No. 7 Kansas begins exhibition play Tuesday night against the Emporia State Hornets. Elijah Johnson takes over as the leader for a KU team looking to get back to the Final Four.
It seems like just a few short months ago the Kansas Jayhawks were making their way through the NCAA tournament in incredible fashion. A team which wasn't supposed to win the conference did just that, and put on a show for not only local fans, but the entire college basketball world with their run to national runner-up, eventually falling to title-favorite Kentucky.
The two clear cut leaders for Bill Self, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, have moved on to the NBA. Whether or not they can be replaced is the biggest question mark heading into the season, but a group of experienced seniors, led by Elijah Johnson, is ready to be the next group to keep the winning tradition in Lawrence, Kan., alive.
Having already played four exhibition games in Europe over the summer, KU hits the floor in Allen Fieldhouse Tuesday to take on Emporia State for a 7 p.m., tip.
The first flaw one might point out when looking at the roster on paper is the lack of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, yet returning seniors Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, and Kevin Young were all integral parts to the Final Four team a year ago.
In fact, each one of the aforementioned players made a huge impact at least once in the NCAA tournament and were reasons why the Jayhawks were able to advance further than anyone thought possible.
Releford and Withey were defensive stoppers, particularly against North Carolina and Ohio State-Withey also held Kentucky's Anthony Davis to 1-of-10 shooting-while Johnson hit an important three-pointer late against North Carolina, had several key plays in the earlier rounds against Purdue, and was aggressive in attacking the basket and scoring in the paint against the Buckeyes.
Earlier in the season, Kevin Young was almost the sole reason for Kansas defeating Ohio State in Lawrence.
With plenty of returning talent, Bill Self also has the luxury of incredible (although unproven) depth with a host of talented freshman.
Red shirt freshman Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor jump into the starting lineup Tuesday night, something the players themselves as well as fans have been waiting for since the two committed to Kansas before last season.
McLemore is one of the more highly touted freshman on the roster and is widely considered a potential top 5 pick in the next NBA Draft. While that may or may not happen, KU fans will at least get to finally see the 6-foot-5 guard play in a Jayhawk uniform.
Traylor steps in to the starting rotation in place of the injured Young, who broke a bone in his hand and is expect to miss at least two weeks of action.
Traylor is an incredible athlete and has been one of the more consistent and hard-working players in practice according to coach Self.
Self also stated freshman Perry Ellis and Andrew White will be the first subs off the bench for the Jayhawks. Both are highly recruited players expected to produce for Kansas throughout the year.
Ellis is the most heralded high school prospect from the state of Kansas since former Jayhawk great Danny Manning, while White as a smooth shooter with unlimited range and was one of the top 2-3 performers in Europe during Kansas' overseas trip.
While the top seven in the rotation is set for Tuesday, expect Self to mix and match his lineups in order to find combinations outside of the starting five, which likely will stay basically the same for the majority of the 2012-2013 season.
G - Elijah Johnson (Senior, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
G - Ben McLemore (Freshman, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds)
G - Travis Releford (Senior, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds)
F - Jamari Traylor (Freshman, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds)
Emporia State heads to Lawrence quite familiar with the mountain needed to climb in order to take down Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks, in all likelihood, will cruise to an easy win over the Hornets, but nonetheless, it's a chance for many kids from the state of Kansas and some of the surrounding states to head to Lawrence and take on one of the premier teams in the country.
ESU is coming off an exhibition loss to Tulsa, who ironically is now coached by former Kansas player and assistant coach, Danny Manning.
Manning uses many of the same looks on both ends of the court as Bill Self does at Kansas, which means the Hornets will at least be somewhat familiar with the Jayhawks come Tuesday night.
The major difference in game No. 2 is the talent in Lawrence.
Against Tulsa, freshman Terrance Moore led the team in scoring with 12 points. After taking a 9-7 lead with just over 14 minutes left in the first half, the Golden Hurricanes took the lead for good and finished off the Hornets 60-49.
Despite not regaining the lead at any point, Emporia State fought the entire game and twice game within striking distance before Tulsa answered back to spread the game out once again.
The Hornets were just 3-of-14 from behind the arc and were held to a low 32-percent shooting from the field. Emporia State did outrebound Tulsa 44-36, something which will be of important against the Jayhawks if they are to stay with the No. 7 team in the country for any stretch of time.
G - Taylor Euler (Senior, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
G - Chris Sights (Freshman, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds)
G - Kaleb Wright (Senior, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds)
F - Michael Harris (Freshman, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds)
F - Gavin Brown (Senior, 7-foot, 235 pounds)
Bench: Daniel Shaw, Terrance Moore, Michael Swank
The Edge: Kansas
It may not be the prettiest exhibition game the Jayhawks have ever played, when with so many new faces and returning players thrown into different roles than they are accustomed to, fans will have to take the good with the bad.
Against and undersized, undermanned team, the Jayhawks need to focus on getting better as a team. Clear leadership and production from the seniors will be important to establish, as well as getting consistency and experience from McLemore, Traylor, Ellis, and White; all of which will be important players from now until March.
Another important aspect to Tuesday's game to focus on his whether freshman Rio Adams and sophomore Tharpe can step up and assert themselves as quality backups to Elijah Johnson at the point guard position.
Because of its youth, defense and rebounding are the two areas where Kansas needs to dominate from the opening tip.