LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas has been picked to finish right where it usually does in the Big 12.
Not even Bill Self can believe it.
Despite losing the Morris twins, Josh Selby and several other contributors from last season's Big 12 champs, the Jayhawks were made the preseason co-favorites along with Texas A&M on Thursday. Kansas received five first-place votes from coaches and the Aggies just one.
"We're coming into this season with tempered expectations, to be honest with you," Self said during the team's annual media day at Allen Fieldhouse. "I've done that with the fans a little bit, which I think is accurate. It's not coach-speak. But it speaks volumes to how well some of these guys, and certainly guys in the past, have played here."
It's the 11th time since the league was formed in 1996-97 that the Jayhawks have been picked preseason No. 1. Kansas has gone on to win the title the past seven seasons.
"I think it's fine," Self said. "We're used to being in a situation where people expect us to be decent. We won't shy away from that."
The Jayhawks will certainly have plenty of production to replace.
Markieff Morris went in the first round of the NBA draft to Phoenix, and Marcus Morris one spot later to Houston. Selby was a second-round pick of Memphis, and Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are playing professionally overseas.
The Jayhawks' leading scorer coming back is Tyshawn Taylor, who averaged just over nine points per game. But big man Thomas Robinson has shown signs he can be the next superstar inside, Travis Releford is a lockdown defender and Self believes Elijah Johnson can "blow up" now that he's getting significant minutes.
There are certainly pieces to work with, which is usually the case at Kansas.
"It's crazy, you know? We had a group that just left like last year, the starting five basically and the important role player off the bench, and people still say we're going to win with a team that's half freshmen," Johnson said. "That says a lot."
The part about "half freshmen" is still up in the air.
Self said he hasn't heard whether freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor will be eligible when the season gets started. In fact, Self isn't even sure the two players will be allowed to participate in the "Late Night at the Phog" event that kicks off the season Friday night.
Both players have been cleared to be on scholarship and they're both attending class, but they're not allowed to practice while the NCAA clearinghouse examines their transcripts.
McLemore, a 6-foot-5 guard, finished his prep career at Christian Life Center in Texas after his suburban St. Louis high school closed following the 2009-10 season. Traylor attended Julian High School in Chicago before going to the IMG Academy in Florida.
Already this fall, the NCAA ruled that Kansas freshman Braeden Anderson was a partial qualifier, which meant he was eligible for financial aid and could potentially earn the right to practice in the spring. But under Big 12 rules, partial qualifiers must be approved by the league's faculty athletic representatives, and Anderson's case was not approved for aid.
"We just talked to Coach Self today for a little bit. Pretty much they're not giving us much feedback, but me and Jamari, we have to be in school right now and stay caught up with our grades and stuff," McLemore said. "We're just waiting right now."
Self said the Jayhawks are still working with the NCAA to get both players cleared, and he expects a decision to come down soon. But without discussing specifics, Self sure didn't sound optimistic that things will work out in their favor.
"We're trying to get things done," Self said. "We still have hope, but we're not holding our breath on that situation at all."
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