NEW YORK — Kansas coach Bill Self began a thought. He was going somewhere fast, buzzing on about how Thomas Robinson was the Jayhawks' best player during their 81-68 victory over Memphis on Tuesday night. Then Self stopped momentarily. He had another thought, and it just happened to perfectly describe KU's season to this point.
"We've got a fun team," Self said, "but we're wild."
Two seemingly unrelated thoughts — Robinson played well, and the Jayhawks are fun yet wild. Self slowed his mind down just enough to connect them.
"We gotta harness some of that," Self said. "But with him, that's what makes him good."
Robinson had 10 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes, giving the fourth-ranked Jayhawks all the energy they needed to move to 8-0 in a style befitting of Madison Square Garden and the sleepless city that surrounds it. Self encourages Robinson to play like a beast, and the 6-foot-9 power forward looked an awful lot like King Kong at the top of the Empire State Building. The Tigers, well, they were the damsel in distress, and nobody was there to save them.
Self is OK with Robinson playing wild because that's the best way for him to play. The same could be said for the Jayhawks, who turned the ball over 22 times yet beat No. 14 Memphis by double digits in the Jimmy V Classic.
"Our whole team was ridiculously careless tonight," Self said.
Careless? Who cares?
"We do some dumb stuff, man," KU guard Tyshawn Taylor said, "but I think (Self) likes us because we play hard for the most part. I think we're a pretty good team."
That's a pretty good way of putting it. Taylor is another Jayhawk who has gotten a leash that some guards who have played under Self simply couldn't imagine. On the way to a 13-point night playing in front of friends and family who crossed the Hudson River from Hoboken, N.J., Taylor had four assists and four turnovers. He has turned it over 11 times in the last three games — KU's only contests against name teams — and Self called him the team's MVP thus far.
"Because he's our primary handler," Self said, "and without him breaking pressure or being an athlete on the perimeter, this team would be very deficient."
Taylor has had to shoulder a load that many wouldn't have thought possible a year ago, when he was on his way to a disappointing sophomore campaign. He has done it out of necessity and relished the heavy lifting, which leads to the next thought: What will happen to this top-five team when suspended freshman guard Josh Selby makes his KU debut on Dec. 18 against Southern California?
"Josh is wild, too, so he's gonna fit in great," Self said, drawing laughs from a gallery of national media in attendance. "I will say this. You look at our team. Who breaks down pressure? And obviously, you need a second guy that can do that. Josh is the only guy in our program that you can run really bad offense and come away with two or three points. Every team needs a guy like that."
In wins over Arizona, UCLA and Memphis, there have been stretches when it's obvious what the Jayhawks are missing. The answer has often been Selby, Rivals.com's No. 1 overall player in the 2010 class who is sitting the first nine games of the season because he accepted impermissible benefits as a high-school player.
On Tuesday, the Jayhawks' worst moment came when they were leading 33-25 and let the Tigers go on a 6-0 run after Memphis went to a full-court press. That push late in the first half kept the game closer than it probably should have been, and the Jayhawks eventually finished the Tigers off with a series of alley-oop lobs that rocked the Garden.
Elijah Johnson found Markieff Morris. Marcus Morris found Markieff Morris. Marcus found Elijah. The Jayhawks realize that there are different types of wild, one beneficial and one deadly.
"There's getting it up the court wild, but not turn it over wild," Marcus said.
Self is clearly intrigued. KU is unbeaten and it still can't even seen the ceiling.
"You think rebuild," Self said, "and I'm really happy with these guys (because) they don't see it that way. I think our pieces fit, which makes it fun. It'll be a unique deal all season long to get them to play the way we should play."