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Breaking down the 2021-22 Kansas basketball roster as things stand today

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West Virginia guard Sean McNeil (22) gets a ball past Kansas forward David McCormack (33) and Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

West Virginia guard Sean McNeil (22) gets a ball past Kansas forward David McCormack (33) and Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) during the first half, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

If all of the activity surrounding the Kansas men’s basketball program of late has your head spinning a bit, you’re definitely not alone.

I can’t tell you the number of KU fans who have reached out to me in the past couple of weeks in search of some insight into the state of KU’s current roster.

At least on paper, it looks to me like the Jayhawks have gotten better. A lot better.

That’s not a knock on the guys who left, rather praise for the fact that the players who KU signed to replace them are more proven and have shown that they can play consistent and key roles at the college level.

Here’s the crazy thing: KU’s still not done. Depending on what happens with the NBA draft decisions of Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson — and we likely won’t know the answer to that until July — Kansas coach Bill Self still has anywhere from one to three scholarships to hand out before the team reports for summer workouts on June 6.

Because of the transfer portal and the recent passage of the NCAA’s one-time transfer exemption, there are still plenty of options out there, regardless of how many spots the Jayhawks need to fill.

A lot could change in the coming months. Or even in the coming days.

But all we have to go on is what we know today. So, putting Agbaji and Wilson aside (you already know what adding those two to the roster would bring), here’s a look at where KU’s roster and depth chart currently sit.

POINT GUARD

Despite losing Marcus Garrett and Bryce Thompson from last year’s roster, the Jayhawks are poised to enter the offseason with even better depth at the lead guard position.

Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu is capable of playing the position and brings explosive athleticism, elite play-making ability and experience to the floor. Add to that the fact that returner Dajuan Harris was just starting to hit his stride over the final few weeks of last season, and you’re looking at a pretty solid 1-2 punch there.

There’s more, though. Freshmen-to-be Bobby Pettiford Jr., and Kyle Cuffe Jr., both have point guard prowess, and it’s safe to assume that at least one of the two will develop as a point guard as his college career progresses.

The smart money there is on Cuffe, as Pettiford projects as the type of player who easily can play both on and off the ball.

The Jayhawks also recently made the final six for four-star prep point guard Tyty Washington, and if he picks KU this position becomes even more stacked.

SHOOTING GUARD

On paper, this may be the thinnest of the five starting positions to date, but a lot of that will depend on how quickly Cuffe and/or Pettiford develop.

Beyond that, the idea of playing two point guards is something Self has always liked and wants to get back to. Rather than fielding a team with a point guard and a secondary ball handler the way he has the past couple of seasons, Self wants to get back to putting multiple play-making guards on the floor at the same time.

The belief there is that the move will allow KU to play faster and be more athletic.

As a result, Harris, now with a year of experience under his belt, could find extended playing time at this spot alongside a player like Yesufu or Washington (if KU gets him).

If the Jayhawks do land Washington, both Yesufu and Harris could share time at the 2, with depth coming from Cuffe and Pettiford. If they don’t land Washington, look for KU to continue to prioritize a play-making guard who can shoot and score.

3 GUARD

This is Agbaji’s position, so if he returns KU immediately plugs in a player who has started 77 consecutive games (12th longest streak in school history) and was the team’s leading scorer a season ago.

If he doesn’t, this one seems to have Braun written all over it.

Braun is versatile enough to play a number of different roles for the Jayhawks, and, entering his third season in Lawrence, he now has plenty of experience to be counted on as one of the team’s leaders and key contributors.

Newcomer KJ Adams, at 6-foot-7, 200 pounds and athletic and strong enough to play inside and out, is another intriguing option for minutes here, but Adams’ size, strength and versatility give him potential at the 3, 4 and even 5 positions depending on who’s out there with him.

Wilson, if he returns, also could be an option at the 3 next season if/when KU elects to play big at the 4 and 5 spots.

