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No. 15: Kansas Jayhawks


Mike Miller

Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 35-3 (14-2), 1st in Big 12
Lost in NCAA tournament Regional Final

Coach: Bill Self, 237-46, 9th year (444-151)

Last NCAA miss: 1989

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Kansas lost four starters and six of its top 10 players from last year’s team. How’s that a good thing? Self has dealt with this kind of attrition before. And he ended up as national coach of the year.

So can Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford help a crop of young Jayhawks turn into a Top 20 team? (Obviously I think this is a redundant question.) Robinson is a beast down low, both in rebounding and scoring. Taylor and Johnson are excellent on-ball defenders and explosive off the dribble. And Releford’s an underrated scorer.

The incoming freshmen and transfer Kevin Young aren’t the usual stellar crop of blue chip recruits, but they’re hardly chumps. And until someone else puts it together in the Big 12, Kansas remains the king.

The bad: There’s plenty to nitpick, however.

Robinson is foul prone and limited offensively. Taylor and Johnson are erratic shooters. Releford can’t create his own shot. In terms of talent, Baylor has the Jayhawks beat and by a fair margin.

Of the newcomers, 6-5 freshman wing Ben McLemore figures to be crucial for his scoring ability and Young for his rebounding. Self acknowledges his group isn’t a recruiting home run, but likes how the pieces fit. Given the nasty schedule, it might take until January to complete the puzzle, though.

The unknown: It’s a perfect time for Kansas to defy the odds. And given how last season ended, the Jayhawks need a boost. But unless Self wants to win with defense – and that could be the case, given his guards – the offense will need Robinson to become a go-to guy in the post.

That’s entirely possible, too.

Jayhawks assistant Danny Manning has already helped turn several post players into NBA draft picks and now he’s got Robinson all to himself. (Not to mention a nasty dunk over the summer you may have heard about.)

The Jayhawks won’t be entirely dependent on Robinson, or any other one player. That’s not how Self works. But this is a year when having one mega star sure wouldn’t hurt.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.