The Kansas Jayhawks are 27-2, ranked second in the country, arguably the most statistically impressive team in college basketball and will gain a record seventh straight Big 12 title if they win just one of their remaining two regular season games . Despite those rare and gaudy accomplishments, there's been a season-long aura of unpredictability and the slimmest of doubt surrounding coach Bill Self's squad.
Why? Lethargic second halves and an unsteady perimeter rotation withstanding, the primary reason for worry among the citizens of Jayhawk nation have been consistent player injuries and suspensions.
It started out when ballyhooed freshman Josh Selby was kept from the season's first nine games for taking impermissible benefits in high school. PG Elijah Johnson was suspended for two of those contests as well for violating team rules.
Shortly thereafter, senior F Mario Little was held out for a month due to a run in with law enforcement. As he returned, reserve wing Travis Releford tweaked an ankle, missed several games and took longer than expected to heal. Worst, impact reserve big Thomas Robinson lost three immediate family members within as many weeks and missed two Big 12 match-ups.
Finally, Tyshawn Taylor—a third year starter—was suspended ten days ago for an undisclosed violation and reinstated on March 1st by the coaching staff. Not to mention that both Selby and Robinson weren't a part of three KU wins in February due to minor injuries.
Bill Self, coach of a team as impressive as any in college basketball this season, has had the full Kansas roster at his disposal in a mere two games this season: a 90-66 home blowout over rival Kansas State and a 22 point stomping of Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Obviously, that the Jayhawks have had almost no time at full strength this year is a scary thought for the college basketball world. Despite the year's rash of untimely injuries and mysterious suspensions, KU has been a fixture at or near the top of the polls, ranking outside the country's top five only once since passing that threshold in the fourth week of the season.
More impressive than that though, is the team being among the country's leaders in a breath of statistical categories. Kansas is currently second in RPI, third in guru Ken Pomeroy's team ratings and first in assists per game and field goal percentage among other team metrics. This is a squad that is arguably the country's best on offense and—despite grumblings from fans of otherwise—still one of its elite on the other end of the floor.
Without Selby, Robinson, Taylor or anyone else, Kansas could play big. They could play small. They could run you of the gym. They could bog you down in the half-court. They could light it up from the outside. They could dominate on the interior. It didn't seem to matter the manner in which they played, but the Jayhawks won most every time they took the floor and as much as any other team in college basketball.
Tonight—senior night at Allen Fieldhouse—KU will play just their third game of the 2010-2011 season at 100 percent. No suspensions, no injuries. With postseason play right around the corner, the timing couldn't be more perfect.
At full strength, is Kansas the country's best team?
Of course, with a finally full roster come questions. How will Taylor fit back into the rotation? Will Selby continue to come off the bench? Will Kansas go big with the Morris Twins and Robinson more often now that it's March? Does Releford have a meaningful role going forward? There's an infinite number of queries facing Self and his staff.
Still, Kansas' head man no doubt prefers trying to find the right answers than go into his team's "real" season with the KU cupboard anything but full, because this team—even missing an integral part or two—is an NCAA Tournament contender. At full strength? They could be its consensus favorite.