The Big XII title has run through Lawrence as the Kansas Jayhawks have cut down the nets in each of the past seven seasons. However, Bill Self loses several key contributors from last season and only has eight scholarship players on his roster. In other words, it could be a rare down year for a Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk team that has only lost six games the past two seasons.
Self was left scrambling for recruits when the Morris twins and Josh Selby declared for the NBA Draft and Royce Woolridge decided to transfer. The Jayhawks signed some talented freshmen but suffered a huge blow when three of them, Jamari Traylor, Ben McElmore, and Braeden Anderson were all ruled partial qualifiers and therefore, ineligible for the upcoming season.
Just imagine if Thomas Robinson had declared for the NBA Draft as well, rather than choosing to return for his junior season... He is a lottery prospect and will get the chance to step into the limelight this season after playing behind the Morris twins and Cole Aldrich during his first two years in Lawrence.
Former Loyola Marymount standout Kevin Young transfers in and adds some needed experience in the frontcourt alongside Robinson. Young is not very physical, but his athleticism makes him a factor on the glass. Self has said that his game is similar to that of former Jayhawk, Julian Wright. Senior Jeff Withey is the other option up front, though he has played sparingly the past two seasons. The seven-footer is the only true center on the roster, and his size and potential as a shot blocker should earn him steady minutes.
This season will also provide Tyshawn Taylor with the opportunity to truly embrace his potential and test his leadership abilities. He made an immediate impact as a freshman but has not taken the next step the past two seasons. Taylor is a terrific defender and has great size and strength for a point guard, but still turns the ball over too often as a playmaker.
Junior Elijah Johnson is another player who will need to break out this season for Kansas. He has been stuck on the bench behind some talented guards during his first two years but will step into a starting role. He is a combo guard who can shoot it from deep but is also extremely explosive at the rim.
It seems to be a running theme for the Jayhawks, but Travis Releford also goes from a role player to someone who will have to be an impact starter. He is a physical wing who has a nice inside/outside game and is also solid and versatile on the defensive end.
With limited depth, freshmen Naadir Thope and Merv Lindsay are expected to see quality minutes off the bench. Thorpe is a true point guard who knows how to run an offense and distribute the basketball. Lindsey is a threat from the outside but still fairly raw in his all-around ability.
Conner Teahan and Lamar transfer Justin Wesley were originally walk-ons but have earned scholarships for this season. Since Kansas is thin on bodies, Teahan and Wesely could both see limited roles and will be pressed into duty if there is foul trouble or injury.
This young team will be tested early in the season with a matchup against Kentucky and trip to Hawaii for a loaded Maui Invitational. Expectations are always high at Kansas, but this year's team lacks the depth and experience to be national title contenders. They will need a lot of pieces to fall into place to remain atop the Big XII, but certainly shouldn't be ruled out of the conversation if the development of their young talent shines through.
Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson, PF/C
In less than 15 minutes per game, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season playing behind the Morris twins. He probably could have started for 99% of the teams in the country and will get the opportunity to be the guy for the Jayhawks this season. Robinson has great size and strength to overpower opponents down low but also has a smooth stroke to his jump shot. He plays with terrific energy which sometimes gets him into foul trouble, but if he can stay on the floor, has the potential to the Big XII Player of the Year.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/15 vs. Kentucky (at MSG)
11/21 vs. Georgetown (Maui Invitational)
11/22 vs. UCLA/Chaminade(Maui Invitaional)
11/23 vs. Duke/Tennessee/Memphis/Michigan (Maui Invitational)