THE 4 SPOT

Like Agbaji at the 3, this spot is made for Wilson. But unlike last season, when Wilson led the Jayhawks in rebounding and was at the 4 in KU’s best lineups, the 2021-22 Jayhawks appear to have other options.

That provides both insurance against Wilson staying in the draft and flexibility for Self if Wilson does return.

Cam Martin and Zach Clemence are the two most intriguing options at this spot, largely because of their ability to shoot the basketball as true stretch 4s.

Both have shown good touch and the ability to get hot from the outside and both are big enough to play down low, as well. Depending on how well they guard on the perimeter, both players, along with veteran Mitch Lightfoot, could play the 4 next to another true big man.

Adams is also a viable candidate at the 4 — his true position in today’s college game — and he has the potential to be the best perimeter defender of that bunch.

THE 5 SPOT

Even with offseason surgery on his foot that will require 12 weeks of recovery, KU’s David McCormack is the unquestioned starter at the 5 for the Jayhawks heading into next season.

After a rough start to the 2020-21 season, McCormack turned it around and delivered some pretty steady play from January to the end.

He finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding and also earned second-team all-Big 12 honors. His journey through a season with high expectations and a rough patch should only make him more prepared for the 2021-22 season.

It won’t hurt that he will have some legitimate help inside, as well. If KU elects to play small, with four guards most of the time, McCormack figures to man most of the minutes at the 5. When he sits, juco transfer Syndey Curry (6-8, 260) along with Lightfoot and Martin provide the Jayhawks legitimate depth inside.

OVERALL OUTLOOK

While it may take the Jayhawks a little time to piece it all together, this team should have better depth and versatility at all five positions.

Add to that the fact that this team’s core is actually a pretty experienced group — experience becomes a bona fide strength if Agbaji and Wilson return — and it quickly starts to make sense why most college basketball analysts have KU in or around the top five entering the offseason.

Comments

Barry Weiss 6 months ago

Thanks for the recap Matt. It seems like we still need some more big size in the paint. Teams crushed us there last year. All these scoring options are great, but we need studs in the paint, protecting the rim, clearing the boards. I guess I'm old school...lol

Ryan Zimmerman 6 months ago

Wilson goes and has the same path and luck as Malik Newman. Ochai stays due to him projected in the high 50s after a workout. TyTy heads to Baylor or stays home at U of A

Chad Smith 6 months ago

Nice recap Matt, I guess I figured that with all the guards coming in, naturally Self would look at having two PG's ala Graham and Mason in 2015 and 2016. That was a pretty good combo that led to consecutive elite eights. The 3 and 4 spots really hinge on agbaji and wilson. If neither comes back, I think it's a pretty open competition. I would give Braun the edge obviously for the 3 because of experience, but if adams plays to his potential, they might be sharing minutes. 4 spot will be a newcomer, you can book that. I don't see lightfoot providing enough scoring at the spot to solidify consistent starter minutes. He will probably start games early on due to experience and reliability on defense. But I think martin and clemence will get plenty of run and opportunity. McCormack and Curry at the 5 seems solid to me.

Kit Duncan 6 months ago

Thanks for the update Matt!

I would love to see Coach put together two separate starting fives and essentially make them interchangeable. Wouldn't it be incredible to see KU's starting five go in all out attack mode right up to the under sixteen timeout, then have Self sub in a rested five players, just as good as the first five? Calipari did that a few seasons back at Kentucky and it was almost demoralizing to see happen. Do that multiple times a game and the opposing players will wear down both physically and emotionally. For KU's players it would keep them rested but also mentally involved in the game knowing they are likely to be subbed in at the next break.

I know kids these days want to play complete games or very nearly so, but from a physical standpoint, it would almost certainly mean Kansas would be physically more capable at the end of the season than they have been in recent years, with fewer injuries and much more stamina. How many times has Kansas run out of gas two or three games into the NCAA Tournament?

