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Having fun and getting crazy with a few potential 2018-19 KU basketball lineups

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Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds the play of his team during the first half, Friday, March 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.

Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds the play of his team during the first half, Friday, March 23, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. by Nick Krug

Now that the 2017-18 season is officially closed and dozens of people are already starting to look ahead to the 2018-19 season, you've probably encountered more than a few articles about what the Jayhawks will look like next season.

In a word: Different. KU coach Bill Self said as much following his team's loss to Villanova last Saturday night at the Final Four in San Antonio, though he did not get into the specifics of what that meant.

This much we know: Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, two of the most prolific shooters in Kansas basketball history and also two of the best four-year players Self has coached, will be gone and underclassmen Udoka Azubuike, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick all appear to have decisions to make about their futures.

It's never the right time or place to ask about the future, but it's worth noting that, in the locker room after that loss to Villanova, all three players said they had not even thought about next year yet while acknowledging that they would in the coming days and weeks.

For my money, predicting what that trio will do is easy. Newman and Vick are gone and Azubuike, after testing the water and getting draft feedback from folks in the NBA, will return to KU for his junior season.

I'm not alone in this belief. Far from it, in fact. But I did find it interesting in perusing the way-too-early Top 25s for next season that so many national college basketball analysts are expecting either Newman or Vick to return and some of them are even predicting both.

I can't see it. I think Newman was planning to leave Kansas even before his stellar postseason, and that eight-game run in which he proved to be one of the best offensive players in college basketball only strengthened his desire to take the next step and probably put him back on more than a few NBA Draft boards.

I also think Vick will be ready to tackle a new challenge. Playing with Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham as your floor generals for your entire career can do wonders. And playing without them, while helping a group of young guards understand and find their way at the college level, might not be all that appealing to Vick. I think he'll hit the combine, try to get drafted and then take his chances with an NBA summer league team or in the G League or Europe if it doesn't work out with one of the 30 NBA franchises.

Azubuike, to me, just seems like a guy who has yet to hit his full potential. Another offseason with Andrea Hudy, a little more maturity and another full year of proving that he can be a beast around the basket — good goals for Udoka next season would be to try to average 10 rebounds a game and block more shots than he did in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined — surely would enhance Azubuike's draft stock in a major way.

So now that we've established that, let's take a quick look at some potential lineups for next season.

The starting five that seems most obvious and likely to me also appears to be the most popular one out there this week, but one of the best things about Self's roster next season is that he will have a ton of depth and a ton of options. With that in mind, it's entirely possible that he will go with something other than the most obvious lineup, which, for me, looks like this:

PG – Devon Dotson: From Devonte' to Devon. That has a nice ring to it. And this kid can play. He's ready-made for this role and will arrive on campus this summer eager to prove he's up for it. Cal transfer Charlie Moore as a back-up is a tremendous luxury that even this year's team would have killed to have.

2G – Quentin Grimes: Grimes is a totally different player than Malik Newman — think not as good of a shooter but better with the ball in his hands — who will offer Kansas a ton of versatility as an offensive player, a defender and both in half-court sets and transition.

3G – Marcus Garrett: If the Jayhawks land Romeo Langford, this spot is his. No doubt in my mind. And that would leave Garrett to back up all three positions, much like he did this season. If Langford picks Indiana or Vandy, though, it's nearly impossible to see Garrett not cracking the starting lineup. He's well on his way to becoming a lock-down defender, does all of those little things that Self loves incredibly well and has vowed to rework his shot completely this offseason to become a better all-around offensive player.

PF4 – Dedric Lawson: Future lottery pick potential and the complete package, with size, power, speed and athleticism. It's not hard to envision Lawson leading this team in scoring next season. What's even better for Kansas is that Silvio De Sousa is sitting there ready to push him every step of the way and these two should put Kansas in the conversation for having the best set of 4 men in the country.

C – Udoka Azubuike: This, of course, assumes that Azubuike will be back. But if he is, he's an obvious starter and, perhaps even more important than that, an important team leader. Given his taste of the 2018 Final Four and desire to become the best player he possibly can be, I'm expecting to see an incredibly motivated Azubuike next season, one who will take his leadership role seriously and be ready and willing to hold others accountable while doing the same for himself. McDonald's All-American David McCormack is a nice option as Azubuike's back-up because McCormack, like Udoka, is an absolute beast around the rim and plays a physical and punishing brand of basketball that will ensure that opponents do not get any kind of break when Azubuike is on the bench.

