Following another Big 12 championship, an Elite Eight run and a 35 win season, Kansas basketball is facing a bit of a rebuilding project. The Morris twins, Josh Selby, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Mario Little are all gone. Five of those players ranked in the top six in terms of minutes played in 2010-2011 and overall the loss represents six of the regular eight man rotation that the Jayhawks used a season ago.
Needless to say the offseason was an important one for Bill Self in terms of recruiting. Unfortunately the last minute departures led to a six man class with some talent, but it wasn't an overwhelming success by Kansas standards. Still the incoming class of Naadir Tharpe, Jamari Traylor, Ben McLemore, Braedon Anderson, Mervyn Lindsey and Kevin Young looked like a group that was a nice blend between instant depth and future projects.
Fast forward to "Late Night in the Phog" and Kansas basketball has a very different look. Anderson, McLemore and Traylor have all been ruled partial qualifiers by the NCAA. The Big 12 does not accept partial qualifiers so that means none of them can play for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2011-2012. Anderson has since left the University, while McLemore and Traylor are slated to join the program at semester in hopes of playing in 2012-2013.
The rulings represent a somewhat recent trend by the NCAA. Missouri lost out on a top 15 recruit last year in Tony Mitchell and St. Johns has had trouble on the same level as Kansas as they have seen three players ruled ineligible this Fall.
What does it mean for Kansas basketball this season? At this point it's hard to tell. Kansas has had the luxury of working with an extremely deep bench for the last few seasons and this is the first sign of trouble during the Bill Self era. At the same time the starting five looks as good as anyone on paper.
Thomas Robinson is a 1st team All American type player. Tyshawn Taylor is a senior point guard and a four year starter that ranks near the top of the Big 12. Elijah Johnson is a five star recruit that made major strides late last year. Travis Releford is a local talent that has good size, athleticism and he's been waiting his turn. Round that out with Jeff Withey who is a 7 footer that was recruited by several very strong programs. If this group of five hits their potential Kansas will have every chance in the world at winning a down Big 12 conference.
But if we look a little further down the list you'll find a fairly thin and very inexperienced Kansas bench. In the frontcourt you lose potential depth in both Anderson and Traylor and you're left with a walk on in Justin Wesley and a transfer in Kevin Young. Wesley is an unknown at this point but many are expecting him to be able to provide spot minutes. It's not as if Bill Self doesn't have a history with walk ons, if you need an example just look toward Christian Moody. Young transfers in from Loyola Maramount and can provide depth underneath but also has the ability to move out to the wing. Again, he's not a proven commodity at the Big 12 level but he looks the part.
In the backcourt Kansas will look toward true freshman Naadir Tharpe and senior Connor Teahan. Obviously Tharpe is expected to be an impact player at some point during his Kansas career but that might not be this year. For Teahan this season represents an opportunity for him to play the role of the savvy senior. Again, not a lot of experience for Teahan in terms of game minutes, but he redshirted last year for this exact reason.
Overall Kansas has nine players that seem to naturally fit as part of the rotation. The starting five is as strong as anyone in the conference but the questions surrounding how Bill Self rounds out the rotation are fairly significant. The good news is that Bill Self has played with a seven or eight man rotation even when he could go twelve deep. The bad news is that Kansas no longer has that room for error. Injuries, failed expectations or any other road blocks could prove to be a big challenge as Kansas will for the first time in a long time face depth issues in 2011-2012.