Overall Rank: #4
Conference Rank: #1 Big 12
2006-07: 33-5, 14-2, 1st
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Kansas went 33-5 last year without a senior on the roster. Luckily for the Jayhawks, only one player left early for the NBA and that leaves Coach Bill Self’s team as one of the best in the nation. Few teams can match the talent level on the team and that means the season will come down to the intangibles. Kansas has been very talented before only to disappoint come March. At least last year the team made it out of the first round of the tournament, but the fans are still clamoring for a Final Four. If it is going to happen, this could be the year.
The Jayhawks ranked tenth in the nation in rebounding margin last season and much of that was due to Julian Wright. The 6-8 forward tallied 7.8 rebounds per game and added 12.0 points before being drafted 13th overall in the NBA Draft. Obviously Wright was a great collegiate player, but the folks in Lawrence will reload and hardly miss him at all.
Center Cole Aldrich and point guard Tyrel Reed have enough talent to crack the regular rotation as freshmen. Aldrich will not be pushed around by any upperclassmen in the paint. The 6-11 240 pound Bloomington, Minnesota native is stronger than he is big. He will use his body and his strength to dominate the glass and he can step outside and hit the mid-range jumper with consistency. Once he adjusts to the level of play, which may not take long, Aldrich will be a quality player for Kansas. Reed is the point guard of the future, but he may be too talented to not play right away. He is an extremely smart player who can lead the team and make good decisions. At 6-3 and with a splendid perimeter shot, Reed can spend some time at the shooting guard spot or just be another great scoring threat from the point. The rich get richer with Kansas snagging a couple quality walk-ons in Conner Teahan and Chase Buford. At 6-5, Teahan can provide depth at the two, three and four spots. He is strong enough to play inside, but has a nice enough shot to do damage on the perimeter.
Who to Watch:
Coach Self has a couple point guards to go to. Russell Robinson might not be flashy, but he gets the job done. He has been named to the Big 12 all-defense team on multiple occasions and it does not get much better than Robinson if you are looking for a smart, steady floor leader. He averaged 4.4 assists per game last year and just 1.8 turnovers and those numbers could be even better for his senior season. Sherron Collins is the flashy and athletic option. He will have to come off the bench again this year, but Collins is a superb shooter who could very well average double digits as the team’s sixth man. Joining Robinson in the starting lineup will be Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush. Robinson might be a great defender, but he has some competition from Chalmers, who averaged 2.6 steals per game and will almost always guard the opposition’s best perimeter scorer. Chalmers does more than defend though; he averaged 12.2 points per game and is a dangerous shooting threat from the wing. Rush is another great shooter and led the Jayhawks with 13.8 points per game. Rush flirted with the NBA before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament that all but forced him to withdraw his name. Kansas may have to live without his services early in the season, but he is expected to be at full strength when it matters most. That may pave the way for the newcomers and players like Rodrick Stewart to earn some more minutes in November and that will help the overall team depth come March…not that KU really needs any more depth.
Darrell Arthur only started seven games last year and only averaged 19.0 minutes. That almost seems like a waste of talent. The 6-9 sophomore averaged 9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in those limited minutes and it is scary to think what he can do now that he will be starting in the place of Wright. Arthur is not just a big body and he will run the floor extremely effectively and stretch the defense by hitting the mid-range jumper. At 6-11 and 250 pounds Sasha Kaun is the more traditional big man who will spend most of his time in the paint. Darnell Jackson would be starting on most teams, but he will have to settle for being a key contributor off the bench. Jackson is a tough rebounder and will do all the dirty work when Arthur or Kaun need a rest.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Russell Robinson, Senior, Guard, 7.2 points per game
Mario Chalmers, Junior, Guard, 12.2 points per game
Brandon Rush, Junior, Guard, 13.8 points per game
Darrell Arthur, Sophomore, Forward, 9.8 points per game
Sasha Kaun, Senior, Center, 5.9 points per game