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November 5, 2009

Top 347 countdown
No. 1 Kansas
Coach: Bill Self (seventh season).
Last season's record: 27-8 overall, 14-2 in Big 12 (first in league).
Postseason: Lost in third round of NCAA tournament to Michigan State.
Final regular-season RPI: 11th.
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 1989.
Returning starters: 5.

OVERVIEW

Although he stops short of making any bold predictions, Kansas center Cole Aldrich can't help but smile when talking about the 2009-10 season. "There's a good chance," he said, "that we could have a lot of fun this year." It's easy to see the reason for Aldrich's excitement. Kansas returns all five starters from last season's Sweet 16 team and has national player of the year candidates in Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins. Add standout recruit Xavier Henry to the mix, and the Jayhawks boast a blend of talent and experience that most teams will struggle to match.

Center Cole Aldrich says No. 1 Kansas could have a lot of fun this season.

PROJECTED STARTERS
C Cole Aldrich, 6-11/245, Jr.
F Marcus Morris, 6-8/225, Soph.
G Sherron Collins, 5-11/205, Sr.
G Xavier Henry, 6-6/220, Fr.
G Tyshawn Taylor, 6-3/185, Soph.
KEY RESERVES
F Markieff Morris, 6-9/232, Soph.
F Thomas Robinson, 6-9/230, Fr.
G Mario Little, 6-5/210, Sr.
G Brady Morningstar, 6-3/185, Jr.
G Tyrel Reed, 6-3/185, Jr.

FRONTCOURT

Aldrich would've been a top-10 pick in June's NBA draft had he chosen to leave school after his sophomore season. Instead, he returns to lead what should be one of the better frontcourts in the country. Freshman Thomas Robinson is a tenacious rebounder who should compete for significant minutes. The most noticeable difference, though, could be sophomore Marcus Morris - who improved more than any Jayhawk over the summer. If Morris' numbers increase (7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds) and if Aldrich's offensive game catches up to his defensive prowess (11 rebounds and 2.7 blocks), the Jayhawks could be unstoppable down low.

BACKCOURT

Not many Kansas guards have had a career like Collins, who likely will graduate as the winningest player in school history. Last season, Collins had to shoulder most of the scoring load (18.9 points) from the perimeter. This season, he'll get some help. Sophomore Tyshawn Taylor, who alternates with Collins at the point, came on strong midway through last season and will be more offense-minded. Coach Bill Self said freshman Elijah Johnson, a likely backup, is as good an athlete as he ever has recruited at Kansas. Henry, though, could be the key piece to the Jayhawks' title run. A 6-foot-6 freshman, he gives Kansas the athleticism and scoring ability on the wing it was missing last season.

OUTLOOK

Kansas has won five consecutive Big 12 titles under Self, and although Texas will provide a stiff challenge, a sixth seems likely. Beyond that, the Jayhawks appear as poised as any team for a national title run for the second time in three seasons. Collins is the only Jayhawk who played a significant role on Kansas' 2008 championship team, but last season's squad developed nicely and probably would've been in the Final Four if not for a late-game collapse against Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The bet here is that it doesn't happen again.

The Rivals.com 2009-10 Preseason 347 Countdown

Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.



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