The Kansas Jayhawks continue to lead the way in the Big 12. A lot of that has to due with the return of their core guys, Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, and Travis Releford. Adding the ultra-talented Ben McLemore into the mix this year has more than made up for the loss of Tyshawn Taylor, and Kevin Young is filling in admirable for the void created by Thomas Robinson’s departure. Bill Self is bringing Naadir Tharpe off the bench, who is a steady guard in their rotation.
The Jayhawks didn’t have the toughest non-conference schedule, but they had some terrific games with Michigan State and Ohio State. Convincing wins against Colorado and Ohio State proved that Kansas is a title contender early on this season. They’ve shown the ability to win close games as well as blow their opponents out. A lot of that has to do with the defense of Jeff Withey. Withey had a triple-double against San Jose State, logging 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks, and flirted with a triple-double against Temple with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 blocks.
McLemore has been the explosive scorer in their lineup, proving he can take over games early and late. The redshirt freshman sat out last season, but has come in and played with great purpose. He is averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game so far, and his scoring will go up as conference play continues. McLemore loves playing for the big moments, when his team needs a big shot. He is shooting a blazing 46% from 3, after starting the year off slowly behind the arc, and his complete game has NBA scouts reveling at the opportunity to draft him in the lottery.
Releford and Johnson are quietly rounding out a great backcourt, arguably the best in the country. Releford is averaging 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists and is a nice complement to McLemore and Withey. He is also getting it done on the defensive end, often taking responsibility to defend the opposition’s best player. Johnson has played the role of a facilitator more this year, especially with McLemore scoring at a high rate. Johnson is averaging 10.1 point, 3 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game.
The Jayhawks should win the Big 12 outright without much resistance. There is a considerable drop-off in the level of talent between them and the rest of the conference, but their games with Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State should be a lot of fun to watch. While McLemore carries them most games, they have other dependable players that can pick up the slack when he struggles.
Big 12 Power Rankings
1. Kansas 2. Oklahoma State 3. Kansas State 4. Baylor 5. Iowa State 6. Texas 7. Oklahoma 8. West Virginia 9. Texas Tech 10. TCU
Amit Tailor is a Scout and Correspondent for NetScouts Basketball and covers the Big 12.