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Kansas basketball preview: Jayhawks reload around Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis

The Jayhawks are the No. 5 team in our college basketball countdown.

Jamie Squire

Can anything derail Kansas at this point? Since Bill Self left Illinois for Lawrence before the 2003 season, all Kansas has done is capture the Big 12 title in 10 consecutive seasons, produce eight NBA lottery picks in the last five years and win a national championship. Self has turned Kansas into the type of program that can sustain losing two of the first three players taken in the 2014 NBA Draft and still come back the next season as a top five team. The faces may change in Lawrence, but the results rarely do.

Andrew Wiggins is in Minnesota and Joel Embiid is in Philadelphia now, but Self has two new blue chip freshmen he can plug right in to the starting lineup. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre have different skill sets than last year's freshman duo, but each are talented enough to augment a loaded starting lineup that should be among the country's best once again.

Kansas's offense has finished in the top 35 of the country for eight straight seasons, per KenPom. If the Jayhawks are going to do it again, it'll be junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. leading the way.

Ellis broke out by scoring 21 points in the second game of last season against Duke, and finished the year as one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He posted a true shooting percentage of over 60 percent, led the team in offensive rating (per KenPom) and scored 20 or more points eight times. Ellis wasn't a five-star recruit out of high school, but he's developed into one of the best offensive players in college basketball and a legitimate primary scoring option for the Jayhawks.

Selden should see a big uptick in usage in his sophomore season with Wiggins out of the way. At 6'5, 230 pounds, Selden is a big, physical guard capable of overpowering small opponents on both ends of the floor. He isn't a great shooter yet, but the raw skill set is there for him to be a very good player. Selden had a tendency to get lost in the shuffle with Wiggins and Embiid last year, but could take off with the ball in his hands more often. With Kansas' point guard situation still unproven, Selden will get plenty of opportunities to have the offense run through him.

The bench is deep too, even after the recent transfer of shooter Conner Frankamp. Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson are good enough to start for most teams, but on Kansas they will be big men No. 3, 4 and 5 in the rotation. They should provide an invaluable dose of length, toughness and rebounding, which will be key to maintaining a defense that finished No. 31 in efficiency last season, according to KenPom.

The Big 12 looks strong yet again with Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State each starting the year in our top 25 countdown. Each will present a different matchup problem for the Jayhawks, be it with size, shooting or style of play. Until someone can finally knock off Kansas, though, every season will continue to begin under the guise that the rest of the conference is playing for second place. Kanas has reloaded with top talent once again, and at this point you can trust Self to make the pieces fit together.

Projected starting lineup

PG Frank Mason, sophomore

SG Wayne Selden Jr., sophomore

SG Kelly Oubre, freshman

PF Perry Ellis, junior

C Cliff Alexander, freshman

Key reserves: PF Jamari Traylor (junior), SF Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (freshman), F Landen Lucas (junior), G Devonte Graham (freshman), G Brannen Green (sophomore), C Hunter Mickelson (junior)

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How the Jayhawks can go far this season: Maintain balance at both ends of the court

With so much talent in the starting lineup, the biggest challenge for Kansas might be learning how to play cohesively. Ellis and Selden should get more touches this season as the veterans of the team, but Oubre, Alexander and a deep bench will want opportunities, too.

It'll be up to point guards Mason and Graham to keep the offense humming. Naadir Tharpe struggled at times to keep up with the rest of Kansas' loaded lineup last season by failing to protect the ball. Kansas had a turnover rate of over 19 percent last season, which was the worst mark in the conference. Mason and Graham will have to limit turnovers while still being aggressive enough to breakdown opposing defenses to open things up for their teammates. If either becomes a viable three-point shooter, it would go a long way toward alleviating some of the Jayhawks' preseason spacing concerns.

Oubre enters the season projected to be Kansas' best shooter from deep. The 6'7 wing was rated the No. 11 recruit in the country by ESPN and possesses a massive wingspan, smooth shooting stroke and big-time athleticism. Oubre may not be in Wiggins' league as a leaper, but he's close. Oubre should be a terror in transition, and you can bet Self will be telling him to push the ball whenever he comes down with a rebound. He drew rave reviews this summer for his ability to heat up in a hurry. If Oubre develops into the instant-offense option some believe he can be, Kansas should be among the top scoring teams in the country.

The key to the defense might be Alexander, a 6'9 freshman from Chicago who was rated as the No. 3 recruit in the country, per ESPN. Alexander plays a power game built on dunks, rebounds and blocks. He could become a bit undersized as a center in the NCAA Tournament, but his long arms and NBA-ready body will give him a big advantage against most opponents.

Alexander is the key to maintaining Kansas' offensive rebounding and shot blocking ability. Thanks in large part to Embiid, the Jayhawks finished as the No. 20 team on the offensive glass last season and the No. 18 team in block percentage, per KenPom. If Alexander can live up to the hype with his physicality while the rest of his skills develop, there won't be many teams capable of out-muscling the Jayhawks on the inside.

How Kansas can go home early: Lack of shooting

Kansas' offense finished No. 14 in the country last season, per KenPom, but there were times when it became stagnant. Stanford's zone defense locked up Wiggins in the NCAA tournament third round with Embiid sidelined by packing the paint and forcing the Jayhawks to shoot over the top of it. Frankamp hit four three-pointers in that game to give the Jayhawks a chance, but he's no longer a luxury Self has on the bench.

Who will shoot for Kansas now? The hope is Selden will develop from the outside and Oubre will be as good as advertised. The most intriguing option on the bench is the 17-year-old Mykhailiuk, an import from Ukraine. Mykhailiuk played with the national team in the FIBA World Cup and heads to Lawrence with the reputation of being a big-time shooting prospect. At such a young age, is he ready physically for life in the Big 12?

Kansas showed last season that NBA talent guarantees nothing in the NCAA Tournament. The team could have three lottery picks this time around, but their ultimate success will be determined by their cohesion. Either way, expect Kansas to be a major threat in March. It's what Bill Self does.