Even after helping Kansas secure its first 30-win season since 2013, the returning Jayhawk players still have a bitter taste in their mouths from this past March.
At a recent summer camp, Frank Mason, now entering his final season in Lawrence, admitted as much .
“Just to see the team we got defeated by win the national championship — that wasn’t a good feeling. We know how close we were to winning that game. We only can get better from it, learn from it, put in more work and hope that next time around it won’t be that way.”
This year, Mason and his teammates have a very good chance at finishing their unfinished business. Kansas boasts one of the strongest rosters in the country–a blend of electrifying guards, physical bigs, and collective tournament experience.
Let’s dig into what the 2016-17 Kansas Jayhawks are bringing to the table.
Photo Credit: Nick Krug
Jackson is the consensus #1 player in the 2016 recruiting class, and likely will be one of the first 3 names called on NBA draft night in 2017. The accolades are not without with lofty expectations, but Jackson has the kind of game to meet them. Drawing comparisons to former Jayhawk super-freshman, Andrew Wiggins, Jackson has a load of enviable athleticism that can be put to good use on both ends. Where Jackson separates himself a bit from Wiggins is his tighter handle, passing prowess, and brash competitiveness. While Wiggins was a quiet competitor, Jackson has an in-your-face mentality on the court, and isn’t afraid to let you know about it–just ask Gary Payton.
Replacing a very good player in Wayne Selden won’t be easy for Jackson. While bringing a bruising slashing style to Bill Self’s offense, Selden also shot 39% from three. Perimeter shooting is one of the knocks on Jackson’s game. Will he be able to hit threes at a respectable enough rate to garner attention from defenses? If not, the offense may not be as free as before. He’ll also have to improve his free throw percentage to be able to stay on the floor at the end of games. Otherwise, look for Jackson to have a very solid freshman campaign with the Jayhawks.
Azubuike is the other 5-star freshman in Kansas’ 2016 recruiting class. He is a large human being, standing 6-11 and weighing 270 pounds. Don’t let his size fool you into thinking he is a slow, bouldering player, though. The big man from Florida has very nimble feet and has a sneaky amount of vertical explosion. Keeping him off the boards is going to be quite the task, and may be key to him playing a big role in Self’s rotation.
However, getting consistent minutes will be tough for Azubike, as Self will probably give the benefit of the doubt to upperclassmen who are more familiar with his system. If he excels on defense and on the boards, don’t be surprised to see the big man rocket up the depth chart.
Mitch Lightfoot (4-Star forward), Evan Maxwell (eligible transfer from Liberty), Dwight Coleby (eligible transfer from Ole Mississippi)
Bill Self likes for his guards to push the pace, and the team is well-constructed to do so this season. Frank Mason is one of the fastest guards with the ball in the country, and being flanked by the dynamic Devonte’ Graham and the uber athletic Josh Jackson should make fast break buckets that much easier to come by.
Kansas has four big men taller than 6’9”, and two wings (Jackson and Mykhailiuk) that are 6’8″. This size advantage should allow the Jayhawks to be a force on the boards and also a shot-blocking force, two areas in which the Jayhawks were top 3 in the nation a season ago. Self may even play Jackson at the 4 spot in certain small lineups.
When Graham and Mason are locked in, it gets very difficult to even dribble cleanly against them. The duo are physical and get into the offensive player’s body, as evidenced by their combined for 105 steals last season. Defense is Josh Jackson’s calling card, and he can really, really get into you. His length and lateral quickness allow him to bottle up offensive players. Jackson is also a good shot blocker and can get steals by jumping passing lanes. Defensively,the Jawhawks can be downright scary next season.
Replacing Perry Ellis
It only took 20 years, but we’ve finally reached the point where Perry Ellis is not on a Kansas team! All jokes aside, Ellis was a very good mainstay for the Jayhawks. Last season, he led the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, and shot 44% from deep. He was also reliable from the free throw line (a career 76% shooter) and very good 2-point scorer (career: 52%). Carlton Bragg will slide into Ellis’ starting spot. He got some valuable experience last season, and has the talent to make an impact. Bragg’s length is something that Ellis did not have, so teams will have to deal with his shot-blocking prowess as well as Landen Lucas’.
Consistent 3rd guard
One of the things that cost Kansas the game against Villanova was Devonte Graham being in foul trouble. Mykhailiuk subbed in for him, but failed to have any significant impact. Can Mykhailiuk and LaGerald Vick consistently produce to prevent another loss due to foul trouble/ injury from one of the starting backcourt members? We shall see.
Expect another 30 win season from Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks.
Heading into the season, I consider Kansas to be the top team in the nation. The Jayhawks have the best backcourt in the country, an extremely talented freshman recruit in Jackson, very good size down low, and a lot of perimeter shooting ability. They can also frustrate opposing team’s guards by pressing up and reke havoc in the open floor. If the players gel, expect the Jayhawks to be right back in the elite 8 and advance beyond that.