'09-'10 Kansas Basketball Preview: The March to Indianapolis
Kansas was not supposed to be as good as they were last season. After winning the national championship and having their roster gutted by the NBA in 2008, the Jayhawks were expected to be a middle-tier team with a lot of question marks on their roster.
Instead, they went 27-8, earned a No. 3 seed, and gave eventual runner-up Michigan State all they could handle in the Sweet 16.
Expectations are sky-high in Lawrence this year because of that success. They return every key player from last year's team and add several talented newcomers. Bill Self's squad tops the early rankings from basically every organization entering this season.
PG—Sherron Collins, 5'11" 205, SR
Collins is one of the best guards in the country and a major reason that so many people like the Jayhawks. Though he can be turnover prone and will occasionally force bad shots, he is a major key to their offense as their best creator.
Sherron is an elite scorer that can beat you on the drive or from outside. He averaged a whopping 18.9 points per game last year while also contributing five assists per game. He hit over two three-pointers per game last year and shot a respectable 43.4 percent from the floor.
With a deeper and more dangerous team, Collins could be even more efficient this year. Last season he was forced to carry a large portion of the offensive load on an inexperienced team. This season he should be able to pick his spots more often and only take over when needed.
SG—Tyshawn Taylor, 6'3" 180, SO
Though he was only a freshman, Taylor was an extremely efficient and versatile player last year. He shot over 50 percent from the floor last season while also being an effective outside shooter and ball-handler. Tyshawn has the talent to be even more dangerous this season.
However, he may get off to a slow start to the season. Taylor injured his hand in an offseason altercation. He is expected to return to the court almost two weeks before their opener against Hofstra, but he may not be on top of his game right away.
SF—Xavier Henry, 6'6" 220, FR
Brady Morningstar started last season, but my guess is that this talented freshman cracks the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Henry is one of the most gifted freshmen in the country, with the potential to be a one-and-done lottery pick. He has great size and athleticism for the position and also has deep range on his jumper.
Xavier could be a matchup nightmare with his size and skill and should give Kansas plenty of flexibility. He is big enough to guard a number of bigger, perimeter-oriented forwards if the Jayhawks decide to go small and could also bother most smaller guards with his length.
PF—Marcus Morris, 6'8" 225, SO
Marcus was the more productive of the Morris twins last season. He didn't play significantly more than his brother Markieff, but he was more effective from the field and averaged roughly three more points per game.
Morris gives them another burly interior player in their starting lineup, though he will probably be more of a role player. Though he was a decent finisher inside and hit the occasional jumper, they have more talented and versatile options on offense.
C—Cole Aldrich, 6'11" 245, JR
Cole probably could have entered a fairly weak NBA Draft and been a lottery pick, but his return to Kansas makes them one of the big favorites to make the Final Four.
Aldrich was one of the most dominant big men in college basketball last year and will probably end up on the All-American team. He was a force on both ends of the floor, averaging roughly 15 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks per game while shooting almost 60 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line.
Very few players on the college level can guard Aldrich. Besides his length and strength, he also has a good array of post moves and a soft touch around the basket. He can also step outside and hit mid-range jumpers. He will probably see numerous double-teams this year.
He is a beast on the defensive end as well. He is the anchor for their usually smothering defense and cleans the glass with the best of them.
His solid all-around performance gives them a big edge inside against most opponents.
I could probably write another article only discussing their bench. Kansas is the deepest team in the nation with a number of potential difference makers that will not start for them.
Predicting the rest of the rotation for Kansas is extremely difficult. They have a number of talented players that may or may not earn significant minutes. The Jayhawks could easily go 12 deep if they want to.
The previously mentioned Brady Morningstar will probably see the most minutes. He started last year and was a lethal outside shooter, hitting 42 percent from behind the arc. He was also a decent passer, so he will probably see time at all of the wing positions.
Markieff, the other Morris twin, should also get significant minutes. He's a little taller and stronger than his brother, so he could be a big factor inside.
Tyrell Reed also played a fair amount of minutes last year, though that may not happen again given the ridiculous depth in their backcourt. Like Morningstar, he was a dangerous player from behind the arc, though his contributions weren't quite as well rounded.
Talented former Junior College All-American Mario Little may also be a factor on the wing, but he has rarely been healthy enough to be a dependable option. Travis Releford, a former four-star recruit, could also play but only saw limited minutes last season.
The returning players give them plenty of options, but there are still three more highly-regarded newcomers to talk about.
Freshmen Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey also have the potential to make an impact up front. The former is an athletic power forward that can fly up and down the floor, the latter is a 7'0" transfer from Arizona that can dominate in the paint at both ends. Withey will not be eligible to play until the second semester.
The Jayhawks also add electrifying guard Elijah Johnson. Johnson is an impressive athlete that could be a difference maker for most programs in the country. However, he might struggle to crack the crowded backcourt rotation.
Kansas definitely has the talent to make an impact on the national level. They have everything you look for in a national championship contender: size, depth, athleticism, star power, numerous outside shooting options, and a tough defense.
The Jayhawks will be able to physically overwhelm most of their opponents with their stable of athletes and they have enough skill to out-play the few teams that can hang with them athletically as well. It will be interesting to see how Coach Self will manage their rotation as it could be difficult to keep everyone happy.
The only question is whether or not they reach their potential. While they were a solid team last year, they still have to take the next step to be a dominant force that can cut down the nets in early April.
Collins and Aldrich give them a great foundation, but some of their other players will have to play well to reach their goals this season.
The Jayhawks are definitely on the short list of contenders. In fact, most experts consider them the consensus favorite to win the title this year. I won't argue with that assessment.
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