Losing All-American Thomas Robinson and floor leader Tyshawn Taylor will make Kansas a very different team in 2012-13. Even with two stars gone, though, the talent-rich Jayhawks have enough left to be leading contenders for yet another Big 12 title.
Here are three reasons why KU is still the team to beat in conference play next season:
1. Jeff Withey gives Kansas the conference’s best defense
Center Jeff Withey, who had his star turn smothering Jared Sullinger in the Final Four, ranked seventh in the country last season with 3.3 blocks per game. With him anchoring the middle, the Jayhawks held opponents to 38 percent shooting, the third-best mark in the nation.
There’s little doubt that Withey will keep the Jayhawks near the top of that list in 2012-13, and he’ll be especially valuable in matching up with Kansas’ leading Big 12 competitors. Both Texas (Cameron Ridley) and Baylor (Isaiah Austin) will be relying heavily on elite freshman centers, both of whom will be in for a serious wake-up call when they go head-to-head with one of the nation’s toughest defenders.
2. Final Four experience goes a long way
Withey and two other presumptive starters—Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford—also started for last year’s national runners-up. There’s no substitute for that kind of big-game experience…especially not in a conference where experience of any kind is at a premium.
Baylor and Iowa State lose three starters each and Texas has nothing but freshmen and sophomores. In that context, the presence of senior leaders of the caliber of Withey and Johnson is an invaluable asset—especially if the conference turns on one or two games that come down to the wire.
Note: The original version of this entry included a mention of Missouri's lost starters, but Missouri is no longer part of the Big 12. Thanks to commenters Shawn and Doug for catching this problem. The author regrets the error.
3. Kansas’ new arrivals can hold their own
Even without a Cameron Ridley or Isaiah Austin, Kansas has an impressive crop of freshmen arriving this fall. PF Perry Ellis and SG Andrew White lead a group that’s ranked as high as 10th in the country (by Rivals.com).
Then, too, the Jayhawks aren’t solely dependent on this year’s recruits for new blood. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore is a first-class athlete who’s going to be one of the team’s top scoring threats next season.