University of Kansas

J. Brady McCollough breaks down the Jayhawks

At some point early this season, Kansas coach Bill Self will tell the story of the 2005-06 and 2008-09 Jayhawks. He will use those examples _ inexperienced teams who started slow and ended up winning Big 12 regular-season championships _ to calm a panicking fan base.

Thing is, the makeup of the teams isn't all that comparable. Those teams were truly young, while this year's team will be starting five upperclassmen who have been around the program for at least two full seasons and should know what it takes. What will make 2011-12 equally scary for Self and the fans is KU's lack of depth and tough nonconference schedule.

A starting lineup of Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey should be up to KU's standard, but it's to be determined if freshman guard Naadir Tharpe, junior transfer forward Kevin Young and senior guard Conner Teahan, a former walk-on, can pack enough punch off the bench for No. 13 KU to beat the likes of No. 2 Kentucky in Madison Square Garden, Georgetown and others in the Maui Invitational, and No. 3 Ohio State in Allen Fieldhouse.

Certainly, catching freshman-laden Kentucky early in the season is good timing. But it will still be a tall task. Kansas should be favored to beat Georgetown and the UCLA-Chaminade winner in the second game, so an appearance in the Maui final against Duke, Michigan, Memphis or Tennessee is possible. KU gets the powerful Buckeyes in Allen, where anything is possible.

Still, fans should be prepared for three to four losses before conference play begins.

In conference play, because of having played a brutal slate, KU will be ready _ as long as it hasn't sustained any major injuries along the way. This looks to be a weakened Big 12 _ only Baylor is ranked ahead of Kansas at No. 12 _ so it's a perfect time for Self to not have a team full of guaranteed future NBA players.

Baylor is more gifted physically, but it's unclear whether Scott Drew can get the Bears to play to their potential. We can expect that Self will get the most out of the Jayhawks. Texas A&M and Missouri have plenty of returning players but new coaches.

Kansas should be able to claim at least a share of its eighth straight Big 12 crown with a record of 13-5, give or take a game in either direction. With the league tournament in Kansas City, KU will be the favorite.

So let's say the Jayhawks are 25-9 entering the NCAA Tournament. They'll be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed and have a good chance at making the second weekend. At that point, anything can happen, and Self would be able to add this season to 2005-06 and 2008-09 the next time his fan base reaches panic mode.

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