A lot of people are rooting against Kentucky for reasons they can’t enumerate. I think it has to do with the professionalizing of the college game, but that’s just me. People have an inherit belief that sports – especially at the college level – shouldn’t be “bought.” A group of players who are only in college because they have no other viable option, and will only (assumably) be there for one year, shouldn’t march to the title. If you have no problem with that then you’re probably a Yankees fan who’s not from New York.
Enter Kansas – the anti-Kentucky. Whereas the Wildcats have one of the least experienced rosters in all of college basketball (340th out of 345 Division I teams), the Jayhwaks are the only team among the Final Four that is in the top-100 (41st). Their starters are four juniors and a senior. Their star – Thomas Robinson – (as well as two other starters) spent his first couple years as a role player off the bench. These guys have put in the time. They’ve put in the work. They sat behind four players players who were lottery picks. Now it’s their team.
But how do they win? The Kentucky Express is getting better before our eyes. They’re getting better by the possession.
How can Kansas survive Ohio State and then win on Monday (regardless of opponent).
The key for Kansas is their senior starter. The enigmatic Tyshawn Taylor entered his final season with off-court questions about his leadership and ability to stay out of trouble. But with so much roster turnover, Bill Self had no choice but to make Taylor one of the focal points of the offense. He’s played more minutes than any other player. He always has the ball (when Thomas Robinson isn’t dunking it), and he drives the offense.
What does it mean that a Final Four team relies so heavily on a player who shot 2-14 against NC State, a player with disciplinary woes, maturity issues and an almost supernatural ability to get called for a charge? Well, it means they’re not Kentucky.
To the video.
This first play pretty much defines the Tyshawn Taylor experience. It’s a well-executed play that seems so simple that a 5th grader could execute it. But when examined more closely, this is clearly a play that good-Tyshawn can make, but bad-Tyshawn could not. Luckily, for KU fans, good-Tyshawn has been around a lot during his senior year.
It starts in transition with Taylor (circled) pushing the ball, and Thomas Robinson (arrow) trailing.
Taylor drives, sees that nothing is there and smartly re-sets the offense for the secondary break. Here Taylor (circled) has the ball 30′ from the basket, and Robinson (arrow) has what appears to be very tenuous post position. But these two have been together for a long time. If Robinson has a forearm across his man, then his man isn’t moving. The other two players who could make a play on the ball are Scott Wood and DeShawn Painter. But Wood is in poor position and doesn’t have his shoulders squared toward the ball, and Painter is nearly immobile. Thus, a 30′ entry pass which will travel within arms reach of four NC State players, is actually a smart and safe play.
The next play is a nicely drawn and executed baseline entry. Taylor (circled) lobs to Jeff Withey (arrow) to get it started.
Withey swings the ball which is then immediately reversed to Taylor (circled) who pops and gets a Withey (arrow) screen. Kevin Young (#40) clears from underneath the basket leaving the left side of the floor empty.
Now it’s a one-on-one with Taylor, Lorenzo Brown, and the basket. If the help defense steps up then it will be an easy layup for Kevin Young.
In this play Kevin Young (circled) has the ball stripped. Taylor (arrow) is the only player standing between NC State and a dunk.
But the speedy Taylor is at his best in transition, whether it be on offense of defense. The pass (arrow) is poorly timed and Taylor (circled) jumps it…
…and is now going the other way. Jeff Withey (arrow), who had been cherry picking, and Taylor (circled) are now in a 2-on-1 break against Scott Wood, and Taylor isn’t going to make the same mistake that NC State just made.
Here, North Carolina’s Justin Watts overplays Taylor (circled) on a pass, and the slippery Taylor is headed to the rim. Watch how he reads Withey (arrow). This is a really nice drive and finish.
Taylor has attempted the 2nd most free throws on the team behind Thomas Robinson. And like Robinson, he’s an average FT shooter (68%). That’s the bad news. The good news is that he still has remarkably quick hands.
Our final play is another called play designed for Taylor. With Thomas Robinson out of the game, Self usually looks to Taylor. Here Taylor (circled) has an undersized guard on him. Self has him positioned on the left wing being guarded by a freshman, while Kevin Young (arrow) is coming to set the screen. Young is also guarded by a freshman. Easy call. Easy play. Perfect execution.