and yes, even Kansas State.

But the “young” Kansas Jayhawks have shown they can handle much more than they were expected to.

Starting the year as the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll seventh-ranked team and Dick Vitale’s fourth place Big 12 team without Josh Selby, the Jayhawks have moved their way up.

With the solid play of Tyshawn Taylor and the consistent dominance of the Morris twins, the Jayhawks have made their case early.

However, the role players of the team seem to provide the necessary spark and toughness that Bill Self loves off the bench. The emergence (or reemergence) of Mario Little, Travis Releford and Thomas Robinson gives diehard Jayhawk fans like me tons to ooze over.

Little and Releford come off redshirt years where only good outcomes were possible.

Mario Little showed his veteran poise and leadership by posting nine points and eight rebounds in a one-point win over Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins. But the on-ball defense, offensive skill set and being at the right place at the right time have been what make Little so solid off the bench. Refer to the UCLA game's closing seconds for Little being there when it mattered.

Travis Releford has shown great flashes of the local product that was so highly recruited to Kansas a few years ago. Like the UCLA game, where Kansas was dominated by one opposing player, Releford was able to show his capabilities of guarding a big-time player in Arizona’s Derrick Williams.

Releford provided 10 points, four rebounds and two steals in just 18 minutes of action in yet another big non-conference game. Throughout the season, expect Releford’s minutes to rise while he proves his spot in this rotation.

Thomas Robinson looks like an unstoppable force attacking the boards and basket. He most recently tore up Memphis on national TV for 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes. The way that Robinson plays with such high energy and aggressiveness will cement him in the rotation this season.

Robinson further shows why Self had such high expectations a year ago for the sophomore from Brewster Academy. As a Jayhawk fan I can’t wait to sit back and watch Robinson turn into a beast right in front of my eyes.

Free Throw Woes Continue

One concerning statistic the team currently carries around is a 63.8 team free throw percentage since the two exhibition games. That number does not even take into account the 58.1 percent the team shot against Colorado State in the local Sprint Center.

Although this has not hurt the team in terms of wins and losses, it certainly has not helped. “We have shot it awful,” Bill Self said in reference to the team’s recent woes.

Even though Self does not like it, he does not seem overly concerned, saying, “We have better shooters than we are shooting it.” Self went on to say, “I will tell everybody I’m not worried about it changing. I believe it will, but I’d just as soon it happen now rather than later.”

The eighth-year coach shows faith in his team for good reason. With the heavy balance of efficient guards and good shooting bigs like the Morris twins, the Jayhawks should have this curse reversed in no time. If not, you can expect this free throw shooting discussion to continue, and possibly haunt, the Jayhawks all year.