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November 12, 2010

Preview: Kansas vs. Longwood

They lost two NBA lottery picks and the winningest player in the program's storied history. So, naturally, everyone expects Kansas to take a big tumble in the Big 12 this season.

Maybe all the way down to second, where they were picked in the preseason poll of league coaches. But second would not please a demanding army of fans who have celebrated conference championships six seasons in a row and, if anything, will be looking for improvement from last year's 33-3 record.

Who cares that 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich and freshman guard Xavier Henry were grabbed by the NBA and senior point guard and team leader Sherron Collins exhausted his eligibility?

Bill Self calls it ``Kansas math.''

``My first year, you lose (Nick) Collison and (Kirk) Hinrich, but you are supposed to be better,'' said Self, whose team opens its season Friday night against independent Longwood. ``It's kind of the same thing now. You lose those three, how can you expect to be better?''

Whether the Jayhawks improve or not, there is every reason to believe they will be competitive. Back are twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris, ready for their junior season, and guard Tyshawn Taylor. There is also quality, experienced players in Tyrel Reed and 7-footer Jeff Withey.

Withey played behind Aldrich last year and has been slowed this fall while recovering from a foot injury.

But the key to Kansas' fortunes may lie in the hands of the NCAA. Day after day and with growing worry, Self has been waiting to hear if freshman point guard Josh Selby will be cleared to play.

The 6-foot-3 playmaker from Baltimore, the No. 1 prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com, Selby has been given permission to enroll, attend classes and practice. But he cannot compete in games until the NCAA sorts out eligibility issues involving an agent that Selby's mom insists is just an old family friend who provided counsel during her son's recruitment.

Selby could be the kind of difference-maker every coach dreams of.

Everyone says Selby is mature beyond his years and in addition to physical ability could also bring instant leadership to a team that for three years relied on the steadying influence of Collins.

``Josh brings a lot of that to the table on his own,'' said Self, who has remained confident that Selby will eventually be allowed to compete. ``Maybe like no other player has had since we've been here at this early stage of his career. He has a lot of the same things Sherron has or had when he (Collins) was real young. He has a little bit of that personality to go along with it.''

Selby was cleared academically last week. But Self admitted that if he does not hear from the NCAA soon, he may have to adjust his practice routine and limit Selby's time with the starters.

``It's getting ready to be a big deal because we're getting into situations you just want to know where the finish line is,'' Self said. ``If you don't know where the finish line is, you can't give him reps.''

Once the season gets going, the Jayhawks could be a team on a mission. The Morris twins and every other veteran remember their second-round exit at the hands of Northern Iowa in the NCAA tournament. As the top overall seed, no less.

Perhaps being picked somewhere besides first will not be all bad. For once, the Jayhawks can take aim at somebody else. In this case, it will be No. 3 Kansas State, the coaches' pick to win the Big 12.

``I think now it's kind of, I don't want to say relaxing, but it's kind of a weight off our shoulders,'' said Taylor. ``Because now we can just come in here and play. We don't have to be uptight, we don't have to think so much, we can just come in here and play. I think that's going to be fun.''



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