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Shooting for rock solid

Kansas starts the season atop the AP poll, but several obstacles

November 08, 2009|John Marshall

LAWRENCE, KAN. — Kansas, as you may have heard, is loaded, the best team in the country.

Deep, talented, full of current and future stars, the Jayhawks have the kind of team that would make it tough for the best player at some schools to crack the bench.

Just don't hand over the national championship trophy. Not yet.

For all the preseason hype, including predictions of a second title in three years, top-ranked Kansas still has to actually go out and do it. The Jayhawks, like everyone else, have their share of questions on everything from maturity to chemistry -- enough to keep those reservations to Indianapolis on hold.

"No team is perfect," Oklahoma guard Willie Warren said. "They're a good team, but everyone is beatable."

OK, so call the Jayhawks the least beatable team headed into the season.

Senior Sherron Collins is one of the most dynamic players in college basketball, a bulldog of a guard with a knack for getting to the rim. Cole Aldrich is arguably the nation's best true center, a shot-blocking rebounder who can take over games scoring or without even taking a shot.

They'll be complemented by a talented returning cast, with the top nine scorers back from a team that reached the Sweet 16. Twin power forwards Markief and Marcus Morris, point guard Tyshawn Taylor and powerful guard Mario Little -- among others -- all should be better with year of experience.

The recruiting class is probably the best Bill Self has had in six years in Lawrence. It's headed by Xavier Henry, who could be the first one-and-done player in Kansas history, and also includes his brother, C.J., speedy point guard Elijah Johnson and 6-foot-10 forward Thomas Robinson.

Without playing a minute, these Jayhawks are already imposing.

"If we get to jelling, I think we'll be one of the toughest teams to beat in the country," Collins said.

Now, for the questions.

* Do the Jayhawks have the maturity to live up to expectations? A series of ugly, on-campus fights with members of the football team embarrassed the university and raised questions about the players' judgment. Taylor suffered a serious thumb injury throwing a punch during one of the fights and exacerbated the situation by posting inflammatory comments on a social networking site.

Less than two weeks later, guard Brady Morningstar was arrested on suspicion of DUI. The team's best perimeter defender and a clutch shooter, he's been suspended for the fall semester. Backup guard Chase Buford also received diversion for a July drunken-driving charge.

Were the incidents isolated or symptoms of a bigger issue? Self isn't one for putting up with much nonsense.

"I'm not real happy with our guys for those events that took place," Self said. "But if we were that undisciplined and irresponsible that selfish motives could get in the way of something so insignificant, then we weren't obviously disciplined or responsible enough to win big. If anything, I think we'll be more disciplined."

* Is there too much reliance on newcomers? This year's team is similar to the 2008 national champions in talent and depth. One big difference: the '08 team was front-loaded with upperclassmen, most of whom had played together for three years.

These Jayhawks are young, with Collins and Aldrich the only players with more than a full year of experience. Teams like Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky are built around upperclassmen.

Collins and Aldrich are both leaders, preseason All-Americans who took a young team within two games of the Final Four last season. But they aren't perfect.

Collins can get out of control when the game speeds up and sometimes tries too hard to take over close games. Aldrich disappeared offensively at times last season in part because his teammates didn't get him the ball -- something that shouldn't happen to a veteran.

Chances are they'll be great this season, even better than a year ago, but they'll need help to have any chance of matching the 2008 team.

"That team didn't rely on newcomers," Self said. "This team will have to rely on some newcomers. There are some unproven pieces."

* Not enough basketballs? With this many stars, Self will have his hands full trying to find playing time and shots for everyone. Redshirts could trim the rotation some, but even then players who could start at other schools will be buried on Kansas' bench.

Flip side? Kansas could be really deep if Self finds a mix that works.

"The issue will be getting the rotation down and having everybody be comfortable with their role," Self said. "What appears to be a negative now may turn out to be a positive later."

More than that, can those egos coexist?

Self had to go on a fence-mending trip to Oklahoma this summer after Carl Henry, father of Xavier and C.J., said his sons might bolt for Kentucky, worried they were being portrayed as selfish and disinterested in classes.

The Henry hubbub has been smoothed over, but there are clearly a lot of players on this team who are used to being the center of attention.

"Probably the only thing that happens to good teams is they get too confident," Colorado guard Dwight Thorne II said. Of course, it's possible none of these questions will matter. Self runs a tight ship, won't put up with any more shenanigans, and the Jayhawks, as you may remember, are loaded.

"I like our team," Self said.

So does almost everybody else.

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Marshall writes for the Associated Press.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

AP preseason Top 10

1. Kansas

2. Michigan State

3. Texas

4. Kentucky

5. Villanova

6. North

Carolina

7. Purdue

8. West

Virginia

9. Duke

10. Tennessee

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