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October 25, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 12 Kansas

STRENGTHS: Thomas Robinson averaged only 14.6 minutes per game last season while backing up Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris, but he seems poised to emerge as one of the nation's top frontcourt players now that the twins have moved on to the NBA. Robinson showed his extraordinary potential last season by averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in those 14.6 minutes. Kansas coach Bill Self hasn't bothered to temper his expectations for Robinson: Self says Robinson must develop into one of the nation's top 10-15 players this season. Tyshawn Taylor gives Kansas one of the nation's most experienced guards. Taylor will be a four-year starter who has led the Jayhawks in assists in each of the past two seasons, though he never has posted a double-digit scoring average. Taylor has the ability to play either guard position. Junior Gs Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford earned plenty of playing time off the bench last season and should get expanded roles this season.

C Jeff Withey (7-0/235, Jr.)
F Thomas Robinson (6-10/237, Jr.)
G Elijah Johnson (6-4/195, Jr.)
G Travis Releford (6-6/210, Jr.)
G Tyshawn Taylor (6-3/185, Sr.)
F Justin Wesley (6-9/220, Soph.)
F Kevin Young (6-8/195, Jr.)
G Conner Teahan (6-6/212, Sr.)
G Naadir Tharpe (5-11/170, Fr.)

Coach: Bill Self (9th season at Kansas)
Last season's record: 35-3 overall, 14-2 in Big 12 (1st in league)
Postseason: Lost to VCU in NCAA tourney Southwest Regional final
Final regular-season RPI: 1st
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 1989

[More on Kansas: Go to JayhawkSlant.com]

WEAKNESSES: This isn't the same talent-laden Kansas team that earned No. 1 seeds in each of the past two NCAA tournaments. Taylor is the only player on the roster who started more than six games last season. The Jayhawks also don't return anyone who averaged more than 9.3 points per game. Kansas' depth took a hit when freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor were declared partial qualifiers, making them ineligible this season. Kansas needs Robinson to have a breakthrough season because he's far and away the team's best frontcourt option. Jeff Withey provides a shot-blocking presence, but the 7-foot junior played just 6.2 minutes per game last season and remains too thin at 235 pounds.

OVERVIEW: On paper, this team doesn't seem nearly as strong as most Kansas squads. Then again, Self has proved he can win even when he's coaching a team that doesn't have much experience. This team is reminiscent of the 2009 Kansas squad that reached the Sweet 16. Kansas entered that season with Sherron Collins as the only key returning player from the team that had won the 2008 national championship, yet the Jayhawks still managed to will their way to a 27-8 record and an outright Big 12 title. The Big 12 lacks elite teams and doesn't have as much star power as usual, so it wouldn't be a major surprise if Kansas finishes atop the conference standings again.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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