As the only member of 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 would defend Brandon Rush.
“Oh, 2008 was better,” Teahan said as quickly has he hoists a three-pointer.
“The 2008 Final Four team would be favored but I’m not sure the ’12 team would buy into that at all,” Self said.
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 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 the 2012 team has a star in Robinson that KU didn’t have four years ago. Those Jayhawks not only didn’t have an All-America player, 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.
Kansas 2008 (37-3)
The winningest team in Kansas history does it all. They dominate on both ends and attack from all positions. If it’s not Chalmers or Rush draining threes, it’s Rush on the drive or Jackson in the paint or Arthur inside and out. These Jayhawks bring talent off the bench in waves and can overwhelm opponents. This is Self’s most talented roster.
Kansas 2012 (31-6)
Self’s second Final Four team is one of his most unlikely. Four new starters to build around guard Tyshawn Taylor, who for the first time in his career runs the team. Everybody has played to their potential and then some with Robinson emerging as one of the nation’s top players, Jeff Withey a shot-blocking specialist, Elijah Johnson coming on strong, Releford’s defense, and Taylor finding a way to win despite a shooting slump.
Robinson (17.7 points) is a load, and Withey (9.1) blocks shots as well as anybody Self as coached. But the 2008 team can present problems with Arthur’s ability to step outside and knock down the jumper. Withey guards Arthur (12.8 points) and Robinson starts on Jackson (11.2).
Taylor (16.6 points), Johnson (10.0) and Releford (8.4) might be the second-best defensive backcourt under Self. Chalmers (12.8), Russell Robison (7.3) and Rush (13.3) are the first, and sixth-man 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.
Kevin Young has come on strong, and 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.
Both teams checked their egos as 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.
In the end
Look for the 2012 team to fall behind, perhaps by double digits before rallying back. 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 Chalmers jumper.