Can Kansas Keep Big 12 Title Streak Alive If All 5 2013 Starters Leave?

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Can Kansas Keep Big 12 Title Streak Alive If All 5 2013 Starters Leave?
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A conference title at Kansas is recognized by a tiny marking on a modest banner high in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, partially hidden to half the crowd by the scoreboard.

The school's five national title banners are prominently displayed under lights, and as we have learned, Big 12 titles carry significantly more weight across the country than in Lawrence.

Regardless, Bill Self's nine-straight conference crowns are impressive and approaching an unprecedented level.

Is that streak in jeopardy as Kansas expects to lose all five starters, similar to 2008? Unlikely.

All five starters departed days after the 2008 title run, taking 85 percent of the team's scoring with them. It left a junior point guard and sophomore big man to lead the Jayhawks to their fifth-straight title and a Sweet 16 berth.

As Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis look to duplicate the success of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich from 2008-09, they are joined by a now-five member recruiting class that could swell to seven or eight in the coming weeks. The departure of Rio Adams leaves Kansas with only Tharpe, Ellis, Andrew White III, Jamari Traylor and redshirt freshman Landen Lucas to bring a 10th-straight Big 12 title to Lawrence.

The departure of Bill Self's starting five will take 79 percent of the team's scoring with it, but the concerns for next year's team should not include whether or not they can score 75-plus points per game, but rather if they can hold opponents to under 40 percent shooting.

The combination of Lucas and incoming center Joel Embiid might as imperative to the team's success as freshmen scorers Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene. All-world perimeter defender Travis Releford is gone, as is shot-blocking machine Jeff Withey and relentless hustler Kevin Young.

Self's teams have good, but not overpowering offenses. He stresses ball movement, awareness and efficiency.

Luckily for the Jayhawks, those aspects should not be terribly threatened from largely unimposing Big 12 competition next season.

Who could challenge for the Big 12?

Iowa State welcomes four-star shooting guard Matt Thomas and returns the versatile Georges Niang but loses a dynamic quartet in Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, Tyrus McGee and Chris Babb.

Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald's replacements in Oklahoma include a handful of career role players and a couple of three-star recruits. 

Bruce Weber of Kansas State waves goodbye to Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving. Recruits Wesley Iwundu and Marcus Foster are intriguing prospects, but likely cannot compete with Kansas' athleticism as freshmen.

Even if Texas point guard Myck Kabongo returns and four-star guard Kendal Yancy-Harris makes an immediate impact, the Longhorns remain thin and bland.

Baylor loses their floor leader in Pierre Jackson and likely seven-foot freshman Isaiah Austin to the NBA. Another good recruiting class for Scott Drew includes Ishmail Wainright and Dominic Woodson to provide muscle alongside Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers, but as we have seen in each of the last three seasons, you can never count on the Bears.

Texas Tech and TCU might be excited about their first and second-year coaches, but good luck winning more than six games in the long Big 12 schedule.

Bob Huggins is just trying to fill out his roster before the West Virginia Mountaineers even think about contending in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State remains the only legitimate threat to Kansas. Assuming Marcus Smart bails, the Cowboys still return Markel Brown, Michael Cobbins, Phil Forte and likely Le'Bryan Nash. Four-star prospects Stevie Clark and Detrick Mostella could provide immediate offense. Mark Soucek, a seven-footer, hopes to battle off injuries and inconsistency to give Travis Ford 20-plus minutes.

A few coaches, columnists and "experts" will feel trendy, as they do every season, in picking against the young and inexperienced Jayhawks. They will cite Perry Ellis' tentative nature, Naadir Tharpe's decision-making and a void in the paint.

There is little reason to pick against Kansas and little reason to believe this streak is ending anytime soon. Will Kansas be a reliable top-10 team next season? Doubtful.

We may see growing pains similar to those of 2008-09, in which they fell to UMass, Texas Tech and Baylor, if a leader doesn't step up.

It might be 2015 before another Big 12 team has a reasonable chance to dethrone Kansas. 

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