Kansas routed previously-unbeaten Baylor, 92-74, in front of the noisiest college basketball crowd in the country. Dick Vitale went bananas. Tyshawn Taylor played like the super recruit he once was (28 points), not the enigmatic turnover machine he often is. Bill Self pumped his fist. Jeff Withey (10 points, 10 rebounds, nine offensive boards) inevitably drew comparisons to Nick Collison, Scot Pollard, Greg Ostertag, Cole Aldrich and all the other impressive big white guys who have roamed the court at Phog. Scott Drew buried his head in his hands. Perry Jones settled for jumpers.
But mostly, Thomas Robinson (27 points, 14 rebounds) looked like the best player in college basketball, and a Top 3 pick in the 2012 draft. Hope New Orleans Hornets fans were watching. He’s unstoppable in the paint, already has an NBA body, has a face up and back-to-the-basket game, plus he’s got a solid 10-12 foot jumper. Previous Jayhawks like Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur were very good college players who became serviceable-at-best pros; Robinson should be an 18-10 guy in the NBA, not unlike Carlos Boozer. But tougher.
Robinson’s story has been well-chronicled: A sophomore last year, he was buried behind the Morris twins, but was always a factor when he got in the game. He lost three family members in a terribly sad 3-week span last year. This summer, I had beef with the stat guys for saying Thomas Robinson was the 39th best player in college basketball. When I did my list, I had Robinson at 12, which was obviously far too low. Terrence Jones? Jordan Taylor? How foolish of me.
Kansas came into the 2011-2012 season having won or tied for the Big 12 title eight years in a row. That streak was sure to hit the skids this year because Baylor was loaded. (Remember when I said Kansas State would win the Big 12 a couple years ago? Swing and a miss.) While nobody’s crowning Kansas yet – it still has to go to Waco, Manhattan and play Missouri twice – the Jayhawks are 15-3 primarily because of Robinson. No Top 10 team has less talent than Kansas. Withey’s been solid, Taylor is hit-and-miss, and role players like Releford and Johnson never try to do too much. I do worry about the team wearing down in March – the bench isn’t that talented and four of five starters are playing 30+ minutes a night – but at this juncture, they’ve proven virtually ever pundit in the country wrong.
Bill Self deserves props, and will be a Coach of the Year contender. Right now, Thomas Robinson is far and away the leader for Player of the Year honors.