LAWRENCE — Kansas coach Bill Self told Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson months ago that they would be suspended for the Jayhawks' two exhibition games for violating team rules.
Of course, back then, Self would have had no way of knowing what kind of shape his roster would be in when the calendar turned from October to November.
"Looking back now, do I wish I would have said that?" Self asked. "I think if I hadn't said that, I wouldn't be doing anybody a favor. This is what needs to be done. I'm not going to go back on that. We're here to win the battle over time, not to appease the situation."
The situation is nearly unthinkable for one of the top programs in the country: With Taylor and Johnson out and Thomas Robinson questionable with a hyperextended right knee, KU could play Pittsburg State tonight using five players who were recruited as scholarship athletes — and three of those (true freshman point guard Naadir Tharpe, true freshman forward Merv Lindsay and junior transfer forward Kevin Young) will be playing their first game at Kansas.
The Jayhawks' starting lineup is likely to be Tharpe, junior guard Travis Releford, senior guard Conner Teahan, junior center Jeff Withey and either Robinson or sophomore forward Justin Wesley. Teahan and Wesley both came to KU as walk-ons and have since been awarded scholarships.
"We're gonna be playing walk-ons tomorrow," Self said, "and I'm not talking about the ones we put on scholarship. I'm talking about Jordan (Juenemann), which is fine, and Niko (Roberts). Those guys are going to get in the game."
Self went on to say tonight's group won't be the same team that will be playing Kentucky in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15. But it is the team that will be charged with avoiding an embarrassing loss to Pittsburg State or Fort Hays State.
The last time KU played Pittsburg State, in Nov. 2009, the Jayhawks won 103-45. But this time around, there's reason to think that the Gorillas could hang with Kansas. Pittsburg State returns four starters and nine lettermen, so it should have much more continuity and experience than KU.
"My expectations will change with (the suspensions)," Self said. "If you don't have a healthy Thomas and if you don't have your starting backcourt, then obviously it's not the same team. My expectations are that we just go out there and play with some energy, some enthusiasm, play tough, and see how some newcomers react when they have to play a lot."
The suspensions wouldn't have been such an issue if KU didn't have three freshmen who didn't qualify academically. Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor won't be eligible to play until next season, and Braeden Anderson has transferred to Fresno State after being denied a scholarship by the Big 12.
So who will KU count on tonight? The best guess is Releford, who is entering his fourth year on campus and has the ability to score in a variety of ways.
"It's going to be a different pressure for me," said Releford, a Kansas City native. "I'm not going to go into the game with an attitude of 'Oh, I have to score for us to win,' but I'm going to be very aggressive."
Withey, who has been at KU for two-and-a-half years, is another player who is looking to seize this opportunity. Certainly, this will be unlike any exhibition game in recent memory.
"I'm sure they're going to come in with a lot of confidence knowing that a lot of our guys aren't able to play," Withey said. "It'll be a different feel for an exhibition game, more of a midseason game for us because our guys won't be that experienced. It'll be a tough game."
Top center picks Arizona over Kansas — Kaleb Tarczewski, the No. 1 center in the class of 2012 according to Rivals.com, picked Arizona over Kansas on Monday, according to multiple reports.
The 7-foot, 220-pound Tarczewski visited KU for Late Night in the Phog and then visited the Wildcats the next weekend.
He was largely rumored to be leaning toward Kansas.
The Jayhawks have two recruits committed for 2012: five-star small forward Perry Ellis and three-star power forward Zach Peters.