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Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Keegan: Jayhawks can run the table

May 25, 2006

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The last thing Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self needs is for somebody to start cranking up the pressure on his deep, talented team six months before the season tips off.

Still, it's difficult not to ponder the possibility of KU winning the national championship with an undefeated record, a first by a college basketball team since Bob Knight's 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers pulled off the rare feat.

Sure, it's a long shot. That's a given. It's not an impossibility.

Divide the season into four segments, examine each one, and you'll see it's not as preposterous as it first sounds.

Preseason: The notion gets less outlandish if KU can find a way to defeat defending national champion Florida on Nov. 25 in Las Vegas, the same day, by the way, the Jayhawks play hated rival Missouri in football.

It's possible the KU-Florida game could feature No. 1 vs. No. 2, though North Carolina should have something to say about that. The Jayhawks and Gators both have all five starters back and welcome strong recruiting classes.

Winning at South Carolina won't be easy. Neither was going 9-2 away from Allen Fieldhouse against Big 12 teams a year ago. Defeating Southern Cal at Allen Fieldhouse and DePaul in Chicago shouldn't pose any problems. The Boston College game in Allen Fieldhouse won't be an easy one.

Big 12 regular season: Quick, name the second-best team in the conference. Time's up. See, there isn't an obvious choice. Texas will rely on talented freshmen, but experience is lacking. Oklahoma had a terrific recruiting class that fell apart when Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana. Transfers and early exits for the NBA have depleted Iowa State. Kansas State will be better under Bob Huggins, but the Wildcats won't be a serious threat until his second season in Manhattan. The right answer is Texas A&M. Oklahoma State is talented, too, though it's a lot to ask of such an inexperienced head coach to finish second. Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all have to travel to Allen Fieldhouse, which helps KU's chances of a 16-0 season.

Big 12 tourney: It's in Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma State could be in a position where it needs to play its way into the tournament, so look for the Cowboys to be a tough out here.

NCAA tourney: North Carolina brings back enough talent to win it all even before considering the Tar Heels also will blend in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Florida played a little like a Bill Walton UCLA team on the way to its first national championship, and nobody should be surprised if the Gators repeat. Other possible champions: Wisconsin, Memphis, UCLA, Arizona. First-round jitters, another tough tourney opponent for KU, should be rendered harmless next March. If the Jayhawks come in as a No. 1 seed, they'll face a No. 16 seed, a Belmont or a Binghamton, a Boston University or a Birmingham Southern.

Having such a deep roster that features so many versatile players - Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins - makes KU slump-proof and difficult to scout. Indiana ran the table in 1975-76 in part because no team was able to answer this question: What's the best way to beat Indiana?

What's the best way to beat KU in 2006-2007? Tough to say.

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