While it is no surprise to see the Kansas Jayhawks back in the NCAA Tournament, it may have been a surprise to many to see the team fall in the semi-finals of the Big 12 Conference tournament with their 81-72 loss to a very talented Baylor squad.
Up to that point the Jayhawks had been cruising along with nine consecutive victories, including a stunning 87-86 overtime victory on February 25th over rival Missouri.
Let's take a look back at this year's version of Coach Bill Self's team, a team that sits with a 27-6 record heading into the NCAA Tournament, where they will be a 2 seed in the Midwest bracket.
Facing stiff competition, Kansas got off to a 3-2 start after losses to both Kentucky and Duke before Thanksgiving. Also included in that stretch was a close win in their Maui Invitational opener, a 67-63 win over Georgetown.
The Jayhawks got 21 points from Thomas Robinson, but it was Tyshawn Taylor's nine points and 13 assists that helped lead Kansas to a 78-67 victory over the then second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Lawrence on December 10th. Ohio State was without star player Jared Sullinger in that game, but the win was monumental at the time for this squad.
After nine days off, Kansas faltered in their next game, a 80-74 loss to Davidson, however the Jayhawks would trip up just twice more during the regular season en route to a 16-2 conference record and their eight consecutive Big 12 title.
Bill Self, who was named the Big 12 Co-Coach of the Year (with Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg), has a team that is lead by the 6'10" sophomore forward Robinson of Washington, D.C. Robinson's stat line this season included averaging 17.9 points per game to go with 11.8 rebounds per game. He has recorded 23 double-doubles this season, on his way to being honored as Big 12 Player of the Year.
Joining Robinson on the first-team in the Big 12 was Taylor, a 6'3" senior guard out of Hoboken, New Jersey. He has elevated his game this season, boosting his scoring average to 17.3 after averaging only 9.3 as a junior. He has been turnover prone at times, but when he is on, Kansas is often hard to beat.
A key storyline during the second half of the season has been the emergence of center Jeff Withey. The Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team All-Conference selection averaged 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks this year. He had been a reserve role player until this season.
The 7'0" junior from San Diego really burst onto the scene during a February win at Baylor. After going scoreless in the loss at Missouri, Withey posted a career-high 25 points against the Bears and then would have a monster 18 points and 20 rebounds as an encore against Oklahoma State three days later.
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