The Thomases already are queuing up to the turnstile, doubts in hand and ready to pounce.
Kansas has won at least a part of the Big 12 title seven years running now, rebounding and reloading time and time again after players have graduated or moved on to the NBA.
But this season? This season the consensus is no way. There is too little left over, too little coming in for the run to continue. And so the doubts creep in, even into the head coach’s offices.
“I wouldn’t pick us to win, either,’’ Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I understand where that’s coming from. This is probably the most unpredictable season I’ve faced here.’’
The volatility comes thanks to a decent-not-great recruiting class and a roster of returners who have never been asked to handle the workload.
And it comes amid the rising voices of skeptics and even fans who love Kansas in the regular season but become less enamored in the postseason. It was just three years ago that the Jayhawks hoisted the national championship hardware, but the celebratory image gets murkier and murkier with each replay of Ali Farokhmanesh and now VCU.
“We’ve lost to teams that people think we should have beaten and that leaves a mark,’’ Self said. “I will say if you put us in a series against Northern Iowa and VCU, we’d win -- but that doesn’t mean anything.’’
No, it doesn’t, which is why this season Kansas will be watched even more carefully.
Succeeding amid reasonably low expectations is nothing new for the Jayhawks or Self. After KU won the national championship, Self’s two best returners were the fifth- and eighth-leading scorers respectively.
All the Jayhawks did in that rebuilding season was go 27-8, win the Big 12 and advance to the Sweet 16.
But it is not quite that clear-cut. Few will argue that Robinson is poised for a big season. Find a list of players expected to have a breakout season and his name is on it. Taylor is the wild card. Sherron Collins was a much more known commodity following that title season. Taylor has been good but erratic.
“In the past when we had players leave, we’ve had another all-league player in the wings,’’ Self said. “Right now we don’t. I think we have guys who could be those kinds of players, but they have to do it.’’
The other wrinkle: In 2009, Cole Aldrich and Collins shepherded along a recruiting class that included Markief and Marcus Morris, Travis Releford, Mario Little and Taylor, a crew rated among most in the top five.
This year’s incoming class doesn’t crack the top 20. Only two players -- Ben McLemore (No. 48) and Naadir Tharpe (83) -- are in ESPNU’s top 100.
“There’s definitely an unknown there,’’ Self admitted. “I think they have a chance to be very good but they also aren’t on that national scale that we usually have.’’
Self, in fact, is pinning his hopes on a guy who isn’t even part of the class. Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young will be eligible this season and Self believes that the forward who averaged 10.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg in his second and final season with the Lions will be the most critical cog among his newcomers.
“There would definitely be more of a concern if we didn’t get Kevin,’’ he said. “He has a chance to be one of our better players, honestly. But there are a lot of unknowns here and less of a margin for error for this group.’’
But as he awaits the dawn of a season with so many questions and even more doubts, Self said he keeps remembering something Collins said during that unexpected 2008-09 season.
At one point a reporter asked Collins if he was as surprised as everyone else at what his team had done. The guard’s bemused answer still rings in his coach’s ear and will be the motto for this unsung group all season.
“I remember Sherron said, ‘It doesn’t matter who plays. This is Kansas,'’’ Self said. “And I think our guys believe that. The pieces may change, but there is always that confidence there.’’
And confidence, anyone will admit, can quiet a lot of doubters.