Also, someone having an off night shouldn't cost the team the game if Coach has ten players he can start.

Robert Brock 6 months ago

The way I see it (so far):

POINT GUARD Dujuan Harris, Bobby Pettiford

SG/COMBO Joseph Yesufu, Kyle Cuffe

SF/3G Christian Braun

POWER FORWARD Sydney Curry, Zach Clemence, KJ Adams

CENTER David McCormack, Dr. Mitch Lightfoot, Cam Martin

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

The common scenario is that everyone gets at least a chance at the beginning of the season. How well they implement all the switching, help D, ball screens, ..., and everything else they weren’t taught in HS will determine whether they get to stay on the court. History says there will only be about 8 that will earn Coach’s trust.

We know that Braun has earned Coach’s trust for over a year now. The the danger for him is someone figuring it out and being able to consistently hit a shot.

My bet is that Cam learned what it was going to take to earn the trust during 3 years with Boschee.

It will really get interesting if/when Ochai and Jalen return. Obviously, both have already earned Coach’s trust. It will be interesting though because Coach does seem to want to get more of his combo guards.

Jerry Walker 6 months ago

Matt wouldn't have to answer so many questions if he'd bring back the roster page!!

Andy Godwin 6 months ago

Please don't pencil in Braun as the starter just because he played many minutes (935) last year on a subpar, by Self standards, team. His shooting became a detriment during the last 1/3 of the season yet Self (the stubborn Self) stuck with him - I guess because of his defense? Maybe year 3 will be a breakout season for 3 point shooting, but Braun's inconsistency in big games should have got him a seat on the bench. However, again I guess Self did not trust that anyone else on the bench could hit from the outside either. Hopefully there will be more reliable 3 point shooters in 2021-2022, because it was clear watching the truly top teams, that the college game now relies more heavily on the 3's than 2's. Baylor versus Gonzaga emphasized that point - 3's (10 for 23 versus 5-17) than 2's (20 for 44 versus 20 for 32). Braun shot 34% from the 3 this past season and was only 8 for 39 (20%) over his last 9 games (4 games in which he was 0%), including 1/6 during that true sinker versus USC. Hopefully with so many new faces Self will open up the competition.

Mallory Briggans 6 months ago

Andy i agree Braun is definitely the odd man out if Selfs plan is to be more athletic.The known about next years team are the players that have played within Bill Selfs system their strengths and weaknesses .......the unknown are the new guys coming in ....I've learned not to make to much out of a players youtube videos ...that doesnt always translate to the college game .

Ted Hume 6 months ago

You can tell that Braun is in the exact same situation as Tyrell Reed was. Another unbelievably hard worker who is dialed in, understands the system and all of the sets, and can be trusted on the floor. Braun is in a good position to stay in the starting 5 since the difference in those two is that Braun is 6'6 and an underestimated athlete. His shooting was MIA the last month but that will come back and he will be BS's most trusted floor leader I think. We DO need JW back, he's by far our best rebounder and best guy to get his own buckets. Him not coming back would be a huge blow

Jesse Johnson 6 months ago

I'm not too concerned about replacing Wilson's rebounding. I think Martin, Clemence or Adams could easily replace that, and possibly add some consistent offence that Wilson was lacking.

Ted Hume 6 months ago

I totally disagree JJ, but that's OK- these are just opinions, right? If DMac is the most important piece of this team, and I think that's a given, then JW is the 2nd most important. He's a multi-talented player in terms of size, skills, positions, on the upswing in developing an NBA game. Now i'm not saying he's Brandan Ingrahm, but he's a Brandan Ingram-type of player (if he meets his potential). That's his best-case scenario comp in terms of game-type...

Scott Proch 6 months ago

My theory on Braun is he added BRAWN last year and it affected his shot. By next fall, he'll be ready to break out offensively, may be even better shooting it than he was as a Freshman.

