Kansas As the Favorite in the Big 12?

        It seems that each of the last few seasons, analysts and fans have counted out Bill Self and his Jayhawk squads. This year is no different, even though Kansas was voted the preseason favorite in the Big 12 Conference despite losing two impact seniors. It seems everyone wants to talk about Baylor, Texas and even Oklahoma State as the challengers to unseat Kansas from a ninth straight regular-season title. Here's why that will not happen.

        Senior center Jeff Withey remains in the middle. The 7-footer began to blossom last season, his first real collegiate action, where he set a new bar in setting the Big 12 blocked shots record with 140. Withey then recorded another 31 in KU's six postseason games. As Withey spent the summer bulking up and developing his offensive game, he will surely get many more looks down low without Thomas Robinson. Defenses beware. Even as Withey is not the dominating threat that Robinson was, he did shoot .536 percent from the floor last season. If he can use this newfound strength to garner better post positioning on the offensive end and secure more rebouds defensively, Withey should be the favorite for National Defensive Player of the Year.

        Elijah Johnson takes over at the point. For three years, Johnson played sidekick to Tyshawn Taylor in the backcourt, but he will finally get his chance at handling the reigns of the Jayhawks this season; last year, he averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game all while using just 17.3 percent of Kansas' possessions. Expanding his role to have the ball in his hands much more means Johnson is that much more dangerous- he had three 20+ point games as the third and sometimes fourth option in '11-'12.

        Ben McLemore is eligible and defenders beware. After sitting out last season, McLemore had a chance to mature both physically and mentally- both key aspects in why the springy 6'5" wing could lead the conference in scoring this season. Armed with some ridiculous athleticism, quickness and length, McLemore should be a terror on both ends of the floor this season.

By NBA-DRAFT.com Staff Writer - 11 - 7 - 12