Jayhawks poised for national title run
For much of last season, Kansas appeared to have one of the more underwhelming teams of the Bill Self era. The Jayhawks lost an unfathomable three games at Allen Fieldhouse and were blown out on the road by NIT teams Baylor and Oklahoma State. For just the second time in nine years, not a single KU player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Yet there the Jayhawks were at the end of the season, hoisting the Big 12 trophy for the 14th straight year before advancing to the Final Four.
If Self could accomplish those feats with one of his worst teams, it’s scary to think what he might do with a 2018-19 squad that, at least on paper, appears to be one of his very best.
With two returning double-digit scorers (Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick), a transfer (Dedric Lawson) who could contend for Big 12 Player of the Year honors and a freshman (Quentin Grimes) who’s projected as an NBA Lottery pick, the Jayhawks’ blend of talent and depth is as impressive as it’s ever been during Self’s tenure.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Bill Self
2017-18 RECORD (BIG 12): 31-8 (13–5)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Villanova 95-79 in the Final Four
G Devonte’ Graham (17.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.2 apg)
G Svi Mykhailiuk (14.6 ppg, 2.7 apg)
G Malik Newman (14.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
A lack of depth in the paint has forced the Jayhawks to play small ball the past four seasons, but don’t expect to see a four-guard lineup in 2018-19. The return of Azubuike and the addition of Lawson, a transfer from Memphis, will make Kansas one of the country’s most feared teams down low.
The 7'0", 280-pound Azubuike was a load for opposing defenders as a sophomore, when he averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting a nation-leading 77.0 percent from the field. The majority of Azubuike’s baskets were dunks, and he’s worked hard during the offseason to diversify his arsenal — and his efficiency from the foul line, where he connected on just 41.3 percent. Lawson, who averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis in 2016-17, could be one of the best players Self has ever coached. He is a versatile scorer who can punish opponents both in the paint and from the perimeter.
The Jayhawks’ depth down low may be unparalleled. Silvio De Sousa played a huge role in KU’s Final Four run after joining the team at midseason. And incoming freshman David McCormack is a McDonald’s All-American who should contribute immediately.
The competition for playing time among KU’s guards will be fierce. Charlie Moore sat out last season after transferring from Cal, where he averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman. Look for either Moore or highly ranked freshman Devon Dotson to start at point guard alongside Grimes. A McDonald’s All-American, Grimes earned MVP honors for Team USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship over the summer.
Kansas got an unexpected boost in June when Vick decided to rejoin the team instead of turning pro. Vick, who averaged 12.1 points as a junior, provides an immediate boost to the one area where Kansas appeared to be deficient: outside shooting. He shot 37.3 percent from 3 last season.
Marcus Garrett, a rotation player as a freshman last season, should contribute even more this season. And 6'8" wing K.J. Lawson, Dedric’s twin brother, should present matchup problems as a small forward off the bench. He averaged 12.3 points per game two years ago at Memphis.
The path to a 15th straight Big 12 title should be smooth for Kansas, as there appears to be a significant gap between the Jayhawks and other Big 12 teams. A national title, more than anything, will be the focus of this year’s squad and its fans. And rightfully so. The Jayhawks will be bigger, deeper and more talented than they’ve been in years. The pieces are there. If the chemistry follows, this could be college basketball’s best team.
Postseason Prediction: National Champions
Big 12 Prediction: 1st