After watching Kansas State dismantle newly-minted number one Kansas on Monday night, one unnerving thing was clear to KU fans.
What was it? A downright miserable performance from third-year starting PG Tyshawn Taylor.
Taylor, considered a viable NBA prospect since 2009, has been up and down for the Jayhawks during the 2010-2011 season. It’s seemed that every seven assist, 11 point, one turnover Taylor performance is followed by a game marred by careless turnovers, poor shot selection and a general look of discontent on the junior’s face.
Still, Monday night was undoubtedly the year’s low point for Taylor.
Challenged recently by coach Bill Self to step up defensively, Taylor drew the assignment of chasing and harassing preseason All-American Jacob Pullen around the floor. Putting it lightly, Pullen flat-out dominated him, scoring every way imaginable on his way to a career high 38 points on 9-17 shooting from the field, 5-6 from three-point range and 15-19 from the line.
Even worse than Taylor’s defensive effort, though? His play on the other end.
Playing in front of a hostile and angry Octagon of Doom crowd, the Jayhawks needed a calm, poised and effective offensive night from their lead man.
What they got was anything but.
Taylor finished with eight points, one assist and six mind-boggling turnovers, as seemingly every one came as Kansas tried to mount a valiant comeback effort. He was scared, intimidated and nervous all night long, and it showed in his on-floor effort.
Frankly, it appeared as though Taylor was playing his first high-profile road game rather than the 31st such contest of his discordant three-year career.
Is it possible Monday’s game was an aberration and Taylor could get back on track as Kansas enters postseason play? Sure.
But the mere possibility that he is capable of such an epic face-plant has Jayhawk Nation in a worried frenzy and has to give even coach Self—Taylor’s staunchest supporter—second thoughts as March approaches.
KU has enough versatile talent in the starting lineup and on the bench to make a drastic change to the perimeter rotation by limiting Taylor’s minutes. Brady Morningstar is a fantastic passer and reliable ballhandler, Elijah Johnson has loads of natural talent, Travis Releford offers size and athleticism that other Jayhawk smalls don’t and Selby was one of the nation’s top PG recruits.
Obviously, Self has options.
History indicates, though, that he won’t use them in fear of ruffling feathers this late in the season. Such stubborn rotations and an unwillingness to adapt has become a staple of Self’s coaching in recent years, though it's tough to argue with his incredible and consistent success since taking over at Kansas.
Such is the dilemma for fans when a coach is in the midst of the most successful run in Kansas basketball history.
With changes to playing time unlikely, Taylor must embrace the role he never has by accepting his fate as a role player. Let the Morris Twins, Selby and Robinson star while simply running the offense and making his mark defensively.
Pay no attention to NBA scouts and outside influences who believe he has elite ability as a scorer. Pick his spots with open jumpers and clear forays to the rim by capitalizing on the opposition’s attention to KU’s best players.
If he doesn’t, the Jayhawks could be in for another unnecessary exit in the NCAA Tournament, a prospect that would surely—and hopefully—disgust Taylor more than playing a diminished role and sacrificing some limelight.