Kansas Basketball Preview: Picking A Starting Lineup

Ethan Miller

With so many new faces, who will Bill Self choose to join the 3 returning starters?

From last year's national runners up, Kansas loses a four year starter and a player who started just one year in his time in Lawrence, but both will be equally hard to replace.

In terms of actually filling out a starting lineup, this year won't be as easy to fill out as last year, but it should be pretty close. And far closer than having eight scholarship Freshmen would suggest.

Still, there are a couple different ways for Bill Self to go, so let's take a look at a couple possible lineups:

The Locks:

Elijah Johnson

Jeff Withey

Travis Releford

Johnson will be counted upon to handle the ball a lot this year, and will almost assuredly play in even more minutes this year than last year, when he played in over 80% of the Jayhawks' minutes. With Naadir Tharpe and Rio Adams the only other strong ballhandlers on the roster, Self will no doubt lean on his Senior point guard, who it should be said cut his turnovers down dramatically last season.

WIthey of course is the best interior defender in the country (and I look forward to showing how he is better than a Kentucky Freshman yet again this year) and at just under 80% was the Jayhawks' best free throw shooter other than Conner Teahan. He supposedly has added a 15 foot jumper (which he should be decent at given his free throws), but his free throw shooting gives Kansas a real weapon. If he can stay on the court - he commits 4 fouls per 40 minutes - Kansas is set in the two biggest positions on the floor.

Even though he is a Senior I think the argument could be made that Releford's starting spot is more precarious this year than last given that this year's team will need more offense. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, but Kansas will be a lot more offensively challenged than defensively this season. Still, Releford had a couple of big scoring games last year and while I don't think that is his role, he shouldn't kill them offensively with his ability to run the floor and his efficient shooting.

The rest:

Likely:

Ben McLemore

McLemore is honestly probably a lock right now. His offensive upside has him talked about as a 2013 lottery pick, but it's his defense that has turned heads in Lawrence. Bill Self has said "I think he'll be the best defender we've ever had" and if you, like me, remember Russell Robinson putting the clamps on OJ Mayo (or everyone) or Brandon Rush taking any wing out of any game whenever he wanted to, or heck even what Releford did last year, there should be a pool of drool forming. I know I had to wipe up my keyboard a bit.

*sidenote: with Releford and McLemore on the wings and Withey inside (as well as Johnson who is a pretty good point defensive point guard) this could be Bill Self's best defensive team ever.

Perry Ellis

A McDonalds All-American, Ellis has all the skills necessary. Fran Fraschilla said on Peters that he still had a "deer in the headlights" look when Fraschilla watched a recent KU practice, which gels pretty well with what I have seen in him the couple of times I saw him play. Ellis has a lot of skill but I do wonder if he will have the athleticism to allow him to become a great player, rather than just a good one. Obviously that is nitpicking, but I do think it's important that we don't expect Ellis to be a star in his first season in Lawrence.

Possible:

Naadir Tharpe

If Self needs Elijah Johnson to score a bit more (and he might) I think Tharpe might get to start a few games to take some of the ballhandling/passing duties away from Johnson. He definitely looked lost in a lot of his game action last year, but players and writers both said he had one of the highest basketball IQs on the team last year, and now that he is (I'm assuming) more comfortable with the college game I think we will see a big jump in performance from him. Just remember in January that I was driving his bandwagon.

Kevin Young

Young is probably best suited as an energy guy off the bench, but if Kansas struggles scoring this year (and they might) Young would be a good addition to his starting lineup thanks to his offensive rebounding. But his struggles defensively and inconsistent play might mean he is better suited to come off the bench.

Those are the only people I really see having any kind of chance to start this year, leading me to believe the lineup will look something like this:

Starters:

Johnson

McLemore

Releford

Ellis

Withey

And then Tharpe (or Adams) will be the first guard off the bench, Andrew White will come in for some outside shooting (because there's a chance that starting lineup is awful at shooting) and then Zach Peters, Jamari Traylor, Kevin Young and Landen Lucas will be a revolving door of size inside (though I assume one will get a redshirt)

Bill Self will probably (hopefully) tinker with some options in the starting lineup and in terms of key reserves in the nonconference season, but with all of the talent on the roster (even if much of it is young and/or inexperienced) I don't see any reason to worry.

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