#4 Kansas Jayhawks
Last Year: 31-5 (16-2 Big 12) Elite Eight
Is it really a surprise that the Jayhawks are in the top five? Yesterday when I said that Kentucky had one of the most historically successful programs in the sport, the reason I wasn’t so definitive was because of this team right here. In a sense, Kansas basketball is where college ball was born. Yes James Naismith may have invented it in Springfield, Mass. But he is the founder and first head coach of the Jayhawks team arriving in Lawrence just six years after drafting the original rules.
But enough about ancient Kansas history. We’re here to talk about the recent success of arguably the most dominant program to ever grace the sport and how that will carry over into this season. It has been five years since the Jayhawks were ranked outside of the top five in the AP Pre-season top 25 poll. That’s impressive. It has been eleven years since they were lower than a three seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s more impressive. And it has been thirteen years since they have not won the Big 12 regular season conference title. That is absolutely absurd.
Bill Self has proven time and time again that he and his Kansas squad are the best in the country. Yet in the fourteen seasons that he has been with the program they have only been able to win one championship. Is this the year that truly live up to their potential come march? Only time will tell, but they are damn sure prepared for the challenge.
Frank Mason III (yes he was still in school) finally graduated after coming off his best season yet. The impact Mason had on this team can not be overstated. He led the team in points per game, assists per game, and third in steals per game. He also has a wall of accolades to tack on to his college career, most notably winning National Player of the Year in his final campaign. First-team All American, first-team All Big 12, Big 12 Player of the Year, and Bob Cousy Award are just some of the accomplishments he made in his senior season. Mason controlled this team with class and his departure is not only a loss to Kansas, but to college basketball as a whole.
Josh Jackson is another big departure for this Jayhawks team. Opting to enter the draft after his freshman season, Jackson leaves a big gap in the roster and for the Kansas offense in general. He was second in points per game, rebounds per game, and led the team in steals per game. He joined Mason in the first-team All-Big 12 and won Big 12 Freshman of the Year. After getting drafted fourth overall, I think we can all agree we would love to see what this young SF would do if he returned for his sophomore year. Landen Lucas is another forward who was lost to graduation. While he was more of a role-player Lucas did shine in one area which was crashing the glass, leading the team with 8.3 RPG.
Kansas has a small recruiting class this season but there is definitely talent there. The most highly touted recruit is PF Billy Preston. A five star out of Oak Hill Academy, Preston does most of his damage within fifteen feet of the basket. He is able to face up defenders and hit the mid-range jumper but he also has the size and strength to drive to the basket when needed. Looking to fill some of the void left by Mason is Marcus Garrett, a 6’5 PG out of Dallas. While his defense needs work, Garrett is able to see plays before they happen and allow the offense to run through him. Though they won’t play this season, the Lawson brothers are also a great addition to the Kansas squad and will have a significant impact next year.
Like many other teams on this list Kansas is in good shape because they return the majority of their roster. However, the losses they did suffer will no doubt hurt their offensive prowess. The key returning player is Devonte’ Graham who was the team’s key three-point shooter last season. His senior leadership makes him the person that the underclassmen will look up to to make important plays. Malik Newman will be joining him as well after sitting a year out due to transfer. Together, they will make for one of the deadliest backcourts in the country.
With their guard heavy roster, expect the Jayhawks to play alot of small ball. With no other threats in sight in an underwhelming Big 12 (aside from West Virginia), it is pretty expected that Kansas will repeat as conference champs for the fourteenth consecutive year. But the real test will come when the NCAA tournament rolls around. Do they have what it takes to make another Final Four? Talent wise yes, but Kansas has struggled in the tournament in the past despite having some of the most exciting rosters in the league. Only time will tell just how far they can go.