Bill Self’s squad is loaded at the guard spot with three big time talents among the group competing for minutes there. The eldest of that bunch is Tyshawn Taylor, a 6’3 junior point guard who has been maddeningly inconsistent and enigmatic in his time in Lawrence. He averaged seven points a game and was second on the team in assists last season, but spent the season playing out of position quite a bit at the two with Collins, and tended to get down on himself and pout when things didn’t go his way. With Collins gone, now is Taylor’s chance to take a leadership role on the team and use his quickness and penetration ability to his benefit. If Taylor can’t get his attitude in shape enough to take over the lead guard role on the Jayhawks, there are two other similarly explosive guards waiting to do just that. Freshman Josh Selby has similar skills to Taylor, and they may wind up in the same backcourt together, which could either be brilliant or a case of not enough basketballs on the court. Selby is probably more suited to playing off of the ball than Taylor is, but in reality, both players will be most effective with the ball in their hands. Selby is an aggressive, attacking guard with great athleticism and coast-to-coast ability, and he is simply too good to keep out of the starting lineup, where he’ll likely be by the end of the season. His willingness to get down and dirty on the defensive end will determine whether he’ll be in that spot immediately. Elijah Johnson is the third uber-talented guard on this squad, a combo-guard who played extremely limited minutes in his first season in Lawrence, but Johnson, a five-star recruit out of high school, should play a much greater role as a sophomore. He is a strong and athletic guard with an uncanny ability to get into the lane with ease, where he is a strong finisher. He has had a tendency towards inconsistent effort in his high school days, but if he can bring the energy every time he hits the floor, he should be ready to make a big leap this season.
Elsewhere in the crowded backcourt, there’s Brady Morningstar, back for his senior season. Morningstar has been an on-again/off-again starter the last couple of seasons, and he supplies a gritty defensive toughness that Self loves. Tyrel Reed, a former Mr. Basketball in Kansas, will also be back for his senior season, and he is a designated shooter, who can surprise you with his athleticism from time to time. Travis Releford redshirted last season after getting limited minutes as a freshman, but he is a long and active slasher with a capable three-point shot who will press for time despite the crowded backcourt. Then there’s Royce Woolridge, an undersized freshman off-guard who will likely have to wait a season to crack Self’s rotation.
There isn’t as much depth up front, but there is still plenty of talent. To start with, senior Mario Little could reasonably be included among the backcourt players, but he is more of a true small forward at 6’5. Little is a junior college transfer who was considered the best JuCo prospect in 2008, but after an injury plagued first season in Lawrence, he redshirted last year. This season, it is possible he steps right into the starting lineup at the three. The four and the five spots may belong to the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, although neither of them is a true center. Marcus is the more skilled of the two, capable of playing both forward spots with his good handles and capable midrange jumper, but both brothers are long and tenacious rebounders with good passing ability (they could be a force to reckon with in the Self hi-lo) and the ability to convert at a high percentage from the field. The lone true center on the roster is junior Jeff Withey, a 7’0 transfer from Arizona who played just 45 minutes all of last season. He has the reputation as being soft, and will need to pick up his aggressiveness in order to get a lot of time, but he should see his minutes increase, regardless. The most intriguing frontcourt prospect may 6’9 sophomore Thomas Robinson, a big and athletic power forward whose minutes dropped precipitously down the stretch. He did, however, have some excellent games early in the season, such as his 15 point and 10 rebound effort in 18 minutes during a blowout of Alcorn State. Expect him to be the first forward off the bench this season.
The rotation up front is pretty set, with the Morrises likely starting together, possibly with Little at the three, while Robinson is the first guy off the bench and Withey seeing his minutes jump. The guard rotation, however, will likely be in flux early until players differentiate themselves from each other. It is possible that Self will play three guards, with two of Taylor, Johnson and Selby snapping up two of the three spots (with the other the next guard off the bench) and perhaps the veteran Morningstar stepping back into a starting role for leadership and defensive tenacity as much as anything else. Releford could also wind up with minutes on the wing, and Reed will likely again be called upon for his three-point range to stretch defenses in spot duty.
This Jayhawk team may not have such big-time returning names as Aldrich and Collins or Rush and Chalmers, but if one of their hyper-talented guards steps up as a team leader and playmaker (my money is on Selby) and they are able to avoid injuries and the type of foul trouble that the Morris twins experienced at the end of last season, this team is very capable of making a deep run into March. Of course, in Lawrence, such quality is simply expected.