Kansas Basketball: Projecting the Jayhawks' 2012-13 Rotation
Kansas head coach Bill Self worked wonders with a depleted roster last season in leading the Jayhawks to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Self and his staff navigated a difficult non-conference slate relatively unscathed, constantly frustrating talented Big 12 guards with lock-down defense and fending off feisty teams in March.
They did so with no legitimate bench options to replace an exhausted Tyshawn Taylor, banged-up Jeff Withey or foul-plagued Kevin Young.
Similar to the 2009-10 season, the Jayhawks this season welcome a host of new talent to complement a veteran trio of upperclassmen. With a dozen players thinking they'll play big minutes, Self must find the best way to use a loaded depth chart in order to make a return trip to the Final Four.
Here's how I think the Jayhawks' roster will break down.
Kansas sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe was inconsistent as a freshman but may see increased minutes without a true point guard on the Jayhawks roster.
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1) Elijah Johnson— Many questioned former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor's ability to run Self's high-low offense prior to last season, but Taylor quickly proved otherwise with his improved decision-making.
Senior Elijah Johnson has always possessed the needed athleticism and size, but he lacked the consistent outside shooting, a skill he rapidly developed during conference play in 2011-12.
Johnson has slashing ability and can penetrate to the rim. But don't expect him to play point guard the way Taylor did, even though watching Taylor's development should help him tremendously with his decision-making.
2) Naadir Tharpe— Self repeatedly attempted to work Tharpe into last year's rotation, but he never looked comfortable running the offense, routinely falling victim to aggressive Big 12 point guards.
Without a true point guard on this year's roster, Tharpe may have the opportunity to receive starter minutes if the Jayhawks go with a smaller three-guard set.
3) Rio Adams— After months of eligibility uncertainty, Adams officially joined the Jayhawks just prior to the fall semester. Adams is a lights-out shooter who can also handle the ball, playing both point and shooting guard at Rainier Beach High School (Seattle, Wash.).
With Conner Frankamp committed for 2013 and Self pursuing additional elite true point guards, it seems unlikely Adams would redshirt. He should play a role similar to Naadir Tharpe's last season.
4) Evan Manning— Manning, a walk-on combo guard and son of now-Tulsa head coach Danny Manning, spent the 2011-12 season playing at New Hampton (N.H.) Prep after spending time at Lawrence (Kansas) Free State High School. With the athleticism above him on the Kansas roster, it is unlikely Manning will see significant time and should be relegated to late-game back-up duty.
5) Niko Roberts— Also the son of a KU coach, first-year assistant Norm Roberts, Niko enters his third season with the Jayhawks and has yet to see regular playing time. Despite a small game role, Self has lauded Roberts and fellow backup guard Christian Garrett for their exceptional contributions in practice and off the court.
1) Ben McLemore— Despite a lack of experience at shooting guard, it might be the most promising position on the Jayhawks' diversified roster.
Following a year of ineligibility, McLemore finally gets his opportunity to overpower undersized defenders. At 6'6", McLemore, who has received comparisons to former Jayhawk Brandon Rush, will certainly get a chance to prove he deserves the hype. He figures to be immediately inserted into Self's starting lineup.
2) Andrew White— Shockingly, White went mostly unnoticed in this year's recruiting class as many eyes were focused on Wichita product Perry Ellis and the eligibility of redshirt freshmen Jamari Traylor and McLemore.
Also at 6'6" and receiving Rush comparisons, White might boast the best outside shooting game of any Kansas shooting guard in the last two decades.
With a few lessons from senior defensive guru Travis Releford to complement his impressive Ray Allen-esque quick release on his three-point shot, White might get more than the expected 10-12 minutes per game.
3) Christian Garrett— Garrett bleeds crimson and blue, but even with a thin roster last season he could not find minutes, something that appears inevitable during his remaining time in Lawrence.
Similar to Niko Roberts, Self believes heavily in providing accurate defensive looks in practice and Garrett has contributed heavily in that capacity. Do not expect to see him playing meaningful minutes behind McLemore, White and the incoming 2013 guards over the next three years.
4) Tyler Self— Any relation to Bill?
Tyler joins Kansas as an invited walk-on after receiving minimal interest from smaller programs across the Midwest. In a small role with Lawrence Free State, Self averaged 3.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, but he should give the starters a good look at similar-sized combo guards in practice.
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1) Travis Releford—After patiently waiting on the bench during his first three years as a Jayhawk, with a redshirt season in the middle, Travis Releford became a household name during the Jayhawks' 2011-12 season as he regularly received the task of defending the opponent's most dynamic playmaker.
With the size to match up with bigger small forwards and an improved perimeter shooting game, Releford became one of the Big 12's best all-around players. With the departure of Tyshawn Taylor and possible transition of Elijah Johnson into the point-guard role, the fifth-year senior should see an expanded offensive role in 2012-13.
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1) Perry Ellis—The 6'8" Ellis, who was on Bill Self's radar for nearly five years, is a versatile low-post player who could become an even better and more developed Marcus Morris-type player.
Because of Jeff Withey's imposing presence down low, Ellis should have plenty of room to operate along the baseline and at the elbow. A bevy of outside perimeter shooters will also help to relieve any double-teams and pressure inside for the promising freshman from Wichita.
2) Jamari Traylor— Like Ben McLemore, Traylor was ruled ineligible last season and was relegated to spring-semester practice time rather than providing needed depth in the paint.
It remains unclear what Taylor's role will be in Self's offense. But from all accounts, it appears the powerful Chicago redshirt freshman will see significant minutes, getting the chance to back up Withey in smaller lineups and complement Ellis at power forward.
3) Kevin Young—Young joined Kansas last season following a transfer from Loyola Marymount and became a key reserve down the stretch.
Despite foolish fouls and inconsistent decision-making, Young regularly provided a spark off the bench and often provided a much-needed blow for Withey or All-American Thomas Robinson. With Traylor available and a small army of incoming freshman talent, it appears that Young will be forced to win minutes with hustle and timely rebounding.
4) Justin Wesley—He made headlines this offseason, not for improved play but for his acting role in a locally produced film as he portrayed Kansas legend Wilt Chamberlain.
Another mid-major transfer, Wesley saw a handful of unexpected minutes in 2011-12. But again, improved depth at both forward positions will force him to the end of the line.
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1) Jeff Withey— Following two injury-plaqued seasons in which the Arizona transfer regularly looked confused and overmatched, Withey blossomed into an elite traditional center as a junior under the guidance of Self and departed assistant coach Danny Manning.
After setting the NCAA Tournament record for most blocks (31), he finally gained consistent national attention. He flourished alongside Thomas Robinson and should do the same with talented newcomers Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor beside him.
2) Landen Lucas— Another freshman from the Pacific Northwest, Lucas joins Kansas as a bruising hybrid power forward/center. He has an excellent passing game to complement already dynamic low-post work.
Similar to Traylor, it is unclear what role Lucas will play, but he is far too talented to be relegated to mop-up duty or receive a redshirt this season. He moves tremendously well for a 6'10", 240-pound forward and could develop as a three-point shooter, similar to Marcus Morris.
3) Zach Peters— Peters is the most likely candidate for a redshirt as a freshman. While he is a big body who can relieve any of the power forwards, along with Withey or Lucas in the event of foul trouble, his raw physicality and decision-making as a passer needs improvement.
Self may wait until the last minute to pull the trigger on Peters, but it appears likely he would be lost in the crowd this season, similar to Travis Releford's situation at small forward in 2009-10.