As Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks enter the coming basketball season, plenty of questions abound.
Who will replace departed stars Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich? Which returning players will assume prominent scoring roles? Which incoming player will make an immediate impact on the team?
The answers to those questions may come sooner than later for Kansas, but fear not, Jayhawk Nation: The answers will come, and the results will be highly favorable.
Replacing a player that reaches All-American status is a task that a lot of teams in college basketball are capable of accomplishing. Having two All-Americans depart for the NBA is something only a handful of programs can pull off, but Kansas is one such program.
First, losing Cole Aldrich's dominance in the paint may be handled with a multi-player approach. Kansas returns a seven-foot Jeff Withey, who is more athletic than Aldrich but less of a scoring threat. Lack of experience at center will probably be offset by the slightly smaller but extremely athletic duo of Marcus and Markieff Morris.
Marcus and Markieff, the Jayhawks' version of the twin towers, are 6'9" and 6'11" respectively, with Marcus being named to the Wooden Award watch list already. Coach Self will more than likely deploy his forces a great deal of time without a true center in the lineup.
The Jayhawks have a bevy of experienced ball-handlers and outside shooters returning, so replacing Sherron Collins should not cause many drastic changes to the look and feel of this year's squad. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are hard-nosed defenders and skilled marksmen from behind the arc.
Tyshawn Taylor will look for consistency in running the Jayhawk offense. Although Taylor spent much of the previous season in Coach Self's doghouse for various reasons, he is still a very capable ball-handler and scorer. Few players in college hoops can match his ability to drive to the basket and score or be fouled.
The Jayhawks also return senior swingman Mario Little, who is coming off an injury-plagued redshirt season. Little is the highly touted junior college transfer from Chipola Community College (Fla) who in 2008 showed flashes of a polished inside-outside scoring touch.
The Jayhawks will have tremendous depth at all phases of play in 2010. The frontcourt will be rounded out by athletic power forward Thomas Robinson. Robinson is coming off a freshman campaign that saw the 6'9" big man show glimpses of greatness. He is a tough defender and extremely athletic.
Add newcomer Justin Wesley to the mix for minutes at forward. Wesley, the stepbrother of former Jayhawk Keith Langford, is a 6'8" sophomore transfer that will bring athleticism and intensity to KU's frontcourt.
Freshman guards will see significant minutes as well, with 6'2" Royce Woolridge leading the way. The nation's No. 1 player for the class of 2010, Josh Selby will challenge for a starting spot in the rotation should he ever be cleared by the NCAA for play. Selby's amateur status and academic eligibility are still in question according to the NCAA.
Sophomore Elijah Johnson will also earn playing time and looks to build on a freshman season that saw him play limited minutes. Johnson is another long defender at 6'4" and would compete for a starting spot in the lineup at almost any other Division I school.
This edition of the Jayhawks has the look and feel of another very successful KU team. The parts and pieces of the 2008 national championship team were largely athletic, long, hard-nosed defenders and fast. This year's squad is every bit as athletic and possibly faster than the 2008 squad.
If Coach Self has his way, the Jayhawks will play fast again, a departure from last season when the tempo was slowed a bit to accommodate the strengths of Cole Aldrich. Constant ball pressure from long, athletic guards should lead to fast-break opportunities for KU. Big men who run the floor like deer will mean dunks and lay-ups as the reward for playing good defense.
In all, the questions that surround KU will be answered quickly, and the hope in Lawrence is that a deep run in the NCAA tournament and another league title are well within reach.