As No. 13 Kansas prepares for its season-opener against Towson this Friday, it will have to play another Division II foe in an exhibition matchup first.
As some people worried what this team would look like last week without its three standout players, relief came as new Kansas Jayhawks showed some potential to take care of business.
In last week's exhibition game against Pitt State, KU saw the emergence of sharpshooter Conner Teahan, big man Jeff Withey and freshman point guard Naadir Tharpe. While other players such as Travis Releford and newcomer Kevin Young showed promise as well, one can only imagine the boost that Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson will give Kansas.
As reported by KUSports.com, Thomas Robinson—who missed last week's game due to a hyperextended left knee—will be active tonight against the Tigers. Taylor and Johnson will sit out again due to a violation of team rules. Both players are expected to be suited up for the season-opener on Friday.
As always, fans and critics will be watching to see how the young and thin Kansas will handle itself against an inferior opponent in the Fort Hays State Tigers. The Jayhawks have won 38-straight exhibition matchups dating back to 1995 and would like to extend that number to 39.
Although most Kansas fans won't worry, I'll reiterate again that Kansas needs to take this game as seriously as any other. This season, the Arizona Wildcats and West Virginia Mountaineers have lost to Division II opponents. That said, I wouldn't worry too much about Bill Self having his boys ready to play this evening.
If you're watching the game tonight, keep your eyes open for a few things.
The dominance of Thomas Robinson. As we saw last season, T-Rob is one of the strongest and most athletic big men in the country. Not only has his skill level progressed, but the 6'9" junior forward impressed NBA scouts and players all over the country this summer at basketball camps and clinics. Suiting up for his first game since hyperextending his knee in practice a few weeks ago, Robinson will get the start tonight but will have his knee in a brace. His minutes may be limited, but I can guarantee the tenacity of his game will not.
As I said all of last season, T-Rob will be one of the best big men in the country. With the Morris Twins out of the picture, Robinson will get his chance to shine in a national spotlight. It all starts tonight with For Hays State.
How Jeff Withey works with Robinson in the paint. Jeff Withey recorded a triple-double last week against Pitt State and looked good as a 7-foot big man. Without another dominant post player in the paint, Withey stepped up and played well down low. With T-Rob at his back, Withey should have some of the pressure taken off of him.
Hopefully, this will lead to Withey making better decisions and playing more comfortably. One thing to watch for is his free throws in which he struggled last week. If Withey can't get his free throws in order, KU will have problems.
Another solid game from Conner Teahan. Most Kansas fans didn't expect the redshirt senior to have an impact this year, but with the season-long suspensions to three true freshmen his minutes were forced to rise. After leading KU with 21 points last week including 5-of-8 from downtown, a lot of eyes will be on Teahan to see how he follows up the stellar performance. KU fans should hope that he can become the three-point sharpshooter he was brought in to be and not the next Jeremy Case. As the competition becomes increasingly more difficult, Teahan's ability to get open looks may dwindle.
Chemistry between Naadir Tharpe and Thomas Robinson. As I mentioned last week, it seemed as if talented true freshman Naadir Tharpe had good chemistry with Teahan and Releford. Both Tharpe and Robinson played basketball at the Brewster Academy before becoming Jayhawks, so one can guess that the two already play well together. Tharpe looked calm and confident as he scored 12 points and dished out eight assists. One negative aspect of Tharpe's debut was leading Kansas with nine turnovers, but that's to be expected with a true freshman playing 34 minutes. Look for Tharpe to see similar minutes, limit turnover and continue to be effective.
Tonight's game against the Fort Hays State Tigers should go smoothly and show Kansas fans a sign of things to come this season. As long as Kansas can get going earlier in the first half, the Tigers should be kept at bay during this exhibition matchup.
No. 13 Kansas will take on Fort Hays State tonight in Lawrence, Kan. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.