Thursday January 5th, 2012

Five thoughts from No. 14 Kansas' 67-49 victory over No. 23 Kansas State on Wednesday night ...

1. Kansas should challenge for the Big 12 title, but it's certainly not the favorite. Despite speculation about a down year in Lawrence -- and amid talk this is Bill Self's thinnest roster to date -- the Jayhawks appeared unmistakably dangerous against their in-state rival. They both opened and closed the game on 28-13 runs, and had the look of a trademark Bill Self-coached team when whipping the ball around the perimeter and coasting to easy buckets in transition.

Here's the problem: They also displayed a tendency to lose focus during stretches, a habit that could prove costly against hyper-efficient Missouri (No. 1 in the nation in effective field goal percentage) and Baylor (No. 22). With 12:27 remaining in the second half, Kansas led only 39-36 despite being up by as many as 18 and limiting the Wildcats to a paltry 33 percent (14-of-43) shooting. The offense completely disappeared: It scored four points in the opening eight minutes of the second half.

The Jayhawks remain seven-time defending Big 12 champions and showed immense toughness in outrebounding the Wildcats 48-24. But they also looked sloppy at times, something they'll need to correct before conference-defining clashes with the Tigers and Bears.

2. The Jayhawks answered one question and prompted another. Entering the game, the biggest knock on Kansas was its lack of role player production, with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor forced to carry the team in stints and just one bench player, senior guard Connor Teahan, averaging more than 20 minutes. That wasn't the case on Wednesday. Travis Releford collected a career-high 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Withey -- coming off an underwhelming outing in which he was benched for all but eight minutes -- amassed eight points, nine rebounds and six blocks. At least temporarily, they allayed doubts about the Jayhawks' depth.

But Kansas was also turnover-prone, with Taylor serving as the worst offender. He accounted for eight of the team's 19 turnovers (to just three assists) and allowed the Wildcats to stick around for far longer than they had business doing. He needs to play smarter for the Jayhawks to make a case as a legitimate Top 10 contender.

3. Kansas State needs a go-to offensive threat. This much was clear from watching the Wildcats fall behind, rally and collapse en route to an 18-point defeat: Jacob Pullen is sorely missed. As Kansas State attempted to climb back into the game, Rodney McGruder (5-of-14 shooting), Jamar Samuels (4-of-10) and Will Spradling (2-of-7) rotated as the Wildcats' go-to playmaker, none experiencing particularly striking success. McGruder was closest -- fresh off a pair of games in which he combined for 42 points -- but still seemed uncomfortable as the predominant scoring option. It was a far cry from the rivals' previous meeting: Pullen exploded for 38 points in leading the Wildcats to their first win over Kansas since 2008.

Perhaps more troubling for Frank Martin, his team appeared stagnant on defense and lifeless on the glass, surrendering 13 layups and dunks and being outrebounded two-to-one. That bodes poorly for a team known for its tenacity, especially with Mizzou, Baylor and Oklahoma looming on the schedule.

4. Thomas Robinson is one of the toughest man-on-man assignments in the country. Sure, it's not a new or shocking revelation. But the 6-foot-10, 237-pounder notched his 10th double-double, compiling 15 points and 14 rebounds, to further his sensational junior campaign. He showcased his full offensive repertoire: In addition to throwing down two athletic dunks, he connected on jumpers of 10, 13 and 14 feet and finished 7-of-11 to raise his field-goal percentage to 53.4 in 2011-12. Robinson went just 1-of-4 from the free throw line, a potential sign of regression after shooting 51 percent from the stripe as a sophomore. He also experienced second-half foul trouble, a trend he needs to monitor moving forward. But there's little debate: Robinson is enjoying a remarkable tear and should be considered a serious candidate for Player of the Year.

5. Connor Teahan is Kansas' X-factor. A former walk-on, Teahan knocked down the two biggest shots of the game -- three-pointers from opposite sides of the arc -- to spark the Jayhawks' second half surge. He's now made at least two three-pointers in eight games this season, including wins over Long Beach State, USC and now K-State. He has proved invaluable in pressure situations -- a trait that could, and likely will, rise to the surface come March.

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