As the only member of the Kansas’ 2008 and 2012 teams, Conner Teahan is the comparison authority.
Stacking up coach Bill Self’s Final Four teams figured to take some deep consideration, carefully weighing the many strengths and few weaknesses of the squads and imagining such matchups as Thomas Robinson against Darnell Jackson, and how Travis Releford might defend fellow Kansas Citian Brandon Rush.
“Oh, 2008 was better,” Teahan said as quickly has he hoists a three-pointer.
“The 2008 Final Four team would be favored,” he said, “but I’m not sure the ’12 team would buy into that at all.”
The teams shared championship qualities.
“The ’08 team was so unselfish, to have so many good players and they still sacrificed and guarded,” Self said. “But there’s something about this team and how they get on each other and hold each other accountable. Only teams that really care about each other do those things.”
Both teams played terrific defense. In 2008, opponents shot 39.7 percent against KU. Entering Saturday’s national semifinal game, foes are shooting 38 percent.
The 2008 squad was better offensively and deeper than this squad. Coming off the bench were future All-American Sherron Collins and NBA Draft lottery pick Cole Aldrich.
But in Robinson, the 2012 team has a star that KU didn’t have four years ago. Those Jayhawks not only didn’t have a first-team All-American, it was difficult to identify the team’s most valuable player. Rush? Mario Chalmers? Darrell Arthur?
Let’s jump it up and see who wins.The starting lineups
The winningest team in Kansas history does it all. They dominate on both ends and attack from all positions. If it’s not Mario Chalmers or Brandon Rush draining threes, it’s Rush on the drive or Darnell Jackson in the paint or Darrell Arthur inside and out. These Jayhawks bring talent off the bench in waves and can overwhelm opponents. This is Bill Self’s most talented roster.
Self’s second Final Four team is one of his most unlikely. Four new starters have been worked in around guard Tyshawn Taylor, who for the first time in his career runs the team. Everybody has played to his potential and then some, with Thomas Robinson emerging as one of the nation’s top players, Jeff Withey becoming a shot-blocking specialist, Elijah Johnson coming on strong, Travis Releford playing stellar defense, and Taylor finding a way to win despite a shooting slump.Frontcourt
Thomas Robinson is a load, and Jeff Withey blocks shots as well as anybody Self as coached. But the 2008 team can present problems with Darrell Arthur’s ability to step outside knock down the jumper. Withey guards Arthur and Robinson starts on Jackson.Edge
Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford might be the second-best defensive backcourt under Self. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robison and Brandon Rush are the first, and sixth-man Sherron Collins delivers on both ends. Taylor is the primary scoring source, but his shooting is erratic. Rush is the man the 2012 team has to stop.Edge
Kevin Young has come on strong, and Conner Teahan has earned his stripes in his first year as a scholarship player. One reason the 2008 squad was so good is that it got to practice against Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich, Tyrel Reed and Collins.Edge
Both teams checked their egos at the gate. The 2008 squad seemed to have a different star every game. The 2012 team understands the game flows through Robinson and Taylor and accepts it. In getting to the Final Four, the 2008 squad survived a gut-check game against Davidson. Such games have defined the 2012 team.Edge
: 2012Bottom line
Look for the 2012 team to fall behind, perhaps by double digits, before rallying back. Elijah Johnson comes up with big threes, Taylor feeds Robinson on lob slams, and momentum is with the current Jayhawks as the game winds down. But Rush keys a couple of defensive stops, and the 2008 team squeezes out a three-point victory, the margin of a Mario Chalmers jumper.