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Will anyone challenge KU hoops for Big 12 title in 2011-12?

It doesn't require much of a memory to recall the last seven regular season Big 12 men's basketball champions.

Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas.

(Note: Three of those years, KU shared the regular-season title with Oklahoma [2005] and Texas [2006, 2008], but you get the point. It's a heck of an accomplishment).

With Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby seeking NBA riches, the success of next year's team will be largely connected to the on-court maturation of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson.

Bill Self, who's won an absurd 83.7 percent of his games in eight years in Lawrence, will be gunning for an eighth straight Big 12 title in 2011-2012. Will anyone from the recently-trimmed Big 12 legitimately challenge KU? The Jayhawks have never finished worse than 12-4 in the league during their seven-year reign as conference champs.

The NBA Draft early eligibility deadline passed on April 24, so we have a better idea of how Big 12 rosters will be constructed next season. Note that players who have not signed with agents can withdraw from the draft up until June 13, so this is not an exact analysis.

Here's how I'd rank the 10 Big 12 teams (still have to get used to that) right now, looking ahead to next season:

1. Kansas (35-3 overall, 14-2 Big 12)

With the Morris twins declaring for the draft, Kansas will lose its top two scorers and rebounders from a year ago, when the Jayhawks went 35-3 and lost to VCU in the Elite Eight. KU's third-leading scorer, Tyrel Reed, is also gone, along with Brady Morningstar and Mario Little.

That said ... Not picking KU to win the Big 12 next season would be a bigger mistake than a pitcher grooving Jose Bautista a fastball in the middle of the strike zone (only shameless plug of my fantasy baseball team in this entry, I promise).

We've seen this episode before. KU was supposed to take a step back in the league standings last year after the departures of Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry. How did that turn out?

Until the Jayhawks are knocked off their throne, they deserve the top spot on everyone's preseason ballot. And there's a good chance KU will live up to the expectations. Taylor and Robinson return, along with Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.

Ben McLemore, an incoming freshman from St. Louis and Rivals.com's No. 34-rated player nationally, should challenge for a starting spot immediately (especially if he throws down like this in Allen Fieldhouse).

Furthermore, KU fans are hitting the refresh button 50-100 times per minute awaiting the decisions of recruits DeAndre Daniels (No. 10 nationally) and Trevor Lacey (No. 24 nationally). (Side note: I've fielded two calls after midnight at the Journal-World recently inquiring about Daniels. To quote Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean: "You need to find yourself a girl, mate.")

You'd have to think the Jayhawks lure at least one of the prized recruits to Lawrence with playing time readily available. Kansas is probably a top 15-20 team without Daniels and Lacey, and a top 5-10 team with one or both of them.

2. Baylor (18-13, 7-9)

The Bears, after a disastrous 18-13 season (considering the talent), and a seventh-place finish in the league standings, will be loaded next season.

Perry Jones surprisingly turned down millions of dollars and a potential top-five spot in the NBA Draft to return to Baylor for his sophomore season. He'll be joined by incoming 6-8, 193-pound freshman Quincy Miller, ranked No. 7 overall by Rivals.com. Another Quincy (Acy) also will return, giving the Bears one of the most feared front lines in the country.

If Baylor receives production from its backcourt (incoming freshman Deuce Bello and a slew of transfers should help), the Bears could make a run at the league title.

3. Missouri (23-11, 8-8)

New coach Frank Haith will inherit an immensely talented group. The Tigers only lose Justin Safford from last year, and he only started 12 of 34 games. MU's top six scorers return, including Marcus Denmon (16.9 ppg), one of the best guards in the league. Mizzou is deep at guard with the Pressey brothers (Phil, Matt) back, along with Michael Dixon.

Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe will form a solid frontcourt. Expecting Haith to win the league in his first year is unrealistic, but a top-three finish is not far-fetched.

4. Texas A&M (24-9, 10-6)

Murray State coach Billy Kennedy accepted the Texas A&M head coaching job on Sunday night, taking over for Mark Turgeon, who left for Maryland. Kennedy will take over a solid group, led by Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, A&M's top two scorers last season. Add incoming freshman point guard Jamal Branch (No. 65 nationally), and the Aggies have some nice pieces.

5. Texas (28-8, 13-3)

Texas was the lone threat to Kansas last season in the league race, but the Longhorns should take a step back next year with the losses of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph to the NBA. Add seniors Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas to the departure list, and that's six of UT's seven leading scorers from last season who will be gone.

