Sports Illustrated college hoops scribe Luke Winn this week unveiled his "Magic Eight." Before you say, "So what?" you should know as far as he's concerned, one of the eight teams on this list will win the national championship.
And guess what, the Kansas Jayhawks (12-4 overall, 3-0 Big 12, ranked No. 15) made the cut.
Here are Winn's other potential title winners, some more obvious than others: Arizona, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Kentucky, Florida, Iowa State, Michigan State.
This is why Winn likes the Jayhawks' chances:
"… possible one-and-done freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden have elevated their games in the opening portion of Big 12 play. Embiid's rim protection and Wiggins' rebounding against Iowa State on Monday were incredible, and if they continue on this trajectory, they'll have a title-caliber defense."
ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf called Embiid "the most important player on the Kansas roster."
As Medcalf points out, the Jayhawks have won six of their last seven and Embiid averaged 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in that span.
More from Medcalf:
There is no ceiling for Embiid, who has as much upside as any college basketball player in the country. And against Iowa State on Monday, he seemed to realize it in the second half.
He didn’t just block Dustin Hogue, he robbed him in midair. He passed out of double teams. He dribbled on the baseline and scored.
He affected every possession when he was available.
The key for KU, of course, the ESPN college basketball reporter adds, will be keeping the 7-foot phenom on the floor and out of foul trouble. But it's clear more people are realizing what a force Embiid can become and how he just might make Kansas one of the best team's in the nation by the end of the season.
Kansas shot up eight spots, from No. 18 to No. 10, in ESPN.com's latest college basketball power rankings.
The nine teams ahead of KU include three teams that defeated the Jayhawks: No. 9 San Diego State, No. 7 Florida and No. 5 Villanova.
KU's next opponent, Oklahoma State, which comes to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, sits at No. 8.
CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg discusses KU's struggles in the non-conference in an SI Now video you can watch here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/video/ncaab-video/20140114/2014-01-14-clip05.sportsillustrated/
The discussion on Kansas begins at the 1:30 mark, and addresses how KU seems to be playing better now, with the start of Big 12 action.
Around the 2:45 mark Kellogg gives his opinion of Wiggins and whether he should follow through on his plan to be one-and-done at KU: "At the end of the day, you have to make what you think is the best decision for you, and not allow others to influence that in a negative way."
BleacherReport.com's Jason King wrote the biggest threat to Wiggins' once assumed position as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft appears to be his 7-foot teammate, Joel Embiid.
After covering the Jayhawks' 77-70 win at Iowa State, attended by NBA front-office types, King called ISU coach Fred Hoiberg's declaration of Embiid as the top player in college basketball — Doug McDermott anyone? — "a bit of a stretch."
Longterm NBA value is an entirely different discussion. Here's an excerpt from King's column:
When it comes to pro potential, though, Embiid is the best NBA prospect in college basketball. And after watching Embiid score 16 points, grab nine rebounds and block five shots Monday, I can’t fathom how any team would pass on Embiid with the No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s draft.
Wiggins or Embiid?
Over at Grantland, Andrew Sharp's Freshman Watch piece is titled: "Who's Your Favorite Jayhawk?"
Sharp lists six freshmen to watch in terms of NBA draft potential: UCLA's Zach Levine, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Duke's Jabari Parker, and Jayhawks Wiggins and Embiid top the list.
Regarding Wiggins, Sharp writes:
He may not be a Kevin Durant– or LeBron-type superstar, but that’s still his ceiling, and in the meantime the floor is pretty high. He could be a lockdown defender. He’s already a one-man fast break. He could rebound from the wing as well as anyone this side of Durant. He could rain 3s and then cut through the lane and finish at the rim.
And, like most anyone who has watched Embiid, Sharp thinks the big man's development could make him a prized commodity among NBA executives:
On the other hand: IMAGINE JOEL EMBIID IN A FEW YEARS. It’s ridiculous. He’s so big, and so coordinated, and so impossible to deal with on either end of the floor. We’re not used to centers like this, because centers like this mostly stopped existing 15 years ago.
Some scouts say Selden should stay in school
While Embiid and Wiggins garner all the hype and praise, freshman Wayne Selden has also been mentioned as a potential late-lottery or first-round pick if he wants to dive into the draft pool.
In this Adam Zagoria piece from zagsblog.com, however, it appears at least a couple of NBA scouts would advise Selden to stick around Lawrence for at least another year.
Zagsblog.com picked up the below comments on Selden from SNY.tv:
“[He's a] late-first [round pick],” the aforementioned scout said. “He should definitely stay in school.” A second veteran concurred. “Yes,” he told SNY.tv. “Great upside, will show great improvement after one year of college ball. Will be a dominating player next year. The difference between 24-28 and 8-12 in the Draft.”
Wiggins slipping somewhat
It's becoming more clear as the season progresses that neither Wiggins nor other members of the touted freshman class can do for a franchise what LeBron James did as a rookie. It's addressed well in Mark Heisler's piece for Forbes, called "NBA wakes to find Andrew Wiggins and entire class of '14 aren't all that."
The article goes into great detail about where Wiggins stands currently, and why he is slipping — a relative term, considering he would drop from a consensus No. 1 pick to No. 3 or so. Here's an introductory excerpt:
This just in: Wiggins is slipping out of contention for No. 1-2. The NBA guys I talk to say that will be Parker and Kansas seven-footer Joel Embiid. At No. 3, Wiggins has yet to separate himself from Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Australian point guard Dante Exum and, depending on whom you talk to, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon.