Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking an in-depth look at every school in the Big 12. I'll focus on the past (i.e. last season's strengths and weaknesses), the changes (i.e. incoming freshmen, departing seniors, new coaches), and the future.
If you've been keeping up with these (somewhat sporadic) team previews, you probably noticed that they are close to being in reverse order. You'll also notice that I've only covered eight teams in the conference. Yep, that means right now I'm pegging Kansas to finish fourth in the Big 12. That means I'm not only ending the streak of six consecutive conference titles, I'm ending a slightly lesser-known streak that Kansas has always finished first or second in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have been the essence of dominance in the Big 12. Between Roy Williams and Bill Self, they've drawn great recruiting classes and won a national championship.
But streaks are made to be broken. Kansas' time has come. I'm not sure why the experts are ready to crown this year's Jayhawks a top ten team (they're seventh in the AP poll and the Coaches Poll). They were the best team in basketball last season. Maybe not the most consistent (up in the air, but Duke when it mattered), maybe not the most talented (probably Kentucky), but the 2009-10 Jayhawks were a great mix of experience and youth. That said, this isn't 2009-10 anymore.
More after the jump.
Kansas hemorrhaged talent from last year: four-year "franchise" point guard Sherron Collins is gone; Cole Aldrich is gone; and Xavier Henry is gone. That's three of they're top four scorers! Yes, Marcus Morris should have a huge season, but he can't do it alone. Right now I'm working on the assumption that Selby is not eligible (he has been cleared academically, but there are still amateurism issues). Even if he is eligible, does he have Collins' efficiency or experience? Probably not. He'll be a better player, but that doesn't make him a better leader.
Author's note: Ironically, a very similar argument can be used to knock Duke down in the standings. However, Duke's stud point guard (Kyrie Irving) is eligible, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are All-American contenders, and Miles Plumlee looks primed for a breakout season.
According to Self, "It's a different team than I've had to coach the last couple years. I really think we're fast. [...] We throw it all over the place, but are fast, something fun to coach." This newfound speed is what will make Kansas a great team next year. If they can harness their athleticism, they will be ready to make a deep run in March. That said it's easy to say "alright, let's play fast but with control," but it's easy to let things get out of hand (especially without a definite backcourt leader). Kansas has a very high upside this season, but they'll have to work to get there.
In addition to Josh Selby, Kansas also brings in guard Royce Woolridge. Woolridge probably won't be as talented as Selby, but he'll stick around Lawrence much longer. And he knows how to score (he averaged 30.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.9 APG his senior season in high school). He could be an integral part to Kansas by the end of this season (and certainly next year when they have to replace Tyrel Reed).
In conference play the Jayhawks play Iowa State, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Kansas State twice. Other than Kansas State and Missouri, I'm not seeing much opportunity for the Jayhawks to lose in Lawrence (though Texas and Colorado should be able to at least make things interesting). However, the Jayhawks are young and Baylor, K-State, and Missouri will all cause major problems on the road (Colorado and Texas Tech won't roll over either). I predict the Jayhawks get swept by Missouri (40 minutes of hell with a freshman point guard never ends well), Baylor and splits with Kansas State (sheer emotion winning in Lawrence) and Colorado.
Predicted conference record: 11-5
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