That list puts Kansas at 8 deep (9 if they get Langford) and leaves the following players with an opportunity, but also some work to do, to find their way into the mix: Ochai Agbaji, Sam Cunliffe, K.J. Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot.

Of that group, Lightfoot is probably the most ready to handle a big role, but he also is stuck at a pretty deep position. A lot of his immediate future will be dependent upon how much Self wants to play two big men and how much he sticks with four guards, with a stretch 4 mixed in. If he plays the latter, there's definitely a role for Lightfoot, who improved his shot a great deal last offseason and is better athletically than he gets credit for. If Self wants to get back to two bigs, Lightfoot easily could become a red-shirt candidate.

Imagine that and how ridiculously luxurious things are set up for the Jayhawks next season — a player who started the first two games of this year's NCAA Tournament on a Final Four team might be best off red-shirting next season. Wow.

After that, Lawson and Cunliffe both have some experience, and decent numbers when they got it, but neither player is an obvious choice to be an automatic rotation guy as things stand today. And Agbaji, who is tougher and more talented than most people realize — and would most certainly have played a role on the last two KU teams — might be poised to red-shirt his first year and save all of that eligibility for the next four seasons.

With all of that said, and you having some time to make your own conclusions about who's back, who's best and who will fit where, here's a quick look at a few other options for Self during the 2018-19 season.

We'll call this first one Option B

PG – Charlie Moore
2G – Quentin Grimes
3G – Marcus Garrett/Romeo Langford
PF4 – Dedric Lawson
C – Udoka Azubuike

This next one is called the Little Guard Look

PG – Devon Dotson
2G – Charlie Moore
3G – Quentin Grimes
PF4 – Dedric Lawson
C – Udoka Azubuike

How about the Big and Bad lineup

PG – Quentin Grimes
2G – Marcus Garrett/Romeo Langford
SF – Dedric Lawson
PF – Silvio De Sousa
C – Udoka Azubuike

And then there's the Veteran Group

PG – Charlie Moore
2G – Marcus Garrett
3G – Sam Cunliffe/K.J. Lawson
PF4 – Dedric Lawson
C – Udoka Azubuike

You also could always go with a true 4-Guard Lineup, though I can't imagine anyone would as a starting option

PG – Devon Dotson
2G – Quentin Grimes
3G – Romeo Langford
4G – Marcus Garrett
C – Udoka Azubuike

While some of those are absolutely ridiculous and almost certain to never see the light of day, the point in putting them on paper was this: 1. It's always fun to play around with potential lineups and looks. 2. It illustrates clearly just how deep and talented the 2018-19 Kansas roster will be.

The bottom line for me is that I can't imagine Self going with something other than the first lineup I mentioned or Option B. Will there be times on the floor when injuries, matchups or foul trouble dictate that he has to tinker with things a bit? I would say that's a safe bet. But when it comes to starting lineups and the players who will hold down those spots for the majority of the season, I think there are only a few true options there, with a ton of quality depth to back them up.

It sure will be interesting. And it's likely going to bring back a serious dose of that cut-throat competitiveness that Self loves so much, starting this summer and continuing well into the fall.

Comments

[''] 5 months, 2 weeks ago

If Vick leaves for the NBA he will end up on the left-too-early trash heap like Josh Selby and Julian Wright....not saying we really need him next year, just saying he ain't NBA material by a long shot....

Joe Joseph 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't know Vick, and I'm assuming you don't either. Therefore, we don't know what his true motivations are. Maybe he's less concerned about making money in the NBA and more concerned about maximizing the time he has to make SOME money playing basketball. He's more than good enough to make good money playing overseas.

The NBA isn't the only option. Plus, some of these kids simply may not like the grind of going to class AND practice every day.

Joe Ross 5 months, 2 weeks ago

RE: "I think Newman was planning to leave Kansas even before his stellar postseason, and that eight-game run in which he proved to be one of the best offensive players in college basketball only strengthened his desire to take the next step and probably put him back on more than a few NBA Draft boards."

