How tonight’s game is crucial for the Jayhawk’s season ahead
By: Nathan Fordyce
After two exhibitions where the play of the No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks went up and down, the team is ready for the season opener against Southeast Missouri State tonight in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas coach Bill Self may not have a shot of enthusiasm that makes him look like he and his squad is ready to play meaningful games, but he promises he is.
“If I don’t seem excited, I promise you I am. I wasn’t real excited about how we played the other time but I’m excited about this team. I’m excited about what potentially can take place,” Self said. “I’m excited about the process of us getting better and taking the team from November through March.”
SE Missouri State is led by junior forward Tyler Stone, who averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and senior guards Marland Smith and Nick Niemczyk.
Smith averaged 12.3 points per and Niemczyk averaged 9.2 points per game. Between the three, they could pose a little problem if the Jayhawks aren’t up for the task of defending, especially the bigs.
“They’ve got two guys inside that are very, very active – I mean, very active – and they both go after the ball, they both rebound it well, they both can score in tight and put it down,” Self said. “Our big guys will have to guard movement. So they run our stuff for the most part, so we should be familiar with what they run.”
The play of the Jayhawks bigs, especially senior center Jeff Withey, will have be more aggressive and go after the Redhawks and not allow them easy buckets.
“(Coach) is always trying to get me to be more and more aggressive. I can never be too aggressive,” Withey said.
As much as the Jayhawks need Withey to be aggressive and not allow himself to pushed around on the block, senior guard Elijah Johnson might be the most important person on the team. Johnson, who averaged 10.2 points per and 3.5 assists per game, is going to be asked to do a lot more this year than last.
“The thing about it is Elijah’s trying to do what he thinks we want him to do but he’s forgot about playing. It’s what he does best. He’s thinking instead of playing, too, because it’s a different deal for him so everybody’s going to have to kind of adjust, so to speak,” Self said. “Elijah’s probably as important a player as we’ve had in our program to the success of our team as anybody we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Even with Michigan State lurking on Tuesday Nov. 13, Self said the team isn’t overlooking the Redhawks tonight.
“No, not at all,” Self said. “It wouldn’t make any difference who we’re playing after Southeast Missouri, the preparation will be the same. We practice playing games when you have two days preparation or three days preparation. But as far as just focusing in on (Michigan State), we won’t do that.”