Big 12 Preview: Kansas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on November 10th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can this Kansas team put together a deep NCAA Tournament run? 

Very few teams in college basketball carry the weight of expectations that Kansas does each season. Since Bill Self took over the program in 2003-04, Kansas is one of only three schools (along with Duke and North Carolina) to have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll 10 or more times. Of the three times the Jayhawks weren’t in the top 10, the Jayhawks had played in the National Championship Game the year before and had lost significant roster pieces to the NBA. With the Big 12 regular season title streak now at 11 and counting, Kansas winning the league has become about as certain as death and taxes. And yet, it somehow still feels as though the Jayhawks have underachieved during Self’s tenure.

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Kansas has failed to make it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, losing to Stanford and Wichita State in its second game of the event. This isn’t the first bout of postseason failure under Self, either, as the Jayhawks suffered opening round defeats to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006) prior to his national title in 2008. Self’s teams tend to bounce back, but can this group rebound from these recent early NCAA exits with a deep run this coming March?

On its face, the Jayhawks have a roster that is more than capable of making the trip to Houston for the Final Four. It’s exactly the type of personnel that Self has been successful with in the past — a team anchored by veterans and supported by young talent. In April, forward Perry Ellis announced that he would return for his senior season. Ellis led the team in scoring and rebounding last year but is still searching for ways to expand his game. In the Jayhawks’ first preseason contest, he floated out to the perimeter a bit more often and even played a few minutes at the small forward spot. Last season he knocked down 39 percent of his three-point attempts (on nearly 50 attempts) and may spend even more time stretching the floor this season. Kansas will also rely heavily on guard Frank Mason III after his breakout sophomore campaign a year ago. Mason excels as a score-first guard and is likely to benefit from Self’s decision to move sophomore Devonte Graham into the starting lineup, freeing Mason to play off the ball more frequently.

Still, there are plenty of questions surrounding this roster. Junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. excelled during the team’s summer run at the World University Games but has otherwise been underwhelming during his time in Lawrence. He arrived as a potential one-and-done candidate but has yet to live up to his recruiting hype. Sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk still remains on NBA Draft boards as a potential first round pick, but he struggled to adjust to the college game after an impressive youth career in Ukraine. Both players have shown glimpses of their talent at times — particularly Selden during last year’s Big 12 Tournament — and if either starts to play up to his potential, Kansas will suddenly have one of the best backcourts in the country.

Cheick Diallo is a key piece of the puzzle for Kansas. (KU Athletics)

Cheick Diallo is a key piece of the puzzle for Kansas. (KU Athletics)

The biggest question mark on this team lives in the frontcourt, with freshman Cheick Diallo not yet cleared to play by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Diallo, a highly touted 6’9″ forward, is dealing with academic questions related to his time in Mali as a child and his high school days at Our Savior New American School. Scouting on Diallo reports an extremely high motor, strong rebounding skills, and an ability to protect the rim. In theory, he should be the player that Kansas fans wanted Cliff Alexander to become. However, if his eligibility ruling goes poorly, the Jayhawks will be required to rely on some combination of Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson and fellow freshman Carlton Bragg in Diallo’s absence.

Assuming Diallo is eventually cleared, Kansas should be viewed as one of the preseason favorites to cut down the nets in Houston. Without him, the margin for error is considerably slimmer. The Jayhawks would need high level performances from Selden and Mykhailiuk to accompany steady frontcourt play from that quartet of serviceable big men for another March surge to occur. Winning league titles has become the norm in Lawrence, but those poor NCAA performances have left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. With a deep roster and one of the country’s top coaches at the helm, this could be the latest time that the Jayhawks snap out of their NCAA rut, and perhaps with some more national hardware to show for it.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

Share this story

One response to “Big 12 Preview: Kansas’ Burning Question”

  1. […] ellis, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Wayne Selden. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *