ESPN's Top 25 includes KU, but barely

KU is indeed ranked in the ESPN's preseason top 25, at number 25. An ignominious distinction, but I'll take what I can get. Here are their thoughts on this year's Hawks (make sure you check out the rest of their rankings here):

Summer update: It was an eventful offseason. Freshman Alex Galindo, who helped the Jayhawks beat Georgia Tech on New Year's Day, split for Florida International. J.R. Giddens got in a bar fight, needed stitches for a knife wound in his leg and then split from Kansas, apparently amicably for New Mexico. Center C.J. Giles had a real shot of making the USA U-21 team but a hip injury slowed him down. Meanwhile, Kansas picked up the biggest catch of the summer when Brandon Rush decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and chose Kansas over Illinois. Rush is a potential first-round pick in 2006 and will immediately help the Jayhawks' offensive execution.

Identity: This is a good question. This team will be young and quicker, but possibly unsure of its next step. There are so many fresh faces. As many as four freshmen could start --- Rush, Julian Wright, Micah Downs and Mario Chalmers. There is oodles of talent, like Giles along the backline, Sasha Kaun in the post with Darnell Jackson as a backup, stable journeyman forward Christian Moody, backup point Russell Robinson and veterans Jeff Hawkins and USC transfer Rodrick Stewart. Putting these pieces together will be Bill Self's toughest coaching job in years. This team might look to run a bit more to take advantage of its athleticism.

Go-to guy: Giddens thought it was him before the knife incident. That leaves a freshman, and it could end up being Rush or Wright. Since Rush will probably have the ball more than Wright, we'll give the nod to Rush. That's a lot of responsibility to bestow on a freshman but he's talented enough to carry the load.

Glue guy: Moody. He's the former walk-on who earned a scholarship and continues to do all the little things. He has no business starting games but he might again because of his experience and leadership. He won't be more talented than the freshmen coming in but he'll know the intricacies of the offense and when to take chances defensively.

Our concern: This team could end up being a real force in March, but we just don't know how the freshmen will handle all the pressure of being the heralded recruiting class at a school like Kansas. If the Jayhawks can get over the inexperience issue by January, they could be sitting on a potential deep run come March.

Schedule matters: Self doesn't have much choice but to throw the young team against Arizona in Maui, with a possible matchup with Connecticut or Arkansas and then Gonzaga, Maryland and/or Michigan State on day three. We should know on Dec. 1 if Nevada deserves to be ranked ahead of Kansas after the head-to-head matchup. The Jayhawks also play Saint Joseph's in the Jimmy V Classic in New York, and in what could be one of the better games in December, the Jayhawks host Cal in Kansas City. A late December home game against New Orleans was a nice gesture but the Privateers have a real shot to give Kansas a game. And don't forget Kentucky is on the schedule on January 7.

Bilas Jay Bilas' take: Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee are gone. All those four did at KU was win -- and win big. Replacing their production will not be easy. In addition, Alex Galindo transferred, and J.R. Giddens parted ways with Kansas. A lot of uniforms were available after the KU banquet.

However, there is real talent in Lawrence and Bill Self will work hard with it. Returning are sophomores C.J. Giles, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson. Giles is a long, low post big man that can run, rebound and block shots. He is an improved post player and has a chance to be very good. Kaun is raw but good around the basket and can run the floor. He reminds you a little of David Padgett, now at Louisville.

Jackson is a tough inside player with good hands who can explode to the hole with his big frame and finish. Robinson is a New York City point guard who can compete and score, but lost his confidence last year. He is much better than he showed his freshman year, and should be in a much better frame of mind now that the job is his for the taking. Junior Jeremy Case can really shoot it from range, but is small and vulnerable on the defensive end. Stephen Vinson played in only five games last year but is capable.

Bill Self is an outstanding recruiter, and he has brought in another great class to KU. Micah Downs is a very talented shooter with a soft touch and really good skills. He understands how to play, but is very thin and needs to get stronger or he will get bounced around in the Big 12. Mario Chalmers is a big time scorer from the wing, and he can play the point. He is athletic, plays with great change of pace and change of direction and can get to the basket.

Julian Wright is a complete player in every respect, except that he is not a great shooter. He has an unorthodox stroke, but is a long-armed athlete who is multitalented and versatile. He can play all over the floor, has a great feel and can drive the ball. USC transfer Rodrick Stewart will be eligible in the spring semester. He is very athletic and can take the ball to the basket.

The newcomers will have to play major roles and the sophomores will have to take over leadership roles for Kansas to challenge for the Big 12 title.

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