This preview and more on Kansas and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 5 Kansas Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-6 (14-4 Big 12)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Bill Self (300-59 at Kansas)
Big 12 projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Kansas is the favorite to win the Big 12 title for the 10th consecutive year — but back in March and April, that wasn’t the case.
Four senior starters from last season’s Sweet 16 squad were gone, and leading scorer Ben McLemore had bolted early for the NBA. When analysts predicted Oklahoma State would knock the Jayhawks from their perch atop the conference standings in 2013-14, no one argued.
At least not until Andrew Wiggins picked up a pen.
On May 14 — in the few shorts seconds it took him to scribble his name on a National Letter of Intent — Wiggins turned a fringe-top 25 team into a Big 12 and NCAA title contender. Kansas has always been able to lure high-profile recruits to its storied program, but never have the Jayhawks inked a player with as much hype as Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect.
“We were going to have a good team no matter what,” coach Bill Self says. “But Andrew gives us a chance to be special.”
Wiggins wasn’t the only late addition that caused a buzz among Jayhawks fans last spring. After playing his first three seasons at Memphis, power forward Tarik Black decided to spend his final year of eligibility elsewhere. The 6-9, 262-pound Black averaged 8.1 points last season and 10.7 points as a sophomore, but Self doesn’t believe he’s come anywhere close to reaching his potential. Black is the physical, rugged type of player that Self loves, and his age and experience will be huge for a Kansas team that will be among the youngest in the country.
While Black will provide the muscle in the paint, look for sophomore Perry Ellis to account for a bulk of the scoring. Ellis was a role player for most of his freshman year before making huge strides near the end of the season. Ellis’ confidence has grown even more during the offseason. And it certainly helps that he’s been able to compete in practice with newcomers such as Black, Joel Embiid and Landen Lucas and returning backup Jamari Traylor.
Embiid may have the highest upside of any player on Kansas’ roster. The 7-0 Cameroonian has been playing the game for only a few years, but his eagerness to learn and his natural athletic ability lead many to believe he could be a top NBA prospect after just one college season. Self is also extremely high on Lucas, who has been one of Kansas’ top players in offseason workouts after redshirting last season.
No player will be under as big a spotlight this season as Wiggins, a swingman who may be the best player the college game has seen since Kevin Durant. There simply isn’t much the 6-8 Wiggins can’t do. He’s skilled enough, big enough and long enough to play the 2, 3 and 4 positions. And athletically, he’s as elite as they come. One minute he’s swishing a heavily guarded 3-pointer or pull-up jumper, and the next he’s exploding past a defender and dunking while absorbing contact.
Joining Wiggins in the backcourt will be freshman Wayne Selden, a McDonald’s All-American who has been referred to as a “power guard.” Self loves the 6-5 Selden for his toughness, his knack for getting to the basket and ability to make shots.
Perhaps the only question mark for the Jayhawks comes at the most important position on the court: point guard. Naadir Tharpe averaged 19 minutes per game as a backup last season and has been praised for his leadership. Tharpe, though, is far from an all-conference-caliber guard, and Self is high on incoming freshman Frank Mason, who spent last season at a prep school after failing to qualify out of high school.
Andrew Wiggins, the likely No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, is arguably the highest-profile recruit in school history. Wayne Selden will be virtually impossible to keep off the court because of his toughness and ability to play multiple positions. Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp are deadly from beyond the arc. Joel Embiid is a tremendous shot-blocker and rebounder who could blossom into one of the country’s top big men. Tarik Black is a bruiser who adds a manly presence to an otherwise youthful squad.
Factoid: 1. Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament five out of the last seven years. The Jayhawks have also finished No. 1 in the Big 12 nine straight seasons.
As is the case every season, expect the Jayhawks to be in the hunt for the NCAA title. Granted, things may be a bit rocky at times for a squad that will likely have five freshmen in its eight-man rotation. With games against Duke, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Georgetown, Kansas’ non-conference slate is as difficult as its ever been under Self, who is cautioning folks to be patient. That’s a lot to ask of Kansas fans, who know good and well that with Wiggins, anything is possible.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
8. Oklahoma State
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
25. Wichita State