Mar 7, 2012, 9:59 AM EDT
We all thought this was finally going to be the year.
With the amount of talent that Kansas lost off of their roster from last season and with the majority of their recruiting class finding themselves ineligible to play this season, the Jayhawks were left with the inconsistent Tyshawn Taylor, the unproven Thomas Robinson and a supporting cast of former walk-ons and ex-bench players to try and win their eighth straight Big 12 regular season title.
With the amount of talent on the roster at Baylor and with Texas A&M putting a veteran group on the floor every night, it only made sense to finally pick against the Jayhawks.
And anyone that did regretted it.
Thomas Robinson exploded, morphing into one of two serious candidates for National Player of the Year. Tyshawn Taylor shook off a rough start to the season by playing like an all-american in the last two months. That supporting cast of walk-ons and ex-bench players? they turned out to be pretty good.
There are those that will call this Bill Self’s best coaching performance of his career. Those people aren’t wrong.
Where: Kansas City
When: March 7th-March 10th
Final: March 10th, 7 p.m. ESPN
At this point, how can you bet against them? They weren’t supposed to win this season, yet they did. With what amounts to, more or less, a two-and-a-half man team — depending on which Jeff Withey shows up — the Jayhawks lost just two games in Big 12 play. I’ve been saying it all season long: Tyshawn Taylor is the most important player on this team. Thomas Robinson is going to go out and get you 17 points and 12 boards every single night. He’s going to bust his tail and outwork everyone else on the floor. You know what you are going to get out of him. Taylor, on the other hand, is as talented as he has been inconsistent throughout his career. When he plays like he has the last two months, the Jayhawks are a Final Four team.
And if they lose?: Missouri
I’m not going to lie: I’m rooting for Missouri. And I’m rooting for Kansas. If there is one thing in this world that all us college basketball fans want to see, its Round III of KU-MU in Kansas City with the Big 12 title on the line. You want to talk about atmosphere? Yeesh. As far as the Tigers are concerned, they are a known quantity at this point. You can’t match up with their perimeter attack, Marcus Denmon has proven himself to be lethal in the clutch and their guards are just tough enough that they can hang with the Big 12’s best bigs on the glass.
Other contenders?: Baylor is obviously a contender. They are a contender for the Final Four as well. When you have as much talent as the Bears do, there really isn’t you aren’t capable of. But if they don’t play hard or play with heart, they’ll lose. Iowa State should also be thrown into the mix here. The Cyclones have the league’s most versatile and unique talent in Royce White and surround him with guys that can either jump out the gym or knock down threes from press row.
Sleeper: Kansas State
I just love the way Frank Martin teams play. They are tough, they are relentless and they always play hard. The difference is that this season the Wildcats don’t have quite as much natural ability as in years past. They are also pretty young, especially in the back court. When Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez are playing well, they are a sneaky-good team.
Deeper sleepers: Texas is still a year away, but they are a talented group led by a star in J’Covan Brown. Can he carry this team?
– Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas: Both will be all-americans.
– Royce White, Iowa State: He leads ISU in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. And he’s a 6’8″, 270 lb point guard.
– Mike Dixon, Missouri: I’ll give Dixon the love here as he as been the most under-appreciated member of that back court. He makes things happen off the bench almost every single game.
– Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson has quickly become Baylor’s most important player. He had 35 points the last time out.
– Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: Nothing about McGruder’s game is overwhelming, but he does everything well and can go for 25-30 in a given night.
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