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June 16, 2008The 2008 NCAA title game turned out to be a real treat. Kansas and Memphis went toe to toe and played one for the ages.
Both since have been decimated by the loss of seniors and underclassmen leaving early for the NBA Draft. Neither team will be especially recognizable from last season.
The Jayhawks lose seniors Darnell Jackson, Russell Robinson and Sasha Kaun and draft hopefuls Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur, which is to say everyone who started in the championship game and then some.
The Tigers lose senior Joey Dorsey and draft hopefuls Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. But they for sure return starter Antonio Anderson (who had declared for the draft but already has pulled out) and probably starter Robert Dozier (who has declared but is believed to be returning for his final season).
So which team that appeared in the national-title game will be the best next season? That's the question we posed to basketball editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara.
The Tigers won't win 38 games again. Seasons like that come around, oh, once every history of the program.
But they're still going to be good. It starts with Dozier and Anderson, battle-tested veterans who I believe will respond to shouldering more of the load. The 6-9 Dozier averaged 9.2 points (third on the team) and 6.8 rebounds (second). He had a double-double against KU in the title game. Anderson, a 6-6 wing, averaged 8.6 points, including a 27-point game at UAB.
Add to that mix a number of guys who played significant minutes last season. One thing about John Calipari is that he uses his entire roster. Maybe it's the benefit of not playing a lot of close games in Conference USA, but three more players return who averaged at least nine minutes per game, led by 6-10 Shawn Taggart (5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Willie Kemp (5 ppg, 1.5 apg).
Memphis also brings in a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks fifth in the country. It includes five-star prospect Tyreke Evans, the nation's No. 3 point guard.
Calipari landed a pretty fair point guard last season, and Rose helped propel the Tigers to a national runner-up finish. I'm not saying Evans is the equal of Rose or that the 2009 Tigers are as good as their 2008 counterparts, but anyone expecting less than another C-USA title and at least the second round of the NCAA Tournament is off the mark.
The Jayhawks aren't going to be back-to-back national champs. All five starters must be replaced and six of the top seven scorers are gone.
But expecting a down year for a program that has averaged 28.3 victories per season this decade would be a mistake.
Three years ago, Bill Self was facing a similar situation as he entered his third season at Kansas. He was losing four starters from a team that captured a share of the Big 12 regular-season title and won 23 games. The only starter coming back was walk-on Christian Moody.
A revamped version of the Jayhawks responded by tying for the league's regular-season title and wining the league tournament. A shocking first-round NCAA upset to Bradley ended their season at with 25 wins.
This time around, Self actually has a little more experience to work with. Sherron Collins, a former five-star recruit, has been one of the nation's top sixth men in each of the past two seasons, posting back-to-back scoring averages of 9.3 points per game. Some believe he will be a better player than Mario Chalmers, his predecessor and the 2008 NCAA Tournament hero.
In the Final Four, 6-11 sophomore Cole Aldrich gave reason to believe he can be a major force on the inside. In just 17 minutes of play in the Jayhawks' victory over North Carolina in the national semifinals, he racked up eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Also, much like in 2005, when the Jayhawks landed Rivals.com's No. 4-ranked recruiting class, there is a tremendous amount of talent headed to Lawrence. This year's seven-man class is ranked No. 2. Six are four-star prospects, including two of the nation's top junior college transfers: guard Tyrone Appleton and forward Mario Little.
With that much to work with and Self's impressive track record, I have no doubt the Jayhawks will contend for the Big 12 title and be a threat to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.