We’re a big believer that a basketball team’s body language is an indicator of how it plays.
While watching Kansas stub its toe 80-74 Monday night against midmajor Davidson, the Jayhawks had the look of a team that seemingly was helpless and disinterested despite the closeness of the score. Davidson’s raining of 3-pointers seemed to take the heart and fight out of the Jayhawks.
So it will be interesting to see how KU reacts tonight when it plays at USC, trying to avoid a rare two-game losing streak.
It’s been a long time since the Jayhawks have been average. In fact, you have to go back to Roy Williams’ first year when they were 19-11 that they weren’t considered among the elite teams. Basketball bluebloods North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Indiana and UCLA all have encountered more than one clunker of a season in the last 20 years, but not KU.
Bill Self has been uber-successful since becoming KU coach, with the pinnacle being the 2008 national championship. Like Williams, his worst season was his first when KU was 24-9, but that team did advance to the Elite Eight. His lowest victory total has been 23 and four times he’s won at least 30 games.
But this team may be hard-pressed to approach Self’s worst team. The Jayhawks take a 7-3 record into tonight’s game, though two of the losses are to Kentucky and Duke, with KU basically leading the Duke game most of the way before the Blue Devils threw in a couple of late prayer 3-pointers to pull out the win.
This season got off to an ominous start when three top recruits were declared ineligible, something that never happens at KU. What that did was weaken the team’s already questionable depth, putting more pressure on the starters to carry the load.
Tyshawn Taylor is the alleged team leader, but his career has been marked by wildly inconsistent play. His turnover numbers are alarming for somebody who has started for four years and when you talk bad body language, he’s the primary culprit. When your supposed leader has that “look” -- the negative kind -- it filters down to his teammates. You never saw Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Sherron Collins or Mario Chalmers run the team negatively, as they played hard from start to finish.
Thomas Robinson has proven to be the scoring and rebounding leader, but even his body language at times is that of “What the heck are we doing?” He gets frustrated when he doesn’t get the ball and those who have watched the team play probably have noticed that many times he’s not getting back on defense. In his first two years, his minutes were limited because of the Morris twins, so maybe he hasn’t learned to pace himself since his minutes are doubled.
Adding to KU’s woes is that last year’s spare parts -- Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford -- are now prime-time players. They join Taylor and Robinson in the starting lineup and are still working out the chemistry. It’s a starting five that really struggles to handle the ball and shoot it from the perimeter. Conner Teahan leads the bench, as he’s gone from a guy the students used to chant for during scrub time to the first man in.
The KU bench is weaker than it has ever been, as there have been some games where it’s been a total nonfactor.
Self is still a wonderful coach, but KU fans had better prepare for a season of exasperation. This is a team that will test their patience and given the way it’s played so far, an eighth straight Big 12 title probably isn’t in the cards. The conference, though, probably is weaker than ever, and the teams are playing an 18-game schedule, playing home and home.
Baylor looks to be the class of the conference and Missouri has been surprisingly good under new coach Frank Haith. Then lurking in the shadows is Kansas State, which probably has its least amount of talent since Frank Martin took over, but has a habit of uglying up games to its favor.
It wouldn’t be any surprise to us if the 10-team conference has only three, maybe four, teams that qualify for the NCAA tourney.