I don't question your gut feeling about this, but I'm wondering if you're working on insider information. To be so square on Malik's post-collegiate ambition's being strengthened after the tournaments indicates more than intuition.

What have you been told?

Pius Waldman 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt has shared ideas which is fun because this early hard to know who will be available. I question Garrett being a starter unless he can become more than a passer. His shot needs work and much improvement. I really hope we can ring in Langford. Udoka will have a hard time keeping the starting job. He needs to be able to score more than dunks. I can't remember other than free throws a shot more than a few feet from the goal. As for those leaving early one needs to consider overseas play. The NBA draft will be very competitive.

Stephen Burtin 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Udoka starts unless someone supplants him as the best FG% shooter in the country. I would expect him to become a better defender and rebounder as well when he doesn't have to worry as much about foul trouble. If he gets in early foul trouble, we will have plenty of talent on the bench to back him up. I just hope he can get his FTs figured out. I don't think he will ever be an NBA level shooter, but someone would likely take a flyer if he can prove to be a dominant rebounder and a respectable shot-blocker.

Austin Bergstrom 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Can't stand a guy who shoots almost 80% for an entire season.

Jonathan Allison 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I find it interesting... not really surprising, but interesting... that Matt suggests Vick moving on. There seems to be a good consensus that we should expect Malik to depart (not a guarantee especially knowing that a player can test the draft multiple times without forfeiting college eligibility). But Matt seems to be going out on a limb by suggesting that Vick would choose to leave rather than play with a young PG. If both Newman and Vick leave of course then we have roster space to add Romeo Langford.

Self mentioned post-game that next year the team will look totally different from this year. Which is no surprise, but many read into that he is preparing us to lose some familiar faces.

Vick was a starter this year and played a prominent role as a sophomore.

Bill Self knows the roster situation better than anyone and he knows that we are overcommitted with the Agbaji commitment and Self is still recruiting Langford. He is preparing for two departures. Most expect that to be Newman and one player out of Vick, Azubuike, or Cunliffe. Most seem to agree that it makes the most sense for Azubuike to stay. He has the most to gain by coming back. More so than for Cunliffe or Vick.

I would like to see a deep dive article with Cunliffe. I think that Matt should interview Cunliffe, talk to him about the season and about his conversations with Bill Self. Ask him what parts of his game are his strengths and what things he's trying to improve. Talk to him about sitting out a year, and what he's learned. What it was like being a part of the Final Four team. And find out whether or not he is still eligible for a redshirt season. The last part is important because he transferred mid-season and played both years, using two years of eligibility, so theoretically he should still be eligible to sit a year without losing eligibility. If so, he could redshirt a year at KU (he'd still count toward the scholarship limit), or he could transfer again and redshirt a year and still have two years of eligibility remaining. If he were to transfer again, then KU does have room to keep Vick (assuming Malik leaves and Romeo joins).

My gut tells me that Malik will declare for the draft and hire an agent, Self will go all-in and land Langford, and then Vick will declare for the draft and hire an agent. Bill Self will explore the possibility of red-shirting Cunliffe if he thinks that Cunliffe can be a star in his 4th and 5th years of college, much like other players at KU who had to wait their turn... i.e Releford, Teahan, Morningstar, even Reed and Elijah Johnson who didn't redshirt, but also didn't play much early in their careers. Would Cunliffe commit to that? It's hard to say... especially in the transfer era.

Barry Weiss 5 months, 2 weeks ago

good comments. I always like this time of year where we all get to speculate on the next season.Some of these new players I've never seen, so I can't even speculate too much on them. I do think Vick either stays or transfers out. He just spaced out large parts of this season. He also seemed to lose a lot of weight. I like him, but can't see him in the NBA at all. You have to be really, really, really good to get drafted. Its very tough to go from college with Vick type stats into being a draft pick. Maybe if he stays and really pumps up his numbers next year and is solid all season, he could get drafted. But after this year, no way.

Jacob Zutterman 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You're one of the few other than myself that seems to think Cunliffe will be gone next season. I can see him leaving before I do Vick. He hardly played on a paper thin roster so I see him getting almost zero PT next season

Robert Brock 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I don’t think that Cunliffe will play much at all next season. He gets squeezed out.

