Big 12 Team Preview: Kansas JayhawksPosted by KoryCarpenter on November 8th, 2013
This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Kansas.
Where We Left Off: With seven minutes left in its Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan, Kansas led by 14 points. With 21 seconds left, the lead had dwindled but the Jayhawks still held a controlling five-point lead. Not long after that, Michigan guard Trey Burke’s last-second three-pointer sent the game to overtime, and the Wolverines held on to win the game, 87-85. That game was a microcosm of Kansas’ season, with senior point guard Elijah Johnson committing five turnovers without tallying a single assist. All five starters either graduated or, in freshman guard Ben McLemore’s case, declared for the NBA Draft. At the time, the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class – led by five-star recruit Wayne Selden – softened the blow of another tough March loss for Bill Self. But a little less than two months later, everything changed when No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins committed to Kansas and transformed this year’s team from a top-25 squad into national title contenders.
Positives: The Jayhawks have more talent and balance than almost any team in the country. Andrew Wiggins is the CBSSports.com Preseason Player of the Year, an AP First-Team All-American, and the projected No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. He’ll be joined on the perimeter by the No. 12 overall player in the 2013 class, Wayne Selden, forming one of the best backcourts in the country. Freshman center Joel Embiid has only been playing basketball for a few seasons but skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings during his senior year, ending up at 25th overall and a projected lottery pick next summer. He’s unlikely to even start at the beginning of the season. That looks to be Memphis transfer Tarik Black, who graduated early and is able to play immediately at Kansas. Even with three potential lottery picks in the starting lineup, Bill Self has said that sophomore forward Perry Ellis could lead the team in scoring. I wouldn’t bet on that, but Ellis did come on strong late last season, leading the team with 14.3 PPG in the Big 12 Tournament. There isn’t a big dropoff when Self looks to his bench, either. Three freshmen – Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, and Frank Mason - were four-star recruits and will be fighting for playing time this season on the perimeter behind Selden and Wiggins.
Negatives: Point guard play ruined Kansas’ season last year and is the only position Bill Self didn’t improve with a top-flight recruit. Junior Naadir Tharpe replaces Elijah Johnson, who struggled all of last season in adjusting to running an offense for the first time in his collegiate career. Tharpe (19.4 MPG, 5.5 PPG) was never good enough to steal Johnson’s minutes, so questions remain about how much he has improved since last March. Unlike last year, Self’s point guard won’t have to do as much for Kansas to be successful. If Tharpe limits his turnovers and keeps the ball moving around the court, it will be enough. If not, it could be tough for Kansas to win its fourth NCAA title. Not many national champions do so by overcoming regularly bad play by their point guard.
Best-Case Scenario: Tharpe has a great season and the trio of Wiggins, Selden and Embiid all live up to expectations. The offense clicks by conference play and the defense plays like a normal Bill Self-coached team. With the new emphasis on calling hand-checks on the perimeter, guys like Wiggins and Selden should be close to impossible to guard when they drive to the basket. And when teams zeros in on either of those guys, shooters like Greene and ConnerFrankamp will have open looks from deep. If everything goes according to plan, the offense will be one of the best units in the country, leading to another No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a National Championship.
Worst-Case Scenario: A few of the freshmen struggle to perform at the collegiate level and Tharpe has a subpar season while Oklahoma State ends the Jayhawks’ run of nine consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. When the NCAA Tournament rolls around, the inexperienced roster folds under the pressure and is sent home before the Final Four for the second straight year.
Projected Starting Lineup:
- C – Tarik Black (Sr., 6’9″, 260 pounds; 9.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG in 3 seasons at Memphis)
- F – Perry Ellis (So., 6’8″, 225 pounds; 5.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG 47.5 % FG)
- G – Andrew Wiggins (Fr., 6’8″, 200 pounds; Projected No. 1 NBA draft pick, No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2013)
- G – Wayne Selden (Fr., 6’5″, 230 pounds; McDonald’s All-American, No. 12 recruit in the class of 2013)
- G – Naadir Tharpe (Jr., 5’11”, 170 pounds; 5.5 PPG, 3.1 APG)
Reserves: For now, future draft pick Joel Embiid will be the first big man off the bench, likely followed by redshirt sophomore Jamari Traylor. The guard rotation is still up in the air, however. Conner Frankamp was the best shooter in his recruiting class and could prove valuable when teams decide to double-team Wiggins. Freshman Brannen Greene is a great shooter as well as a match-up problem at 6’7″, and sophomore Andrew White III might even be better than him as of now. Backup point guard Frank Mason might crack the rotation as well behind Tharpe. Not all of those guys will play significant minutes this year, but the competition should make for a solid rotation all season.
Set Your DVR: The roster is young, but it didn’t stop Self from assembling one of the toughest (if not the toughest) non-conference schedule in the country. The games not mentioned below: New Mexico, San Diego State, at Colorado, and the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas.
- 11/12 vs. Duke (Chicago): Kansas and Duke surpassed Kentucky (#1) and Michigan State (#2) as the highlight of next week’s Champions Classic in Chicago, largely because of the matchup between Andrew Wiggins and Chicago native Jabari Parker, another top-rated recruit in last year’s recruiting class.
- 12/10 at Florida: Seniors Patric Young (10.1 PPG) and Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 PPG) return for a 10th-ranked Florida team, which hosts the Jayhawks in early December in Gainesville as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
- 12/21 vs. Georgetown: Georgetown was upset by Florida Gulf-Coast in last year’s NCAA Tournament and lost leading scorer Otto Porter to the NBA Draft. The Hoyas are always a defensive menace, though, and welcome UCLA transfer Josh Smith, who will be able to play immediately.
- 3/1 at Oklahoma State: If Oklahoma State wins the Big 12, they will probably have to beat Kansas at least once this season. They won last year’s meeting in Lawrence but lost the rematch at home. A sweep of the Cowboys would virtually make the Jayhawks a lock for another Big 12 title.
Outlook: For Kansas, the regular season will be about preparing for March. A win on Tuesday against Duke and another Big 12 championship would be nice, but the season will be a disappointment if it ends before the Final Four in Arlington. The talent and coaching is there to win Kansas another National Championship, but like most years, it will ultimately depend on particular match-ups. Until then, fans can only hope everyone lives up to expectations and eventually plays defense like Self’s teams of the past — if they do, they’ll be among a very short list to cut the next down in April.