Towson-Kansas Preview

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

Winning seven straight Big 12 titles proves Bill Self knows how to handle lofty expectations at Kansas.

He wasn't expecting to have to deal with them again in 2011-12.

After undergoing major roster changes in the offseason, the No. 13 Jayhawks look to get the season off to a strong start when they host overmatched Towson on Friday night ahead of a much more anticipated matchup.

Kansas went 35-3 last season, and was the top seed in the NCAA tournament's Southwest Regional. However, the Jayhawks' national title hopes were dashed in stunning fashion during the regional finals due to an upset by 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth.

Losing a slew of contributors, including twins Markieff and Marcus Morris and guards Josh Selby and Tyrel Reed, hasn't kept the expectations from remaining high for this season.

The Jayhawks were made the co-favorites in the conference along with Texas A&M in a preseason poll conducted by the coaches.

"I'm surprised," Self said. "You know, I always say the coaches know more than the media. I'm not sure that's the case in our league right now.

"We've kind of gone into the season with tempered expectations, to be honest with you, and I've tried to do that with our fans a little bit. It's fine. We're kind of used to being in the situation where people expect us to be decent, and we won't shy away from that."

Kansas won't be able to shy away from elite competition early in the season.

After facing the Tigers, who went 4-26 last season, the Jayhawks face second-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Six days later, they travel to Maui to take on Georgetown.

With a roster that had three of five highly regarded recruits deemed partial qualifiers by the NCAA and ruled ineligible for this season, Self will likely rely heavily on forward Thomas Robinson and guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson.

Robinson started just two of his 33 games last season, averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, but the junior will be called upon to increase that production after the Morris twins left for the NBA.

"It's my turn to step up and produce more for my team," Robinson said. "It's obvious that I'll see more double teams. I can't just sneak on the floor and score points without teams noticing me."

Taylor and Johnson will be taking the court for the first time since last season after they were suspended for two exhibition games for violating team rules.

Taylor scored 9.3 points per game while dishing out a team-high 4.6 assists in 2010-11, while Johnson was used primarily off the bench to average 3.4 points.

"I still think they're both inconsistent," Self said. "I think defensively they're both average compared to what they could be. They've got to be better defensively. That'd be the one thing that I talk to them most about; taking care of the basketball."

Towson has just three players back who have any experience, and senior forward Robert Nwankwo missed all of last season due to an academic issue. The rest of the team includes six freshmen and three sophomores, while it's being led by first-year coach Pat Skerry.

"Nothing against the last coaching staff, but this coaching staff is a lot tougher in terms of getting players' minds ready for everything on and off the court," Nwankwo told Towson's official athletics website.

Nwankwo averaged 9.9 points and 8.9 boards in 2009-10.

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