Just two seasons removed from its first national championship in 20 years, Kansas could be the early favorite to again be the last team standing at the Final Four.
The top-ranked Jayhawks likely won't have much trouble beginning that quest Friday night, when they open the season by hosting Hofstra in the schools' first meeting.
After a dramatic overtime victory over Memphis in the 2008 NCAA final gave the program its first national title since 1988, Kansas' continued success was somewhat of a surprise last season.
The team began ranked 24th, but quickly recovered from heavy personnel losses and won a fifth straight Big 12 regular-season title, also reaching the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks (27-8) would shock no one with a strong 2009-10 after easily earning the top spot in the preseason rankings. Coach Bill Self has his entire starting lineup back along with his top nine scorers, some of whom will have to compete for playing time with a loaded freshman class headlined by top recruit Xavier Henry.
The spotlight, however, will be mostly on Kansas' pair of preseason All-Americans. Senior guard Sherron Collins ranked third in the Big 12 with 18.9 points per game last season, while junior center Cole Aldrich was tied for sixth in the nation with 21 double-doubles.
"I do think we return the best guard in the country and the best big man in the country," Self said. "I think if you're going to start a team, why not have an anchor and why not have a guard?"
Collins and Aldrich will have plenty of help, even though junior guard Brady Morningstar was suspended for the first semester following a drunk driving charge. Jeff Withey, a 7-foot freshman, also won't be eligible until January after transferring from Arizona.
Their absences should hardly make a dent in Kansas' depth. The Jayhawks' strong sophomore class includes starting guard Tyshawn Taylor and twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, but the incoming freshmen could be the most intriguing group.
Henry, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who committed to Memphis before John Calipari's departure, is expected to contribute quickly. Self has also been impressed with his classmates, forward Thomas Robinson and guard Elijah Johnson.
"They're better than I thought they'd be," Self said. "Everybody thought Xavier would be a great prospect and he is, without question. I don't know if everyone thought Thomas and Elijah would be the players they are this early."
That has created some tough decisions for Self regarding the starting lineup, which may not include some players who have become accustomed to regular playing time. It's unclear who will start Friday after Self did some shuffling in the Jayhawks' exhibition games.
Chemistry could also be an issue as the new players settle in around Collins and Aldrich.
"If we get to jelling, I think we'll be one of the toughest teams to beat in the country," Collins said.
Self will be happy to begin play after a tumultuous preseason, which saw his team get in a series of skirmishes with the Kansas football team. Taylor was at the center of the controversy, injuring his hand in one of the fights.
It would be surprising if Friday night's game produced as much drama. Kansas has won its last 36 openers at Allen Fieldhouse, and Hofstra has never faced a top-ranked team.
The Pride (21-11) return their top three scorers after going 11-7 in the Colonial Athletic Association and winning 20 games for the fourth time in five seasons, but coach Tom Pecora also has six freshmen on his roster.
Hofstra's biggest threat is junior guard Charles Jenkins, whose 19.7 points per game in 2008-09 rank 10th nationally among returning players. The co-CAA preseason player of the year also averaged 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.