I’m usually not wrong.
Though my female friends and mother tend to disagree, I like to think I’m correct about 98 percent of the time, giving myself a two percent chance to have a goof here and there. I like to think my predictions are pretty spot on. Well, most of the time.
Earlier this year, the University of Kansas Basketball team looked prime for a mediocre season. No one picked them to win the Big 12. No one thought they had a chance advance far in the tournament. And I bought into the talk, and agreed. And so, I wrote a column about how this year would finally be the year KU is nothing just a rebuilding team.
5) Jeff Withey
I’m not going to lie, I thought Jeff Withey was about as good as my out of shape, 49-year-old father at the beginning of this year (no offense, Pops.) He seemed like he couldn’t make a layup if his life depended on it, but over the course of the year, Withey has stepped up huge for the ‘Hawks this year. Averaging a little over nine points a game, Withey has been a perfect counter to All-American Thomas Robinson. Where Robinson has to be tough and grungy on defense, Withey can stay back and volleyball-swat balls away from dingy point guards. With three blocks a game and snagging six boards as well, Withey’s presence on the inside was a pleasant surprise for KU, and took pressure off of Robinson down low. If he plays well, KU has a great chance in the Final Four.
4) Tyshawn Taylor
I’ve never been a huge fan of Tyshawn. When I went to the KU vs. Iowa State game this past year, my friend and I could be constantly heard yelling at Taylor to give the ball to someone else. The less he had the ball, the better. But over the course of the year, he’s proved to me that it’s quite the opposite: the more he has the ball, the better position KU is in to win. He’s exploded this year with 17 points a game and just under five assists, the super-glue to KU’s offensive attack. At the beginning of the year I consistently focused on how many turnovers he had (he averaged five before Big 12 play, including an 11 turnover game against Duke) but as the year progressed, he found his groove from behind the arch, started attacking the basket harder and was finding more open players because of it. He’s scored in double digits every game except four times this year, and because of it, the Jayhawks have become an offense to be reckoned with, with Taylor at the head.
I hate Missouri more than I love my dogs, but because of Missouri’s strong, and possibly best year ever, KU in turn got better. When your rival serves as a giant threat, you’re forced to up your game to beat them. This was proved in both KU vs. MU games this year. In Columbia, Mizzou punched KU in the mouth in the last few minutes to squiggle away with a win. I think in that game, and the game in Lawrence in which KU came back down 20 in the second half, Mizzou exposed KU’s weaknesses and trounced them because of it. They forced KU to tighten screws and showed them how important it was to defend the drive, and that’s carried them to this Final Four. As much as I hate to say it, Mizzou was a great team this year, and was much better than their first round exit shows, but because of their threat to win the Big 12 and dethrone the ‘Hawks, KU stepped up their game.
2) Bill Self
No one has been better than Bill Self this year. Sure, Missouri’s Frank Haith just won AP Coach of the Year, but look at the talent on that team. Mizzou should have run KU out of the gym, but somehow Self got his players to play at a level beyond anything I could have imagined. Because of the way he’s handled the team, and the way he’s gotten his players to believe in each other, KU has exceeded any and all expectations.
1) Thomas Robinson
It’s no secret, without Thomas Robinson, KU would’ve been as mediocre as cold soup. His 26 double-doubles this season and physical presence on the defensive end has brought KU all their success this year. The ‘Hawks jumped on his 6’ 10,” 237 pound frame and he carried KU over Missouri in Lawrence, a pivotal game that changed the entire demeanor of the team. His storied past that you’ve heard about so often, losing his grandfather, grandmother and mother all in a month, and his persistence to grow from it, gave this KU team a reason to play for more than just themselves, but each other. If Tyshawn in the glue of the team, Robinson is the heart of the team. And a big one, at that.