Say what you want about coach Rick Barnes, but he remains one of the best recruiters in the country. Five-star incoming freshman point guard Myck Kabongo (No. 26 overall) will run the show for UT next season, and J'Covan Brown will join him in what should be a solid backcourt.

Depth issues and an unproven frontcourt will raise questions on whether the Longhorns can challenge for the Big 12 title.

6. Oklahoma State (20-14, 6-10)

The Cowboys will be somewhat of a wild card, with their success likely tied to the effectiveness of incoming five-star freshman recruit LeBryan Nash (6-7, 230 pounds, No. 6 nationally). Coach Travis Ford also will bring in point guard Cezar Guerrero (four stars, No. 71 nationally) to go along with returners Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi. OSU will be a scary team loaded with sleeper potential and a high ceiling.

7. Kansas State (23-11, 10-6)

The Wildcats return Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, but I don't see them contending for the league crown without Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.

8. Iowa State (16-16, 3-13)

The Cyclones were competitive last season, despite finishing last in the league standings. Coach Fred Hoiberg will enter his second season with quite a few transfers (mainly Chris Allen from Michigan State, and Royce White from Minnesota) looking to make up for the loss of seniors Diante Garrett and Jamie Vanderbeken.

9. Oklahoma (14-18, 5-11)

New coach Lon Kruger signed a seven-year, $16.6 million contract to leave UNLV and head to Norman. He has quite the rebuilding project ahead of him.

10. Texas Tech (13-19, 5-11)

Billy Gillispie will receive another chance to prove himself in the Big 12. The former Texas A&M coach will have to deal with the departures of TTU's best players: John Roberson, Mike Singletary, David Tairu, D'walyn Roberts and Brad Reese.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.

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Comments

lee3022 2 years, 11 months ago

Coach Bill Self - plus 8 or 9 of his talent - de-stripes all the paper tigers - stampedes all the paper cows - declaws all the paper wildcats - skins all the paper bears - plows all the paper aggies - delays all the paper sooners - blows away all the paper cyclones - ropes all the paper cowboys and paints all the paper red raiders.

Kansas and the 9 dwarfs return for another encore.

Jeff has it right. Until someone ends it it is KU first always.

(of course that does not mean I don't bite my fingernails during the season)

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Ralster Jayhawk 2 years, 11 months ago

Very good core of TRob, Releford, EJ, TT to build around. See what Withey, Anderson, BMax, Tharpe can do. Thats 8 guys, 3 of them frosh. 8man rotation is Self's most comfortable. Play & develop the frosh. Look what it did for Marcus! Oh, forgot to add Justin Wesley, who is a plus if he only adds rebounds and stickbacks, since he is a leaper and always around the rim. Now thats 9 before any further recruits. Play the frosh, but let the core carry us.

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William Blake 2 years, 11 months ago

Even without landing another recruit, we have a legitimate shot at the Big 12 title. The league looks a bit weak next year... Texas is reloading. I'd keep my eye on Missouri, especially for a late run. They have most of their team back but it will surely take some time for Haith to find harmony with the team.

Baylor should be pre-ranked #1 in the Big 12, but until they prove they can win consistently they have to remain in the shadows. Drew can recruit, but hasn't proven he can coach talent and develop a team concept. At some point, you can expect them to melt down.

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REHawk 2 years, 11 months ago

Back at you, HEM. I, too, have been frustrated to see some of our more athletic players serving what seems like way too much bench time. And yeah, I would probably opt for a regular season loss or two just to see those guys capture more experience. On the other hand, I am so proud of those league titles that I would not wish to see us lose a key game which might cost a Big 12 championship. There have been times, tho, when it seems costly, in the big picture, not to get the Relefords and EJ's onto the floor for more minutes whenever possible, even if injuries limit their 100% production. Now that the homecourt winning streak has been scotched, perhaps fans can accept a home loss occasionally. Unless the opponent is Missouri, Baylor or Texas!

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Ben Kliewer 2 years, 11 months ago

I will say what I want about Rick Barnes, thank you. He is an amazing recruiter...but alas for Texas, no matter how much money they throw at him, he just can't coach. With the talent on his roster, he should've won 4 NCs by now...give or take...

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Tony Bandle 2 years, 11 months ago

One thing to think about..all nine teams have to come to Allen. There are no teams so dominant that winning in Lawrence is a sure thing. Kansas goes 9-0 at home and 5-4 on the road, that's 14-4 and that's probably good enough.

Missouri and Baylor will be tough but does anyone else, even as a road game, scare you??

