Bill Self’s ninth season as basketball coach for Kansas University begins Friday with Late Night and opens with a foggier outlook than usual.
The Jayhawks lack experience, front-court depth and three-point shooting. It’s understandable so many have targeted this as the season their seven-year run with at least a share of the Big 12 title ends.
Experience? Senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor has played more minutes for Kansas than the rest of the roster combined.
Front-court depth? Slender Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young should help, but other than Thomas Robinson, no returning KU post player averaged more points and rebounds than Jeff Withey (2.5, 1.7) last season.
Three-point shooting? Elijah Johnson’s 22 three-point field goals in 36 games makes him the leading returning long-range shooter. Tyrel Reed (72), Brady Morningstar (43), Josh Selby (34), Marcus Morris (26) and Markieff Morris (25) all made more than that.
Compounding matters, Self didn’t land his typical blockbuster recruiting class, so contributions from freshmen could be limited.
Yet, as easy as it is to see why many forecasts call for an end to the title reign, it’s just as difficult to pick another school to win the 10-team Big 12, which has subtracted Colorado and Nebraska this season and, at the very least, will substitute TCU for Texas A&M next season.
Based on talent, any 2012 NBA mock draft indicates picking a Big 12 winner should be an easy call. On NBAdraft.net, two of the first 11 projected draft choices will play for Scott Drew at Baylor.
Perry Jones, the super-athletic, 6-foot-11 sophomore, surprised some when he didn’t jump to the NBA after his freshman season.
Quincy Miller, a 6-9 freshman forward, is the other projected lottery pick.
The Bears also have third-year starter Anthony Jones and sky-walking Quincy Acy back.
High-scoring wing LaceDarius Dunn is gone, but that could mean the ball gets in the hands of Perry Jones more often. It will be the job of point guard Pierre Jackson, the junior-college player of the year, to get it there. Jackson led the College of Idaho to the national title.
No question, Baylor has the most talented roster, but winning a conference championship requires playing consistently strong defense.
Drew’s teams play such a passive 2-3 zone defense. At the other end, Perry Jones spent too much time last season too far from the hoop.
The Bears have the feel of a team that has a better shot to get hot in the postseason and make a run similar to the Elite Eight appearance two seasons ago, than to finish atop the Big 12 standings.
Billy Kennedy comes to Texas A&M with a reputation for getting the most out of his talent, and Mark Turgeon left him some players. Forward Khris Middleton and post man David Loubeau are tough to stop, and if freshman guard Jamal Branch can adjust to college quickly, the Aggies could be a dark-horse candidate to win.
Missouri has talent returning in Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Phil Pressey, but Laurence Bowers (ACL) is out for the season, which hurts.
Don’t count out Kansas just yet.