Robert Brock 6 months ago

Braun is a fair shooter. It’s his defense that needs a lot of improvement if he wants to keep playing big-time minutes.

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

Andy - Definitely agree with you on CBs shot, especially at the end of the year, but to not pencil him in is to ignore history. It’s not terribly different than Garrett earlier in his career. He did all the things Coach loves and trust so he played in spite of lesser O #’s. And people were railing against Coach and MG but he still started or played significant minutes. The best thing about the shutdown last summer was getting to watch video with Coach, and I’m sure that just barely touched on all the things he sees and teaches to the players.

Your point on the 3 & NCG also illustrates Coach’s concerns and that he really hasn’t embraced the 3 as much as others. Baylor was abnormally on fire, as opposed to when we suppressed them a couple weeks earlier. It seemed like half their shots were from 5’ beyond the 3 pt line. Shooting at the line seems to have become the new midrange game.

Hopefully some additional S&C will lead to better performance down the stretch for everyone. It would also be nice if more of these guys can earn Coach’s trust and share the minutes more. IIRC the’08 had most of the guys in the 20-30 minute range. I can be done even if we don’t get a Calipari/RWilliams platoon system.

Carolyn Hunzicker 6 months ago

Everythings looking good....(Much Better) Worry about the 5 spot......The 5 spot !!!!

Ryan Michael 6 months ago

I still think we need a real 5. BMac hustles a lot, but he can barely dunk the ball. Every offensive move he has is fading away because he's incredibly soft.

Bottom line, we need a real 5 who can rebound, dunk and clear space. BMac is none of those things unless he's playing against small ball teams. That doesn't cut it when we get to the tournament.

Steve Zimmerman 6 months ago

We need a real 5 with some wingspan, too. Dave, or Curry both have small palms, short wingspan. We need someone like that USC 5. One of the bros. Or Sims/Jones. But I doubt those guys would choose KU... For the same reason every year. Low freakin' post and weaving offense. Lamest offense in modern basketball. But hey, if we've got the right combination 5 + the right guards, we can win us B12 champ again, and perhaps, with a chance of winning it all.

Ted Hume 6 months ago

yep, Aidoo would have fixed that, but he wanted starter's minutes someplace and it looks like he picked Tenn.

Robert Brock 6 months ago

This just in...there is nobody available in the Transfer Portal at the 5-spot.

David Robinett 6 months ago

Shucks, i was hoping we'd get this 7 footer, Aidoo - but he went with Tennessee - which has a great class coming in.

https://www.republicworld.com/sports-news/basketball-news/tennessee-signs-7-footer-jonas-aidoo-to-2021-signing-class.html

Robert Brock 6 months ago

It’s TyTy or nothing and nothing has a big lead. KU needs Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson to get evaluated and return.

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

David - Thanks for the update. There’s a lot to like about Aidoo’s and his potential. Guessing we are a little stuffed up front for his liking.

Joe Baker 6 months ago

This team has the talent. They lack consistency. Sadly, Garrett became consistent. But he’s gone. Och needs to find consistency. Braun just hasn’t made the turn. Curry will have to be the inside option to DMac. Lightfoot is solid glue but just not dominate. I like Perttiford’s grit and Mason like fight. Harris lacks fight at the PG. If Och fails to find much needed consistency, I think KJ Adams could provide more at the 3.

Pettiford/Ty? - let’s see if Harris takes game to the much needed next level Yesufu- his to lose and Newman type year Och/Adams Wilson DMac/ Curry

We shall see!

We all know Self will get this down to a 7 man rotation. Ty could change this a bit.

Joe Baker 6 months ago

The 5 spot is overrated. A 5 at the college level is a stretch 3 in the league. Look at JoJo a freak footer that plays like a freakin stretch 3. His size is dominate. But his ability to move and shoot are his assets. DMac can rebound and that’s better than dunks.
If DMac can learn to play like JoJo, he’ll be fine. DMac has to stretch his game and dunks will come.

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