Three things transpire and the 2009-2010 Kansas University basketball team strikes out the Big 12 competition, wins the conference title and contends for a No. 1 seed in next year’s NCAA Tournament.
Strike 1: Sherron Collins returns for his senior year.
Strike 2: Cole Aldrich returns for his junior season.
Strike 3: Lance Stephenson, the major talent from Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn, N.Y., signs with the Jayhawks.
All that happens and KU coach Bill Self has an embarrassment of riches similar to the one he turned into a national champion. He also has 15 scholarship players, raising the question of how the roster would be trimmed to the limit of 13. Things tend to have a way of working themselves out when a player as talented as Stephenson is interested in signing up. A player or two transfers. Maybe a scholarship player offers to pay his way for a year.
Self’s rotation generally features four inside players and four or five perimeter players. Figure Mario Little, overmatched in attempting to guard post players, will shift to the perimeter. Now take a look at how the roster breaks down.
Perimeter players: Collins, Stephenson, Tyshawn Taylor, recruit Elijah Johnson, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Little, Travis Releford, Tyrone Appleton. Post players: Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, recruit Thomas Robinson, transfer Jeff Withey (eligible at the end of the first semester), Quintrell Thomas.
The quest for a third consistent scoring threat won’t be an issue next year. It won’t take Stephenson long to become that guy. If he signs with Kansas, he projects as Self’s first one-and-done player. He’s that talented.
A starting five of Collins, Taylor, Stephenson, Marcus Morris and Aldrich would mean Kansas gets ranked in the top five in the 2009-2010 preseason poll.
Robinson, described as “freakishly athletic” by those who have seen him play, will push for instant playing time at power forward. That competition hastens the development of the Morris twins. Withey, according to those granted admission to closed practices, has a soft shooting touch and moves well, but tends to get shoved around by stronger players.
Johnson, an amazing athlete who needs to prove he can develop better shot selection and feel for the point guard position than he showed in high school, has a very high ceiling and will help once he figures out how to play efficiently and with consistent effort.
Once the swelling of the sting from finishing the year on the wrong end of a 12-2 run subsides, reasonable minds will be able to brand the just-completed season a success.
Sure, Kansas fumbled away a game it should have won, but does anyone really believe that was an Elite Eight roster Self coached the year after winning the national title and playing the year with one player (Collins) who logged more than four minutes in the 45-minute championship game against Memphis?
Collins didn’t finish the Michigan State game well at all, which will serve as all the more motivation for him to finish his college career on a high note. He’ll have a lot more help when he next takes the court for Kansas. He’ll have reason to believe he can win his second national title.