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REHawk 2 years, 11 months ago

HEM, I admire much of your thinking. However, I am at odds with you regarding the league titles vs. Final Fours. I view league titles as heraldry of a main body of work; arrival to Final Fours, esp. the National Title Game as more of a crapshoot, similar to a freakshow. Not to say I don't cherish national titles much more than conference championships. But year in and out I would go for 8 consecutive league banners rather than two Final Fours and inconsistent league finishes. I have been very disappointed in our recent history of early outs in the NCAA tournaments. I truly feel that, over time, Bill Self will improve on postseason wins. That said, I am very pleased with the annual Jayhawk play since Roy Williams chose to return to his alma mater. There is absolutely no coach involved in current Div. I hoops that I would rather see at the helm of Kansas Basketball. He has kept us near the pinnacle. Right now, I say, let's strive for an 8th consecutive Big 12 title. 18 games of solid play. Then roll the dice or perform under the big lights with the cards we are dealt. Another Butler or VCU or UConn will probably be roaring and ready to leap forth to break someone's bubble. One loss, and bye-bye.

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Jack Wilson 2 years, 11 months ago

Interesting premise of the article .. could be viewed a few ways: 1) Self doesn't see us competing for the top spot without Lacey and/or Daniels. Here's his quote: “How we do could very well determine whether or not we have a chance to win the league next year or have a chance to just keep our head above water,” KU coach Bill Self said Sunday, speaking in generalities of today through Wednesday, the last three days of the signing period. "If we are able to finish strong, we’ll be good. ... There’s not many guys left out there that can really play because everybody signed (early). We just happen to be recruiting three or four of them. We still have three kids we’ve got to sign, or two kids at least.”

but... 2) How could anyone even consider betting against KU for the league title given the last 7 seasons? Isn't it a ridiculous discussion or consideration until we actually lose a league title?

but... 3) Missing the actual important point .. how about if we talk about getting to a Final Four and forget the useless chatter about a conference title that in the end is of no national significance? Yes, we are spoiled with conference titles. They would mean more, maybe, if we rarely won one. But we are where we are. Everything the coach does .. everything .. recruiting, playing time, scheme, conditioning, how they tie their shoes .. needs to be done with March success in mind, in my humble opinion.

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Ralster Jayhawk 2 years, 11 months ago

Maybe all things are cyclical, even for WildBill. He did "play the frosh talent" in 08-09 when frosh Marcus and Tyshawn started. In 09-10, we had a huge bench who sat and even redshirted, so they could watch the X-periment (fail) from the bench. In 10-11, we saw a reliance on seniors to steady some wildness, with very incremental increases in PT for EJ, Mario. This year, no choice but to play all 'realistic contributors'.

Recall that in 08-09, after starting frosh McM+TT, Self wins Natl Coach of the Year.

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Scott Smetana 2 years, 11 months ago

Great article. We will challenge for the Big 12 even without McDaniels. Baylor looks much better on paper, but anyone who follows the Big 12 knows 2 things... Texas always crumbles down the stretch and Baylor under-performs away from home.

Our ability to play at the elite level with the big teams next year completely depends on us getting some big men. I think Releford is gonna be a star at 3 and we obviously are loaded at the 1 and 2.

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Jacobpaul81 2 years, 11 months ago

2011-2012 - My thoughts:

Best two coaches in the Big XII: Bill Self and Lon Kruger

Big XII Coaches with a Final Four: Bill Self (2008), Lon Kruger (1994), Rick Barnes (2003)

Best coaches in the Big XII without a Final Four? Scott Drew (Elite 8, 2010), Frank Martin (Elite 8, 2010) and Billy Gillespie (Sweet Sixteen, 2007)

Weakest coaching resumes: Frank Haith, Travis Ford, Fred Hoiberg.

Coach we shouldn't write-off: Billy Kennedy - He's just as good as Turgeon

Best returning players next season: Marcus Denmon, Perry Jones and Thomas Robinson.

Best returning two player tandem in the Big XII: Acy/Jones, Taylor/Robinson

Best Three Player Tandem? Denmon/Bowers/Ratliffe

Best returning teams in the Big XII: Baylor and Missouri

Strongest all-around squad: Missouri

Pre-Season All Big XII 1st Team: Tyshawn Taylor, Marcus Denmon, Perry Jones, Thomas Robinson, Laurence Bowers

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IrishDaddy 2 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps the "Big" 12 can get back to 12 teams, and add some respectabliity by inviting some mid-majors to join the fun, perhaps Northern Iowa or VCI, or UMKC !!!

