Jayhawks seek to re-establish dominance over the Big 12
Their 14-year championship reign may have ended, but make no mistake: The Kansas Jayhawks are still the class of the Big 12. And after the end of its historic title streak, KU appears poised to start a new one. No team in the league boasts as much talent and depth as the Jayhawks, whose outlook improved significantly after a flurry of offseason decisions fell in their favor.
Center Udoka Azubuike kicked things off in April by announcing he’d return for his senior season, immediately making him the favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. The following month saw the NCAA deem previously suspended forward Silvio De Sousa eligible, and then point guard Devon Dotson withdrew from the NBA Draft in June.
The Jayhawks weren’t finished, adding Iowa grad transfer Isaiah Moss to bolster their outside shooting. The cherry on top, though, came when small forward Jalen Wilson, who had planned to attend Michigan before John Beilein’s surprise departure, signed with Kansas in mid-June.
All of a sudden, prognosticators began placing the Jayhawks atop not just the Big 12 rankings, but the national ones as well.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Bill Self
2018-19 RECORD (BIG 12): 26-10 (12-6)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Auburn 89-75 in the second round
G Quentin Grimes (8.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F Dedric Lawson (19.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg)
G K.J. Lawson (3.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
G Lagerald Vick (14.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Not many teams in the country tout a weapon as imposing as Azubuike, whose size makes him difficult to defend. Other than lackluster free throw shooting (career 39.4 percent), Azubuike’s biggest problem has been staying healthy. A torn ligament in his left hand ended his freshman season after just 11 games, and he played in just nine games last season before suffering the same injury in his right hand. Having Azubuike at 100 percent would make the Jayhawks lethal in a frontcourt that will also include De Sousa, who starred alongside Azubuike during KU’s march to the Final Four in 2018. De Sousa was forced to sit out last season during the FBI’s investigation into Adidas-sponsored schools.
Kansas won’t lose much when it goes to its bench, where former McDonald’s All-American David McCormack was tabbed by coach Bill Self as the team’s most improved player during the offseason. McCormack’s elite athleticism allows him to run the court well and out-quick defenders in the paint. He averaged just 3.9 points last season but ended strong, with double-digit scoring outputs in four of his last seven games.
The Jayhawks believe they have one of the top point guards in America in Dotson, who averaged 12.3 points and a team-high 3.5 assists as a freshman. Another likely starter is Ochai Agbaji, a sophomore who shot up NBA Draft boards after his redshirt was pulled 14 games into his freshman campaign. An unheralded recruit, Agbaji averaged 8.5 points and, at times, was KU’s best player. Marcus Garrett is a reliable junior and elite defender who averaged 23 minutes off the bench his first two seasons, but he’ll have to compete for playing time with Moss and Wilson.
Coaches hope Moss will give a boost to a team that shot just 35.2 percent from long range during Big 12 play, a mark that ranked seventh in the league. Moss made 42.1 percent of his 3s as a junior at Iowa. The best player of the bunch could end up being Wilson, who will contend for starting minutes at small forward and could blossom into one of KU’s top scorers.
On paper, Kansas looks like one of the best teams in the country. But a lot of question marks surround Self’s squad. Will Azubuike stay healthy and make free throws? How quickly will Wilson adapt to the college game? Can Dotson become a leader? Will Moss help fix the 3-point woes? Did a year off hurt De Sousa? How much has McCormack truly improved? If those issues are addressed in a positive manner, the Jayhawks may need to make room for some new hardware in their trophy case.
Postseason Prediction: Elite Eight
Big 12 Prediction: 1st