Chris Booth 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I really don't think Garrett is a starter unless he can drastically improve his shot, which I don't see happening. He is more of a situational type player imo. Someone you bring in when you want to lock someone down on defense (kind of like Booth from Villanova). He's just too big of a liability on offense to be a starter. We won't have the luxury of having three guards who can score 20+ points in any game on the court with Garrett to carry his weight on offense this year. I think K.J. Lawson will start over Garrett if we don't get Langford and Vick leaves. I also think Charlie Moore will start over Dotson and Sam Cunliffe will transfer. I also wonder if Lightfoot will redshirt this year.

Dave Miller 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Just something to ponder: What if a player pays their way in college next year and takes a "walk on" spot, allowing Coach Self to keep most of this years team, plus the new arrivals? That would make for ridiculously deep bench and allow Coach Self to mix/match any opposing team according to the needs on the floor of that night.

Maybe Coach Self needs to start a "charitable foundation" to help struggling KU student/athletes who do not have a scholarship with tuition. lol

Lawrence McGlinn 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Again, "student-athletes" who have given their all to the program for 2 or 3 years can be thrown onto the trash heap when new talent becomes available. Vick or Cunliffe, or whoever is just another faulty cog in the machine, especially if they have not lived up to the lofty height of their expectations. I just don't want to hear the term "family" from any big-time basketball coach who forces players out due to the unfair year-to-year scholarship rule.

Bill Pitcher 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Where is the "Best-3-point-line-Defense" lineup?

Joe Deister 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm confused... have I missed something? Where is De Sousa in these lineups?

"That list puts Kansas at 8 deep (9 if they get Langford) and leaves the following players with an opportunity, but also some work to do, to find their way into the mix: Ochai Agbaji, Sam Cunliffe, K.J. Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot. "

Matt Tait 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You must have. He's listed as a strong backup to Dedric Lawson in that best-guess lineup I listed first. He'll be a huge factor and big time player next year.

Craig Carson 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Azibuike's back up..Dedric Starts at the 4, DeSousa backs him up and DM backs up DOK..unless Dok leaves then DM might be the starting center

Jeff Foster 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not even sure how we afford all these players next year! #kidding #rockchalkriches

Stuart Corder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Personally, I think Newman is the most “NBA Ready” player on this roster and will undoubtedly be drafted before Graham, who I believe hit his basketball peak (remarkable, historic, and his jersey hanging in the rafters).

Vick, whom it appears has been written off by everyone, has the option to come back and play his natural position as the lone senior. However, like most everyone else, I bet he’s going to go play for cash overseas.

I think Mitch Lightfoot using a “redshirt” would be an incredible opportunity for both himself and the team. The article that suggested it felt right on the money!

As for my speculative line up next year?

PG: 1) Dotson, 2) Moore SG: 1) Cunliffe/Grimes battle SF: 1) KJ Lawson 2) Garrett PF: 1) Dedric Lawson, 2) Silvio C: 1) Azubuike, 2) McCormack ————————————————- Thats 10 players, assuming Vick and Newman depart, and Lightfoot redshirts.

“Super Size”: PG: Grimes SG: KJ Lawson SF: Dedric Lawson PF: Silvio C: Azubuike

“Beat The Press” PG: Dotson SG: Moore SF: Grimes PF: Garrett C: KJ Lawson

“Zone Bust” PG: Moore SG: Dotson SF: Cunliffe PF: KJ Lawson C: Dedric Lawson

Also, I hope they implement the “4 qtrs” gamestyle that the NIT sampled this year.

Stuart Corder 5 months, 2 weeks ago

IF Azubuike joins Newman in the NBA and Vick stays his senior year, then I predict that Vick starts at the 2-guard and McCormack backs up Dedric Lawson and Silvio.

Regardless of stays and who leaves, we have a roster to be excited about!

Jonathan Allison 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Part 1.

Bill Self has been an amazing coach at KU ever since the day he arrived.

It's easy to look at the fact that he took over a team that had just competed in two straight final fours and had multiple key returnees at key positions (Miles, Langford, Simien, Lee, Graves...) as well as some good looking incoming recruits and think that Bill Self took over a great situation. And that is true.

