After heavy freshman feel in 2018-19, Kansas basketball likely moving back toward a veteran lineup
Barring something unforeseen happening on the recruiting trail in the next couple of weeks — and let’s face it, absolutely nothing would surprise me the way things have gone this offseason — the Kansas men’s basketball team is moving toward the 2019-20 season facing the prospects of handing out exactly zero starts to a freshman for just the second time in the past 12 seasons.
That became more a likely path earlier this week when 5-star guard R.J. Hampton announced he was headed overseas instead of coming to KU, and became even more clear on Wednesday night, when Devon Dotson announced he was returning to Kansas for his sophomore season.
Dotson’s return, along with the fact that the calendar soon will turn to June, all but locks in KU’s starting lineup for the 2019-20 season.
The only spot in the starting five that is currently even debatable is the 4, where junior-to-be Silvio De Sousa and sophomore-to-be David McCormack likely will battle for a starting nod in the months ahead. More on that in a later blog.
But outside of that position, the rest of the spots in the starting five look to be set. And that’s a good thing. This isn’t college football and this also isn’t a program that has to worry about guys competing on a daily basis. You simply don’t survive at Kansas if you’re not ready to compete. So the idea of establishing a starting lineup early on can only help the chemistry and progression of this team rounding into form sooner rather than later.
The rest of the starting five that will join either De Sousa or McCormack likely will look like this: Two sophomores in the backcourt, with Dotson and Ochai Agbaji. Junior Marcus Garrett holding down the third guard position. And senior Udoka Azubuike at the 5.
Again, no freshmen. And if everyone stays healthy, it’s hard to see that changing.
Kansas is still in the running for 4-star prospect Jalen Wilson, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward who had signed with Michigan but was given his release after a coaching change. In fact, Wilson is expected in town today to start his Kansas visit and plans to visit North Carolina next week before making a decision between those two programs and a possible return to Michigan.
There’s a lot to like about Wilson’s game and his upside is off the charts. Not only would he be the prize of the 2019 recruiting class for Kansas, he also would play. A lot. And he would probably log big minutes and have a very important role, both next season and well into the future. Whether he would have the potential to be a starter in Year 1, however, is entirely up to him and how quickly he makes the adjustment to the college game.
The exact same could be said for Kansas signee Tristan Enaruna, a Top 50 prospect with crazy high upside who this coaching staff absolutely loves. He’s another versatile forward who can play a bunch of positions, and he, too, will have a role next year and has an incredibly bright future. But he’s not pushing a veteran out of the starting lineup any time soon either.
And there has been some chatter, at varying levels of volume, that Class of 2020 point guard Kyree Walker could reclassify into the 2019 class and join the Jayhawks in the relatively near future, as well.
That may well happen and it would be an outstanding pick-up for the Jayhawks. Had Dotson elected to stay in the draft, KU’s pursuit of Walker would really have become interesting. But until they land him, or, more importantly, until he actually reclassifies into the 2019 class, there’s no sense in talking about him as a potential starter at Kansas either.
In the 11 seasons since the Jayhawks won the national title in 2008, the program has averaged 40 starts per season by freshmen.
That includes an 11-year high of 101 starts made by freshmen Agbaji, Dotson, Quentin Grimes and McCormack last season. And it also includes the 93 starts by freshmen in 2013-14 when a couple of guys named Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were around.
Only three times in those 11 seasons did Kansas fail to give 10 or more starts to freshmen and two of those three single-digit seasons ended at the Final Four.
Two seasons ago, when Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykahiliuk and company reached the Final Four, Marcus Garrett was the lone freshman to record a start for Kansas, finishing the season with seven starts.
And during the 2011-12 season, which ended with a loss to Kentucky in the national title game, Kansas did not have a freshman start a single game.
The only other time in those 11 years that KU freshmen failed to crack double digits in starts came in 2015-16, when KU reached the Elite Eight and saw Cheick Diallo make one start.
So what’s the moral of the story here? While freshmen have been good to Kansas in terms of filling up the stat sheet and producing on the floor while playing key roles and giving the Jayhawks a chance to compete at the highest level, their best teams in the past decade have come with veterans in the starting lineup. And going that route again is exactly where the Jayhawks appear to be headed entering the summer before the 2019-20 season.
|Season||Number of starts by a KU freshman||Leader|
|2018-19||101||Grimes, Dotson 36|