The Kansas Jayhawks continue to operate as one of the premier programs in college basketball. Last year KU won the Big 12 regular-season title for the seventh straight season, won the conference tournament for the fifth time in the last six years and made it to within one win of the Final Four.
But if this team is going to have a down year, this might be it, as KU loses four starters and about three-quarters of its offensive production from last season.
The Jayhawks won their first 18 games last year, although they didn't exactly play a bruising non-conference schedule. Their only two regular-season losses came to Texas and at Kansas State.
Kansas won three games in the conference tournament to finish 17-2 in conference play, and then they rolled through its first three games in the NCAA tournament. But the 'Hawks then had one of those days when nothing goes right and they were upset by VCU as 11-point favorites in the regional finals.
We'd say that loss left a lousy taste in the Jayhawks' mouths over the offseason, but few of those mouths are still around. Kansas has to replace four starters this year, and a couple of bodies off the bench. And while KU rarely lacks for talent, the replacement process is bound to take a toll.
Kansas is ranked 13th in the preseason USA Today/ESPN poll.
2011-12 Kansas Jayhawks Outlook
The Jayhawks have lost six of their top eight scorers from last season, and the guys who'll return accounted for just 20 of KU's 81 PPG last year. Kansas is expecting big things from senior PG Tyshawn Taylor, who averaged nine PPG last season and led the team with 4.6 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game. And it's nice to have a point guard with 89 starts under his belt, so KU should be fine with the ball in Taylor's hands.
Junior F Thomas Robinson will go from being the sixth man last year to the key man down low this year. He averaged eight points and six boards per game last season, and that was in less than 15 minutes per game. As a starter, he could easily double both those figures.
But after those two, things are a bit “iffy.” The Jayhawks have a seven-footer in C Jeff Withey, but his experience is very limited. Junior guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, both top-100 recruits out of high school, will be counted on to step in and step up. But freshman G Ben McLemore, who they figured might play himself into a starting spot, was declared academically ineligible for this season in October.
So Kansas is thin entering this season, and that could be a factor early on.
KU lost four starters and others who combined to score 61 PPG and grab 22 RPG last year. Twin forwards Markieff and Marcus Morris, who teamed up to average 31 PPG and 16 RPG last year, went 13th and 14th, respectively, in the NBA draft. G Josh Selby left after his freshman season and got drafted in the second round. And G Tyrel Reed is playing overseas.
As for incoming talent, as mentioned above, the 'Hawks will miss out on at least a couple of recruits who they thought would see playing time, only to be declared ineligible. Kansas will, however, finally get the services of junior F Kevin Young, who did some good things at Loyola Marymount before transferring to KU and sitting out last year.
2011-12 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball Schedule
The Jayhawks will play a fun non-conference schedule, with games against Kentucky, Georgetown, UCLA, Ohio State and USC, among others, to ready themselves for the Big 12 season. Now that the Big 12 is down to 10 teams, everybody plays everybody home and road, for an 18-game conference slate.
And KU gets a ton of national TV games, so bettors everywhere will have plenty of chances to see them live. The Jayhawks open Nov. 11 vs. Towson.
2011-12 College Basketball: Kansas Jayhawks Predictions and Preview
5Dimes is listing Kansas at plus-185 to win the Big 12 regular-season title again this year, behind only Baylor at plus-160—and the Jayhawks are getting plus-2,700 to win the National Championship. Big 12 coaches voted the Jayhawks as the co-favorites along with Texas A&M, to win the conference this season.
But this might be the year KU's title streak comes to an end. With four starters gone, there's just too much to replace without taking a hit in the W-L column. The Jayhawks should have little problem extending their run of 22-straight NCAA tournament appearances, but getting through to the Sweet 16 may be tough.
Also, early word is Kansas may have some trouble putting the ball in the hole, and might go to playing a good amount of zone on defense. So the “unders” might be the way to bet KU games this season, at least early on.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks website.