Big 12 Key Questions: Will Kansas Return to the Top?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2019

You didn’t have to look at the standings last season to know that the Jayhawks weren’t their usual selves. You could throw a dart and hit a valid reason for Kansas missing out on a Big 12 15-peat: A disappointing backcourt outside of Devon Dotson; Udoka Azubuike missing 75 percent of the team’s games with a hand injury, and the frontcourt rotation behind him being terribly ill-equipped to pick up the slack; or the fact that eventual conference champion Texas Tech was flat-out better and Kansas State far more cohesive. With the page turning to 2019-20, though, the Jayhawks will look to avenge last season with a cast of bona fide challengers waiting for the league’s flagship program to stumble.

Bill Self No Longer Has the Pressure of The Streak to Worry About (USA Today Images)

Bill Self‘s team will be much deeper this season. Dedric Lawson is gone, but the Jayhawks return nearly everyone else of consequence. Though the head coach may not say so publicly, it’s tough to ignore the feeling that he isn’t all that heartbroken over losing Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson, even if Quentin Grimes left Lawrence with a substantial amount of potential that Kelvin Sampson may tap at Houston. In their place, Isaiah Moss and Jalen Wilson should bring the scoring punch Kansas needs to put together the kinds of runs they struggled to assemble a season ago. Defensively, the Jayhawks will be deep and versatile up front. Self could surround Azubuike with another defense-first big like David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa, but with the way basketball has trended over the last few years, a small-ball option emerging among Marcus Garrett or Ochai Agbaji could be what tips the scales, provided of course that Self can keep the noise surrounding the program’s current entanglement with the NCAA from becoming a mitigating factor.

If you’re looking for a team to keep Kansas at bay for a second straight year, Texas Tech may be the best option, though I do think Chris Beard‘s rapid ascendance and clean reputation obscure some real questions with this year’s team. Before we get to those questions, let’s acknowledge the positives. Freshman shooting guard Jahmius Ramsey represents Beard’s highest-rated recruit in his time at Lubbock and will be one of the league’s top freshman. Davide Moretti returns to spread the floor and Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke will bring some much-needed experience and versatility to the lineup. But those two are more complementary pieces than guys you need at the front of the rotation to guide you through the grueling league schedule.

An appealing alternative, then, would be Baylor. Scott Drew commanded the conference’s most efficient offense a year ago, and it wasn’t even that pretty after Tristan Clarke went down with a knee injury in January. The Bears will look to run it back with the cat-like Davion Mitchell in tow from Auburn to replace Makai Mason at the point, and MaCio Teague coming up from UNC Asheville to add some scoring ability. I’m a believer in Jared Butler and the Bears will have sufficient length and muscle to convert and contest enough close shots to make it all work.

The fact that Kansas lost the Big 12 last year proves that it can be done, but fans would be advised to not get too cute and count on lightning striking twice in the same place.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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