Kansas Basketball: 5 Bold Predictions for the Big 12 Season
One simple bold prediction would have sufficed prior to both the Big 12 seasons of 2008-09 and 2011-12: Kansas will win the Big 12 regular-season title.
Eight straight titles has finally convinced writers, coaches and others to stop picking against Bill Self's Jayhawk teams, regardless of returning talent or unproven underclassmen.
As the 2012-13 squad seeks to add a ninth straight title to Self's resume, they have perfectly crafted a uniquely versatile team with seasoned upperclassmen, a veteran coaching staff, suffocating defenders and a freshman phenom.
Those four aspects might lead that title charge, but there is plenty of room for bold predictions for Kansas' Big 12 season, one that begins on January 9th against Iowa State.
Naadir Tharpe: Will Average 20 Minutes Per Game in Big 12 Play
Naadir Tharpe looked a tad overwhelmed as a freshman last season when giving senior Tyshawn Taylor a breather, shooting a putrid 28.9 percent from the field in only 5.5 minutes per game.
He did appear in 32 games as the only other point guard at Bill Self's disposal, indicating the head coach desperately wished to get Tharpe comfortable in anticipation of an increased role this season. That increased role (17.2 MPG) has come along with a significantly better field-goal percentage of 42.3 in his expanded role behind Elijah Johnson.
While Johnson has shown improvement in his ability to run Self's offense in his new role at point, he has left the door open to the sophomore Tharpe, with both players producing effectively when on the floor together.
Look for Tharpe to average over 20 minutes per Big 12 contest with excellent decision-making as he attempts to lock down the starting role for 2013-14.
Travis Releford: Shuts Down Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash in Both Meetings
High-flying Cowboys small forward Le'Bryan Nash was one of the few bright spots for a 15-18 Oklahoma State team last season, and an increased shooting touch this season has justified the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year hype.
The Jayhawks' Travis Releford held the sophomore to 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting in Nash's only appearance against Kansas last season, constantly altering perimeter shots and eliminating penetration opportunities.
Nash, a potential lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft along with teammate Marcus Smart, will immensely struggle once again to gain separation on the offensive end in both meetings this season.
Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford Will Each Shoot over 60 Percent
Kansas projects to lose its entire starting five following this season, but seniors Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford are certainly not leaving anything on the court, or on the rim for that matter.
The trio of Withey (58.2), Young (61.4) and Releford (61.7) are converting every available opportunity on the offensive end. With a slight improvement from their seven-foot center, they will each finish the Big 12 season shooting 60 percent or better.
Not one starting Jayhawk shot above 54 percent last season, contributing to their 47.2 percent clip as a team.
Joe Dooley: Becomes Nation's Hottest Head Coaching Candidate
Bill Self plucked assistant coach Joe Dooley from Wyoming in 2003 and has heavily used Dooley's help as a tactical guru in perfecting their high-low offense.
Considered one of the best recruiters in the country, the 46-year-old Dooley has attracted nearly a dozen 5-star players in his 10 years, contributing to sustained success in Lawrence.
Another excellent development job of Kansas' senior class will further prove he deserves a chance at one of the nation's elite mid-major programs by season's end.
Ben McLemore: Best Freshman Statistical Season in Kansas History
Bill Self has had rousing success in recruiting elite prep talent to Lawrence in his decade at the helm, but current redshirt freshman Ben McLemore might be the best of the best, not just in his tenure but in the history of KU hoops.
Kansas legend and former assistant coach Danny Manning compiled the single-best freshman statistical campaign in school history during the 1984-85 season, in which he averaged 14.6 points per game on 209 field goals.
By the end of conference play, Ben McLemore will break those two records along with Greg Gurley's 1992 free-throw percentage record of 80.0.
He currently sits at 15.8 PPG with 131 made field goals and a free-throw mark of 87.2.