But look at the roster turnover that happened quickly after Bill Self took over. By the end of his second season at KU he had lost Miles, Langford, Simien, Lee, Graves, Giddens, and Padgett. In his third season he had a group of freshman and sophomores a mile long, but was leaning heavily on walkons Moody and Jeff Hawkins. They were playing slow, painful, ugly basketball and arguably Oklahoma, Texas, and OSU looked like any one of them could become the premier program of the conference. Texas had some stellar talent, and the Oklahoma schools both had solid programs. It wasn't until Self's 4th year at KU that his recruits really started to buy-in, and things started to click.

It's easy to think that that elite 8 team in '07 signaled the beginning of the Self/KU dynasty, even though it was actually his third team to win the league title. But things looked a little shaky after the '08 title. We missed on the top rated recruits and ended up with a bunch of 4 star players to team up with Sherron and Cole. Bill Self was coach of the year that year and that team was great the following year with the addition of X Henry. We were destined for greatness when we landed Selby, but something went wrong. For a few years Self struggled to land the big recruits... He scrambled to bring in transfers Young, Wesley, Withey with some no name recruits like Tharpe, etc. McLemore was forced to sit a year. And Bill Self did his coach of the year thing a few more years and continued KU's dominance despite the apparent failures in recruiting.

In my opinion... those 2012 and 2013 teams where Self led some misfit rosters to incredible seasons, they paved the way for the incredible run of recruits we've brought in since. First it was Perry Ellis... Then Wiggins, Embiid, Selden (and Mason). Then Oubre and Alexander (and Graham), then Diallo, Azubuike, Billy Preston, De Sousa, and the current crop.

Jonathan Allison 5 months, 2 weeks ago

part 2.

But in the middle of all of that something strange happened. Bill Self had brought in some great recruits, but also had missed out on a lot of targets as well. He started bringing in transfers to fill out the roster... Tarek Black... Dwight Coleby, Malik Newman. Well... some plans work great, but sometimes players depart unexpectedly. We stacked the roster with transfers this year in the Lawson's, Cunliffe, Moore, because we were supposed to have Coleby, then Whitman, and of course Billy Preston. Then all of a sudden we only had seven guys who could play. Bill Self put on his cape and saved the day with some great coaching and a stretch of good health.

Next year we have the most incredible list of "newcomers" that we've ever had. Including multiple 5 star freshman and multiple major impact transfer players.

One could look at this uptick in recruiting success (De Sousa, McCormack, Dotson, and possibly Langford) and suggest that it could be due to the way that Self has coached up a couple of teams of players that didn't feature major one and dones to major success and two elite 8 trips in 2016 and 2017. Self established himself as a dominant coach. If we add Langford then we will start to reap the rewards of Self's masterful coaching job with this 2018 team. And one would expect more recruiting success this fall.

When you put it all into perspective. Self's recruiting failures have always led to his biggest coaching successes which have then led to his biggest recruiting victories. This is like the fourth wave of Self's KU coaching lifecycle, and next year could be coach Self's best team ever, at least from a pure talent standpoint.

Matt Stone 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Hearing Self had enough of Vicks effort or lack there of and basically was forced out. He wasn't going to get playing time. Interesting lineup would be C Dok PF D Lawson PF De Sousa SG Grimes PG Dotson Think scoring and rebounding would never be an issue. If Langford joins then he gets in lineup over DeSousa. Think Langford has to be higher in KU's crystal ball than what is published. Vanderbilt and Indiana have had open scholarships available for awhile and if Langford was interested in them he would have already picked 1. Think he has waited to see if KU's departing players would allow an opening for him to slip in, that has now happened. He has said he wants to play with other great players and KU and Vanderbilt are only 2 that offer that but KU has biggest edge. He has lowest amount of pressure to play here as other guys will score and he doesn't have to be the man as will have to be at Indiana. He supposedly doesn't want the spotlight which eliminates Indiana. He wants to be on a winner, KU is biggest winner of the 3. Wants a great coach that will make him better. No question Self owns that group. Seems like KU checks all the boxes! Vanderbilt and Indianas main advantages are close to home.

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