Preseason Top 25 + 1 Countdown

CBSSports.com College Basketball Staff
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By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Blogger

Coach: Bill Self

Career record: 476-158 at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas

Best NCAA tournament finish: National champion, 2008 (Kansas)

Years at current school: 9

Vital Info: No. 4 Kansas
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Last season’s record: 32-7 (lost in national championship game)

Notable returnees from last season: Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Justin Wesley, Kevin Young

Notable losses from last season: Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Conner Teahan

Notable newcomers: Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis, Andrew White, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Rio Adams, Zach Peters

Projected starters: G: Elijah Johnson, G: Travis Releford, G: Ben McLemore, F: Perry Ellis, C: Jeff Withey

Why this team will be good: To start, Kansas will be good because, well, it’s Kansas. The Jayhawks have won eight consecutive Big 12 titles and have the pieces to make it nine. Jeff Withey was one of the most improved big men in the country last season, and he could develop into an All-American this year. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford return in the backcourt after starting 38 games each during Kansas’ run to the national title game. Johnson could be poised for a breakout season. Moreover, redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has received rave reviews -- with some talking about him as a future first-round pick.

Defense has been the calling card for Kansas under Bill Self, as the Jayhawks have finished in the top 12 nationally in defensive efficiency each of the past 10 seasons. Last year, Kansas was third in field-goal percentage defense and ninth in blocked shots. The Jayhawks contest shots and they rebound. Releford is a very good defender and Withey is an eraser at the rim.

Why this team might disappoint: No matter the team, losing two players like Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor is going to hurt. Robinson was one of the two best players in college basketball last season, while Taylor was an elite point guard for stretches. Moreover, they brought leadership and experience to the team. This year, Kansas has three key returnees -- and not much else in the way of experience. There are six true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, while the other three returnees averaged a combined 6.5 points. Self will be relying on unproven talent to replace his two departed stars.

A season ago, Kansas had problems taking care of the ball and knocking down shots from behind the arc. With Johnson taking the reins from Taylor, the team’s best returning outside shooter will now be creating plays for others. Johnson will also have to limit turnovers like he did as a secondary ball-handler.

Bottom line: It’s hard to argue with Kansas being picked to win the Big 12. The Jayhawks have the most talent in the league, and they haven’t lost a conference title in nearly a decade. If everything comes together, Kansas could certainly make another Final Four run. The Jayhawks are guaranteed to have one of the best defenses in the country, and they have three key returnees in Johnson, Releford and Withey. McLemore could become a go-to-guy offensively. Freshmen Perry Ellis and Andrew White were both top-50 prospects, and forwards Jamari Traylor and Kevin Young are solid. This team has plenty of pieces; they’re just inexperienced and unproven for the most part.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jayhawks struggle to start the season. Self has to figure out which lineups and rotations work the best -- and, as we’ve said, this is a very young team. Once everyone gets acclimated, though, Kansas is going to be one of the best teams in the country.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: “If someone is asked who will win the Big 12, you’re an idiot if you don’t say Kansas. You can’t ever underestimate anyone on their team. They’re Kansas. How many years in a row have they won the Big 12 title? They consistently put themselves in a position to win and play a high level.

“From a leadership standpoint, they’re going to miss [Robinson and Taylor]. I think Withey is hyped too much. And McLemore, he wasn’t a guy that we said, ‘Oh [expletive], we gotta make sure we get him.’ But Self does a great job coaching the personnel they have. They do such a good job of having their guys ready. They’re toughness and mentality on the defensive end, they get up in your [expletive]. But they’re relying on freshmen. I think they’ll go through some growing pains early, but be a well-oiled machine by conference play.”

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