2011-2012 Record: 32-7, 16-2 Big 12 Regular Season champions, lost to Kentucky in National Title game.
Remember when everyone said that last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Kansas? Yeah...about that. The Jayhawk Dynasty turned out to be as strong as ever as Bill Self led Kansas all the way to the national title game and secured an 8th straight Big 12 title along the way. Following a familiar script, Self will again look to guide a team that lost its top talent to the NBA to another Big 12 title and another deep tournament run.
Three starters return from last year's national runner-up and they'll welcome in a deep and star-studded freshman class that has some folks around Lawrence thinking not only Big 12 championship, but national championship.
Thomas Robinson put together one of the most dominant seasons in the history of the Big 12, scoring 17.7 points and grabbing 11.9 rebounds, en route to easily being named player of the year in the conference. Replacing that type of production is never easy, but that's where senior C Jeff Withey and freshman F Perry Ellis come in. Withey was a dominant shot blocker inside and had just as much to do with the Jayhawk's tournament run as any other player. In the absence of Robinson, Withey could be poised to emerge as a double-double threat inside. That type of steady play will allow Ellis, a four-time player of the year in Kansas, to comfortably work his way into the rotation as he builds confidence. The Jayhawks also return steady back ups, Kevin Young and Justin Wesley, though Young may miss some time as he recently broke a bone in his hand. Jamari Traylor, who redshirted last season, could also be a factor in the rotation.
A big reason Kansas enjoyed the post season success that they did was due to the play of Elijah Johnson. The senior scored in double figures in every game in the tournament and his March hot streak may be a preview of things to come. Defensive stopper Travis Releford, is the other returning starter from last season and again will draw the assignment of matching up against the opponent's best perimeter player. The real hype out of Lawrence though is for Ben McLemore. Forced to sit out last year by the NCAA, McLemore could have been the difference maker Kansas needed to truly test Kentucky. Self has been gushing about McLemore's talent all off season and Jayhawk fans are eager to see him in action. Some are saying he's the best pure talent to come through Lawrence since Brandon Rush. Fighting for minutes off the bench will be Naadir Tharpe, who was occasionally used as a back up point guard last season and incoming freshmen, Anrio Adams and Andrew White.
Why They'll Win The Whole God Damn Thing
It's Kansas. I wouldn't even bet house money against them at this point. This team is deep, has size and just might be more complete than they were a year ago. They'll likely lose a game or two along the way (February 25th on ESPN's Big Monday in Hilton Coliseum in particular), but the engraver might as well get started on chiseling "Kansas Jayhawks - 2013 Big 12 Champions" on the conference championship trophy.
Why I Don't Know Shit
Throughout this series, I've continually pointed out just how deep this league is this year. With as many as eight teams fighting for a chance to dance, surviving the gauntlet schedule of this league will be no easy task. There might not be a better home court advantage in college basketball than Allen Fieldhouse, but winning on the road could prove tough for Kansas. A loss or two here and there may open the door for another league contender to sneak in. One stretch in particular could prove difficult for the Jayhawks. From January 19th to January 28th, Kansas has to play road games at Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia. That stretch will be pivotal to maintaining the Jayhawk Dynasty.
The Parting Note
Since Bill Self took over in 2003, Kansas has amassed a ridiculous 124-24 conference record, an .838 winning percentage. The only other two coaches that have been at their current schools that long are Scott Drew at Baylor and Rick Barnes at Texas. During that time, Drew is 52-86 in conference play while Barnes is 99-48.