As favorites, underdogs and somewhere in between, Kansas University’s basketball team has won at least a share of the Big 12 title seven seasons in a row.
The Jayhawks have done it with young teams and experienced ones, with shot-blockers and without them.
KU has entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed in four of the past five seasons, completely turning over the roster midway through that stretch.
The quick reloading jobs done by Bill Self and his coaching staff have become so automatic that the masses assume the pattern will continue forever. This much is evident from the coaches and sportswriters who voted in the preseason college basketball poll.
The Associated Press poll released Friday had Kansas in the same position as the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, at No. 13.
I ranked KU 18th on my ballot and felt a little queasy after hitting the send button. I felt as if I had overrated a team that has just eight players who arrived at school on a basketball scholarship.
One of them is freshman Merv Lindsay, who was one of the school’s more lightly recruited players in recent years. Another freshman is a promising role player, point guard Naadir Tharpe. Another, Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young, is a 6-foot-8 junior. He’ll be counted on to play inside for a coach who demands extremely physical play from his post players. Young weighs 185 pounds, and although he has a lot of bounce, he never has been described as a banger.
Competing with that trio for minutes off the bench are former walk-ons Conner Teahan, a fifth-year senior, and Lamar University transfer Justin Wesley, a sophomore.
Not that a team ranked 13th in the country should stand up to a national champion in any comparison, but just for fun, consider that Sherron Collins, Sasha Kaun and Cole Aldrich came off the bench four years ago.
Last season, Thomas Robinson, Josh Selby, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey were available in reserve.
The thin bench comes in a year in which reserves could be needed more than in most. Robinson, a relentless, emotional competitor, forever is aggressive, which means playing to avoid things doesn’t come naturally to him, even it’s getting whistled for fouls he’s trying to avoid.
Withey, who projects as a starter, blocks shots, but can get himself into foul trouble as well.
Tyshawn Taylor, Johnson and Releford make a long, quick, bouncy perimeter trio, one that can compete with any group of starting guards in the nation. But Releford could have to spend some of his time in the post.
Even if Kansas can avoid long-term injuries, a ranking as high as 13th, especially this early, seems a stretch, an unfair expectation of a team that, compared to most, lacks experience, size and outside shooting.
If freshmen Ben McLemore, a super athlete and a skilled long-range shooter, and Jamari Traylor, an explosive big-bodied forward on the raw side, had been cleared academically, a No. 13 ranking might fit.
But nobody will have right to feel as if Kansas fell short of realistic expectations if the Jayhawks finish ranked worse than 13th.