*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered â€“ the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks. After we broke down a Wisconsin and their All-American earlier today, we’ll keep this going with No. 13-ranked Kansas (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).*
Bill Self‘s Kansas Jayhawks ended a promising 2010-2011 season losing to the No. 11-seed VCU Rams. If that wasn’t bad enough, Kansas lost five key players, including Marcus and Markieff Morris and Josh Selby to the NBA. The Jayhawks, ranked No. 13 in the USA Today preseason poll, are ready for another crack at the tournament, only this time with a new core of players.
Junior Thomas Robinson, who elected to return to Kansas after being projected as a first-round pick, is one of the most athletic big men in the country. Robinson is a physical specimen at 6-9, 237 pounds. He started to come into his own last season, averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in less than 15 minutes a game. His explosiveness at his size makes him a mismatch for defenders. Look for Robinson to be one of the most exciting and promising forwards in the country this season. Besides Robinson, senior Tyshawn Taylor, the only returning starter from last season, is back at point and provides good speed and a fast tempo for the Jayhawk offense. With juniors Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, this Jayhawk team should be a fun team to watch with the way these two guys attack the rim.
Although Robinson is a gifted athlete, he still needs to improve on his game on both sides of the floor. However, his athleticism and strength will help him be a top rebounder in the conference. Kansas needs players to step in immediately to fill the roles of Brady Morningstar, who did a little bit of everything last year, and the knockdown shooting of Tyrel Reed. Kansas has big expectations for Johnson to fill some of the void left behind by Morningstar and Reed. Johnson is a solid combo guard with a strong finish and a good shooting touch. The 6-4, 195-pound guard got only limited PT last year in a deep Kansas backcourt, but this is a player that can really impress people in 2011-2012. He’s has the potential for a breakout year. Releford should also help replace the production of Morningstar and Reed, as he will get increased minutes from the 10 he got last season.
The jury is still out on team chemistry. Kansas lost four of its five starters. The Jayhawks have guys returning with experience, but only four returners recorded double-digit minutes last season. With Robinson still needing to polish his offensive game, Kansas doesn’t really have a go-to scorer. Taylor will be asked to up his scoring from last season (9.3 PPG), but he has no problem finding open teammates.
Taylor, as a point guard and a four-year starter, needs to be the leader for this team. He has improved each season and if he can stay out of trouble, will be a big plus for a talented, but inexperienced Jayhawk team. Another player to look out for is junior center Jeff Withey. During the media day, Bill Self explained how Cole Aldrich and Robinson were both the team’s fourth big man in one season, then came out and had explosive seasons in the next one. Withey could be the next in line. Self said he thinks Withey, the 7-footer, can be one of the premier shot blockers in the Big 12.
The last two seasons have ended in postseason failure. Maybe this new group can avoid the trends left by the last one. However it won’t be easy. Kansas has a tough out-of-conference schedule, headlined by games against No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Ohio State, both in the first month of the season.
This team has a lot to prove. Can Tyshawn Taylor be a true leader and not be a distraction off the court? Will Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson have the breakout years they are capable of? Can Kansas avoid another early exit in the NCAA Tournament?
Still Kansas is ranked for a reason. There’s no reason why this team can’t finish at the top of the Big 12 standings at the end of the season. As for the NCAA Tournament, the past two seasons Kansas has been a No. 1 seed. This team, although good, probably won’t be ranked that high this season, so the expectations won’t be overbearing.
If this team can click and grow as the season progresses, they’ll be tough to matchup with in March.
All photos courtesy of Jeff Jacobsen, Kansas Athletics.
Do you expect a breakout from Thomas Robinson? Can Kansas be as good as they were last year?
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