Top 25 Countdown: No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 32-7, 16-2 Big 12 (1st); Lost to Kentucky in the National Title game

Head Coach: Bill Self

Key Losses: Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Connor Teahan

Newcomers: Ben McLemore, Perry Ellis, Rio Adams, Andrew White, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Zach Peters

Projected Lineup:

G: Elijah Johnson, Sr.
G: Ben McLemore, Fr.
F: Travis Releford, Sr.
F: Perry Ellis, Fr.
C: Jeff Withey, Sr.
Bench: Naadir Tharpe, So.; Kevin Young, Sr.; Justin Wesley, Jr.; Rio Adams, Fr.; Andrew White, Fr.; Jamari Traylor, Fr.

Outlook: Bill Self always has teams that can defend. According to Kenpom’s database, in his nine seasons at Kansas, the Jayhawks have never been worse than 18th when it comes to defensive efficiency. That was in 2005. They haven’t been out of the top ten since then, finishing as the most efficient defensive teams in 2007 and 2008, the year they won the national title.

This season, defense isn’t simply going to be one aspect of the game for Kansas; it’s going to be their lifeline. The Jayhawks weren’t exactly on offensive juggernaut last season, and that team was a two-man show with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor accounting for more than 57% of the possessions when they were on the floor. With both Robinson and Taylor gone, the Jayhawks are going to have to answer some questions on that end of the floor.

But before I jump ahead, the defense. It starts with Jeff Withey, who was the nation’s most dominant shot blocker last season. He’s a legitimate seven-footer with a wingspan that’s long for his height and a terrific sense of timing and avoiding drawing fouls. He’s the human eraser around the rim, which is great news for Bill Self’s perimeter players. There’s nothing more comforting for a guard pressuring defensively than knowing that, if he gets beat, his man won’t be scoring at the rim. And with a trio of big, athletic guards — Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Travis Releford go 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, 6-f00t-5 — on the floor to provide that defensive pressure, scoring on Kansas is going to be a nightmare.

That’s good news for the Jayhawks, as they may end up having some issues on the offensive end of the floor. Withey, for all of his defensive ability, is not really a threat on the offensive end of the floor. He’s a great offensive rebounder and he can finish off a dump-down or an alley-oop, but that’s about it. You’re not going to throw the ball to him in the post and clear out. Freshman Perry Ellis may eventually be that guy, but that could take some time. Ellis may not even start at the beginning of the season, as the Jayhawks have a plethora of big bodies at their disposal — Kevin Young, Justin Wesley, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Zach Peters. Ellis is easily the most talented of the bunch.

On the perimeter, the ball is likely going to start out in Elijah Johnson’s hands. Johnson has been enigmatic throughout his career, even more so than Tyshawn Taylor was in his first two seasons, but he had a very strong finish to the 2012 NCAA tournament. He averaged 15.1 points over the final eight games and was instrumental in getting the Jayhawks to the title game. He’ll be taking over more of a leadership role this season while sliding over to play the point guard spot. It will be an adjustment, but one that many expected Johnson to thrive in this season.

Travis Releford has always been a reliable role player, providing veteran leadership and a defensive presence. It would be nice if he could up that three point percentage this season, but what he brings this group doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score. Keep an eye on Naadir Tharpe as well. Tharpe was a highly-regarded recruit last year that didn’t see a ton of minutes behind Taylor. He’ll spell Johnson.

But the x-factor for this team is going to end up being Ben McLemore. McLemore is 6-foot-5 and, as Self put it, “he can run, he can jump and he can shoot, and that’s a pretty good combination for a wing.” But can he be a primary scoring option? Is he a guy that can go out and get 15 points every night? Is he a guy that can be isolated on the wing and create a shot for himself? Because that’s what this team is missing. As much veteran leadership as there is on the roster, they don’t have a true go-to guy.

McLemore is the player that most believe will fill that role.

Predictions?: It’s not exactly a leap of faith to predict that the Jayhawks will win the Big 12 title. They’ve won eight in a row already. But given the weird makeup of their roster — seniors playing roles, a pair of freshmen being relied on to carry the burden offensively — this might end up being one of Self’s toughest coaching jobs. I think he’ll be able to handle it, especially if Kansas ends up being as good defensively as many expect them to be. They’ll win the Big 12 again and should make a lot of noise in March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.

Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.

Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.