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October 8, 2007? TOP 64 COUNTDOWN: No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks
No Kansas player ranked in the top 15 in scoring in the Big 12 last season. Only one ranked among the top 15 in rebounding (first-round draft pick Julian Wright), and he's gone.
But the Jayhawks managed to go 14-2 in league play, win 33 games and reach the Elite Eight - the furthest they've been in the NCAA Tournament since reaching the 2003 national title game.
How do you explain that kind of success without someone putting up great stats? Five players took turns leading the team in scoring. Those same five players averaged between 9.3 and 13.8 points a game. The team also ranked second in the Big 12 in assists (9.21 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.21).
With every player coming back except for Wright, fifth-year coach Bill Self plans to rely heavily on balance again in 2007-08.
"Last year's team really liked each other and they shared the ball; they weren't selfish," Self said. "I also believe that will be a big key to this year's success ? understanding that we have good players and not really caring who gets the credit or the bulk of the minutes or shots. What we care about is being as good as we can be. Intangibles will probably be the most important thing with this team."
Playing unselfishly and having your playing time cut is a way of life for the Jayhawks, whose roster includes six former five-star recruits.
That includes guards Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson. Put any one of them on most teams and they'd be a star. But at Kansas they have to spend some significant time on the bench. Leading scorer Brandon Rush (13.8 ppg) was the only Jayhawk to average more than 30 minutes a game last season.
Power forward Darrell Arthur was one of the most physically gifted players to come out of the talent-rich class of 2006 (he was ranked No. 16 overall), but he began most games on the bench. Arthur started just seven times.
That won't be the case this season. With Wright gone, Arthur will become a full-time starter and join 6-foot-11 senior Sasha Kaun - who blocked 1.4 shots a game - in the frontcourt. However, neither Arthur nor Kaun is the Jayhawks' best rebounder. That title belongs to a reserve. Senior Darnell Jackson pulled down 5.1 rebounds in 15.4 minutes a game.
Self expects a handful of players to take turns carrying the Jayhawks, making it difficult for opponents to prepare.
"I think the headliners will be by committee, different guys on different nights," Self said.
That might sound like a little d? vu for the rest of the Big 12.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.