The Big XII title has run through Lawrence for the most of the last decade as the Kansas Jayhawks have cut down the nets in each of the past nine seasons. While Bill Self loses Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, there is plenty of talent on this roster that should have the Jayhawks once again competing for a trip to the Final Four. Their first big test early on comes tonight versus Michigan State.
With Taylor taking his talents to the NBA, Elijah Johnson will transition from the off guard position to run the point. He is a capable ball-handler who has seen some time at the one during his time at Kansas, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the full-time responsibility. Seldomly used a year ago, sophomore Naadir Tharpe will see an expanded role off the bench. He did look much more comfortable in initiating the Jayhawks' offense in the season opener versus Southeast Missouri State.
A lot of buzz surrounds shooting guard Ben McLemore, who, as a partial qualifier last season, was not allowed to play for Kansas. The 6-5 wing is a terrific talent with the potential to be a game-changer once he puts it all together. Travis Releford, the ultimate glue guy, returns on the wing as well. He does a little bit of everything and doesn't need to score to be a valuable player.
Freshman Andrew White is a great athlete and more than capable shooter who should contribute right away along with Rio Adams, who is at his best off the bounce. Their minutes will depend on how often Self decides to play Tharpe at the one and switch Johnson back to the off guard position.
Seven-footer Jeff Withey returns to once again hold down the fort in the middle. He practically came out of nowhere to be one of the better rim protectors in college basketball last season. Without Robinson, Withey must be more assertive as a low post scorer though to give Kansas some sort of inside presence.
McDonald's All-American Perry Ellis steps into Robinson's shoes at power forward. Like Robinson, Ellis is strong and athletic, but he is still a work in progress with his all-around offensive game.
The Jayhawks didn't have a whole lot of depth inside last season but that changes this year with role players Kevin Young and Justin Wesley returning. A trio of freshmen led by Jamari Taylor, who also sat out last season as a partial qualifier, adds some more options inside. Young and Zach Peters have been banged up during the preseason though, while Landen Lucas could end up redshirting due to a lack of available minutes.
Kansas is the clear favorite to take home another Big XII title this season. The play of newcomers Ellis and McLemore along with the new faces at the point will determine whether or not the Jayhawks are capable of making another March Madness run.
Player to Watch: Ben McLemore, SG
Nobody has ever questioned McLemore's athleticism and explosiveness at the rim. If the St. Louis native can shoot the ball with efficiency from the outisde, it will serve as a huge plus since Kansas doesn't have a lot of perimeter weapons. That could lead to McLemore blowing up the national scene and leaving early for the NBA Draft.