When it comes to college basketball, three things are certain; mid-majors get overlooked, the NCAA Tournament has crazy twists and turns and the Big 12 regular season runs through Lawrence, Kansas. The home of the Kansas Jayhawks.
For the past 12 years, Kansas has won the Big 12 regular season championship and this year they are looking for number 13.
There are few elite college basketball teams with prestigious history and Kansas is one of them. They are the consummate men’s college basketball program for a myriad of reasons.
First off, the coaching has been top notch for the past 20-plus years. Since 2003 (when Bill Self took over for Roy Williams who left and went to coach at North Carolina), Kansas has been one of the very best programs in the country.
In the 13 years with Self at the helm, the Jayhawks have a record of 406-85 and counting. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament all 13 years of Self’s reign and have made two trips to the Final Four, including a National Championship in 2008. Kansas has also dominated the Big 12 with a record of 114-31 against the current teams in the conference and a 61-6 record against the four teams that left for other conferences.
Winning matters in the world of college coaching and Self continues to have his teams constantly winning basketball games.
Another reason the program is so successful is due to the fact that they don’t get a lot of the one-and-done players. A lot of programs across the county recruit players who they know will likely be one-and-done players due to the NBA age rule. Since the 2009-10 season, Kansas has lost eight players to the one-and-done rule, something that is rare for any program.
Over the past five years, Kansas has had a 100% graduation rate, which is rare in the one-and-done era.
In this current season, Kansas is 21-3 and currently sits atop the Big 12 yet again. This past Monday, Kansas used a furious rally to overcome a 14-point deficit with two minutes and 58 seconds remaining against Big 12 rival and No. 9 West Virginia to force overtime and eventually win the game.
Kansas has been a traditional two-big man team under Self, but this year has been an adjustment and adaptation for the Jayhawks. Self is one of the best coaches at adjusting and this year proves just that. Freshman center Udoka Azu was lost for the season in the early goings with a wrist injury and Carlton Bragg has been underwhelming to say the least.
That allows Self to use his 6’8′ uber-talented freshman Josh Jackson as a stretch-four. He is a playmaker and that is one of the things Kansas relies on to continue to succeed. Jackson (averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game) causes matchup problems with opposing team’s traditional big men who can’t keep up athletically. Jackson could be the ninth one-and-done player, but that is yet to be determined.
Without the two big man, traditional set, Kansas has been shooting and making more three-pointers. Through 24 games, the Jayhawks are shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc, the highest percentage in the Self era. No team that he has coached has ever shot higher than 30 percent from deep, but this year is an adaptation.
Kansas is led offensively by Frank Mason III, who is averaging 20.2 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and nearly 51 percent from deep. He is arguably the best guard in the country and really makes the Kansas offense go. Junior guards Devonte’ Graham (13.2 PPG) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10.5 PPG) have also exceeded in the small-ball lineup of Kansas.
One of the bad things about going small for the Jayhawks is their rebounding struggles. They currently rank 209th in defensive rebounding. Depth could also be an issue down the stretch and in the NCAA Tournament. Six players play over 20 minutes per game with three of them playing 30-plus minutes a night.
If anyone can overcome the lack of size and depth and get the most out of their team, it’s Self. No matter who he has or what obstacles the Jayhawks have to overcome, Self always has them ready to play.
When it comes to the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, they are the consummate college basketball program and the success under Self is the proof of that.