The focus early in the season will undoubtedly be on the newcomers, but any success will hinge on the three returning starters who helped the Jayhawks to the Final Four last season.
Seven-footer Jeff Withey emerged as one of the nation’s top interior defenders, though he’s still trying to refine his game on offense. He also won’t have Robinson on the block to take some of the pressure off him, which means double- and triple-teams will be constant.
Elijah Johnson will spend most of his time moving from off-guard to the point, which he played in long stretches during the NCAA tournament. Johnson’s outside shot is streaky, but his leadership is not, and he’ll be counted on to be one of the team’s cornerstones this season.
Travis Releford is the same tough-minded defender he’s been the past three seasons.
“We have so much experience,” Withey said, pausing. “We have the extremes, guys who played in the national championship and guys that are right out of high school.”
The Jayhawks, the unanimous pick by the Big 12’s coaches to win the league yet again, benefitted from a preseason trip to Europe to help blend the newcomers with the veterans. But they’ll still have to put their preparation into fast forward with a tough early schedule.
They open the regular season against Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 9 before facing Michigan State four days later in the Champions Classic. They’ll also play Washington State and either Texas A&M or Saint Louis in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo., before November is over.
Oregon State, Colorado, Ohio State and Temple highlight the rest of the schedule before Kansas opens the double-round robin of the Big 12 slate against Iowa State on Jan. 9.
“Having Michigan State the second game of the season, it does amp it up a little bit,” Self said, before adding: “I do think we have a chance to be good by the end.”