Busting Brackets

Kansas Jayhawks: Season Preview


Mar 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Garrett (21) and his teammates arrive prior to the start of the semifinal game against the Michigan Wolverines in the South regional at the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When a team loses their top scorer and best interior defender, common sense would dictate that they would not be as good. Generally, that would be correct but for the Kansas Jayhawks, the situation might be a little different.

After losing Ben McLemore who led the team in scoring as a freshman, and Jeff Whithey, the school’s leading shot blocker in its history, to the NBA draft, the Jayhawks were read to rebuild. After amassing a fairly impressive recruiting class, they looked ready to come back as contenders next season. When the number one overall recruit, one of the most hyped players in college basketball history, Andrew Wiggins, committed to Kansas, it solidified them as national championship contenders.

While they have some returning players, a lot of the pressure will fall on Kansas’ freshman group. How will they react to the pressure and expectations of a championship? It will be an interesting experiment, especially considering they will have to compete with Kentucky’s ridiculously deep class and Duke’s overall depth.

Notable Departures: Ben McLemore, Guard (NBA), Jeff Whitey, Center (Graduation/NBA). Kevin Young, Forward (Graduation), Travis Releford, Guard (Graduation), Elijah Johnson, Guard (Graduation)

Notable Arrivals: Andrew Wiggins, Guard/Forward (5*), Joel Embiid, Center (5*), Wayne Selden, Small Forward (5*), Conner Frankamp, Guard (4*), Brannen Greene, Guard (4*)


One thing the Jayhawks will not be short on is athleticism and agility. Wiggins is probably the best athlete in his class and displays it regularly. He has been throwing down dunks many NBA dunkers could not even imagine. Similarly, freshman center Joel Embiid is an agile player who plays his best above the rim. The same goes for guard Brannen Greene who should make a killing in transition, especially playing off of Wiggins.

While this will be a young team, they have some veterans ready to help steady them. Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe will probably have the starting position over incoming freshman Conner Frankamp, at least at the start of the season. As a guard, Tharpe is very good at distributing the ball and plays the position much like game managing quarterback. He moves the ball up and makes, quick, easy passes. On the front line, Perry Ellis who showed flashes of great potential during his freshman season last year should be ready to handle starting minutes. Without Kevin Young, Ellis will be looked at to grab rebounds and score from the painted area.

Though youth may be an issue to some teams, Kansas shouldn’t be worried. They have a coach in Bill Self who really knows how to develop and mentor his players. One needs only to look at what he did for guys like Thomas Robinson and Jeff Whithey to see that Self knows what he is doing. While he is getting a lot of young blood all at once, he is also getting his best recruiting class since he has stepped onto Kansas campus. It’s easy to imagine Self fantasizing about all the potential plays he will be able to draw up for his prized freshman.

Let’s not kid ourselves though, the primary reason Kansas is a contender and expected to do well is all because of one guy, Andrew Wiggins. Not since Kevin Durant has a freshman had the chance to put up mind blowing numbers as a freshman. Wiggins does not have any particular weaknesses. He runs the floor, he can dribble like a guard, explodes off the ground and can pass the ball too. Thanks to a high motor, Wiggins is an excellent rebounder from the wing and has shown the ability to be a high intensity defender once he gets some practice in. He plays the lanes well and should become a great weak side blocker thanks to his speed and leaping ability. If someone was to pick an area for Wiggins to improve, it would be in his shooting consistency. While he can hit it from anywhere, it would be nice for him to be able to make shots all over the court any time he chooses to do so. While the coaching staff will surely work on that with him, I am sure Kansas is quite happy to have Wiggins on the roster in his current form.

Aside from Wiggins, Wayne Selden should be a game changer as well. On most teams, and on the Jayhawks until Wiggins committed, Selden would be the leader and primary scorer. If he is able to accept his role as the second banana, Selden should become the beneficiary of a lot of easy buckets coming from Wiggins. Selden is a good sized player who can play both as a guard and a forward and loves to attack the rim. Being ambidextrous gives him an extra edge because he is comfortable attacking the paint from both sides of the court and loves to feel the contact down low. Selden should draw fouls at a high rate and provide a spark for the Jayhawks on games where Wiggins receives double or triple teams for most of the match.

The rest of the Kansas recruiting class should all be ready to contribute as well. While Embiid is still raw, he will have ample opportunities to show his worth and as shot blocking, rebounding and dunking machine. Essentially he will become the next Jeff Whithey. The difference is that Embiid has the potential to become a game chancing big man and has had NBA scouts raving about him as a potential top five pick in the 2014 NBA draft. As for Frankamp, he will be the zone buster on the team. His range goes as far as anyone else in the nation. Work will be required to make Frankamp a better decision making point guard but for the time being, standing at the three point line and waiting for open looks off Wiggins double teams will be his primary function. As for Greene, he will most likely come off the bench and provide some offensive firepower as the 6th man to an already lethal guard platter.

All in all, the Jayhawks should be one of the quickest and most athletic teams in the country. As such their games will probably be fast paced affairs with some high scoring numbers. Thankfully for Kansas fans, Self has done a good job assembling a crew that is built perfectly for just that type of game.


One of the issues for Kansas at the moment comes off the court. Last month, Brannen Greene was cited for a hit and run and for leaving the scene of an accident. While not much may come of it, the Jayhawks brass has to review whether or not they should suspend Greene for any amount of games. While Greene likely won’t be a starter, he is a premier talent that will be expected to shoulder a big load for the team on offense. As well, missing out on games early on in the year could hurt his development and chemistry with his teammates.

Another reason suspending Greene would definitely hurt the team is that outside of Wiggins, Selden, Embiid, Frankamp, Greene, Ellis and Tharpe,  Kansas does not have many players who can play big minutes. Andrew White and Jamari Traylor can both contribute spot minutes here and there but are not regular rotation players. A seven man rotation team for a college roster is a little short and depends a lot on chance. If any of the seven players were to get hurt or fall into a bad slump, Self does not have anyone coming off the bench ready to take on the responsibility of more minutes. Self will have to find a way to give his players some breaks and still win games. It’s championship or bust at Kansas and none of the key players can afford to miss time if they are to reach their objective.

The very fact that the entire season will be judged on whether or not they win a championship is also huge. That kind of pressure can weigh on the minds of the young men on the team, whether or not they say it does. There will be games and possessions where things will not go Kansas’ way and how the freshman will react in those times will go a long towards telling how the season will conclude.

On the court, they Jayhawks could experience some issues defensively. None of their players are defensive experts and they will all need time in the gym to sharpen their skills on that side of the ball. Working in their favor is that all of their young players are good athletes who also work hard at their craft. Given some time, Self should be able to teach them defensive systems in which the players’ talents will be best used.

What to expect next season at Kansas:

As mentioned above, everyone at Kansas is thinking championship. Anything short of that will be considered disappointing and that is the mentality every player is coming in with. There is no doubt that they have the talent and coaching to reach the top. Though Wiggins has yet to play a minute of NCAA basketball, his talent and effort always tends to shine through. The Jayhawks will rally around him as their leader and will go as far as he takes them.

Ultimately, their depth could become their biggest issue to becoming champions. The regular season can be a long one and basketball is a high intensity sport. Injuries and fatigue tend to happen over the course of the season, if it happens at the same time as the NCAA tournament, it could eventually be Kansas’ downfall.

This year, picking a winner out of the field is a difficult task. Plenty of teams have the right to think they should be the favorites because the talent level is deeper than it has been for years. As it stands, Kansas has to be one of those teams because they are too talented on paper not to be. Once they go out on the court together, we will see how it works in practice, but right now, they certainly work well in theory.