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justinryman 2 years, 11 months ago

Baylor Baylor Baylor....Last year it was KSU KSU KSU.

A one player team has never beaten a Bill Self team, and that is exactly what Baylor is next year. Just like KSU this year. Sure they got one win, KU got 2.

Plus lets look at what Coach Drew brings to the X'x and O's, compare that to what Coach Self brings. I will take coach Self 6 times a week and twice on Saturday over Drew.

Saying that, there isn't a coach in the Little 12 that can out coach Self. Sure Mizzu has a lot coming back, but Haith as their coach???? Again I will take a week roster at KU over Mizzu with Haith at the controls.

Texas? Are you serious? Lost some good talent, lost some leadership if you can even say they had an, and lets face it, Rick Barnes can recruit, but he couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper bag.

Tech? A&M? OU? OSU? Out of those 4 schools OSU might be the best, the rest might be an easy 6 wins for KU.

Yeah I think KU can win the Conference again in 2011-12 without sharing it. King of the Mountain, stays the king until someone can knock him off. Good luck to all on comers, you will need it!!!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk....Jayhawk For Life

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phog1004 2 years, 11 months ago

I honestly think we end up sharing with Baylor. They have more talent, but then again, they are coached by Scott Drew and we are coached by Bill Self. Do the math on that (see Texas and what Barnes does with his ridiculous stable of talent). I think Withey turns out to be better than expected, which according to most on here is pretty much non-existent. Robinson stays the beast he is, but develops a solid 15 - 18 footer with the help of Danny over the summer. Taylor is Taylor. Sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes frustrating....but by himself he won't lose a game for us (just make us throw the remote at the TV occasionally). I think the sleeper is EJ. At times he played very well, stayed poised with the ball, was one of our better 3 point shooters (look it up, I was surprised too), and is obviously an athletic freak. If he can tap the potential we have been hearing about, it takes this team to another level. That combined with a very athletic/good shooter/solid defender in Travis Releford, and another more athletic/just as good of a shooter/but-who-knows-defender in BMac, and from what I hear good-not-great Tharp and Anderson....we'll be just fine next year.

oh, and uh, thats_messed_up......please tell me you are a KSU or MU fan. If so I won't even need a response other than....YOU'RE A KSU OR MU FAN ! ! !

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hawksince51 2 years, 11 months ago

Next year will be interesting since we will play everyone twice and we lose our 4 automatic wins against CU and NU. Winning on the road will be at a premium and that will be tough at MU, Baylor, OSU and ?. We probably lose one home game as well. I expect the conference champ to have 4 losses and logic tells me that will be Baylor. Best I hope for is that KU is co-champ with Baylor but I have us at 13-5.

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Scut Farkus 2 years, 11 months ago

I hope McLemore checks his attitude at the door.

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REHawk 2 years, 11 months ago

My prediction: If Withey and Robinson stay healthy and out of trouble, KU wins or shares #8 for this coaching staff. Would certainly be a relief to see another big man come aboard before midAugust. O yes...Tyshawn, stay focused and determined!

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Robert Brock 2 years, 11 months ago

KU is not going to win the regular season championship with our current roster.

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nuleafjhawk 2 years, 11 months ago

Thats_messed_up - That's messed up.

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Thats_messed_up 2 years, 11 months ago

I think 2012 will be the year that KU does NOT dominate a weak Big 12 basketball conference and then get smoked by a Missouri Valley team (or worse VCU)in the NCAA tournament. Bradley, Northern Iowa, and oh yeah Wichita State (1981) hahahaha. I must mention Bucknell and 17th seeded Virginia Commonwealth also. Wow how do you lose to a 17th seed?? Is that possible?

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khekhen 2 years, 11 months ago

i actually think Baylor wins the league next year; with Lace gone, Jones has the freedom to dominate, plus he's going to be playing with a slight chip on his shoulder. Dunn was holding that whole team back last season.

KU plays well in league play(only because the opposition is going to be that bad), this isn't the 2009 team, we dont have any sleepers to make a huge impact and take us to the sweet 16 like we did with sherron and the twins.

as much as i like robinson, he's going to have to turn into dwight howard over the summer in order to make as much of an impact as sherron had during the 2009-2010 campaign. i dont see robinson being able to jack up 20 shots/game effectively as sherron did that season. that was truly special.

having said all that, a high pick and roll with taylor and robinson sounds tempting against the mediocre big 12 competition. against the rest of the nation? not so much, next year is going to be pretty star studded as many uber hyped underclassmen are returning for their sophomore/junior seasons.

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