A quick roster evaluation of the 3rd-seeded Kansas Jayhawks heading into the Big Dance
At this time of year, advancing in the NCAA Tournament is often about matchups and who’s hot, both in terms of total teams and individual players.
The 12th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team has won eight of nine entering the Big Dance and is also riding a couple of hot streaks by individual players.
But third-seeded Kansas (20-8) is not without its issues either.
With that in mind, let’s run down where KU’s roster currently stands, in order of who’s hot and who’s not for the Jayhawks heading into Saturday’s clash with No. 14 seed Eastern Washington in Indianapolis.
1 – Ochai Agbaji – The last time he played, Agbaji scored a career-high 26 points, including a stretch of 14 in a row, in a win over a ranked team. He’s been this team’s leading scorer all season and has proven to be comfortable carrying the load. He doesn’t have to force 20-point games in the tournament, but if he can find a few more of them, it’ll do wonders for KU’s chances.
2 – Marcus Garrett – No player has benefited more from KU’s commitment to defense down the stretch. For most of the season, Garrett tried to be everything at all times for this Kansas team. But since Feb. 1, he’s been able to return to what he truly is — a lockdown defender who can dominate games without scoring. That freedom has helped Garrett’s offense, too, making him primed for one final NCAA Tournament run.
3 – Dajuan Harris – Harris’ best basketball has come late in the season, as the redshirt freshman point guard has answered KU coach Bill Self’s calls to be more aggressive on offense so he can play more defense. Harris has played more minutes per game in KU’s 20 wins than in the eight losses, and his ability as a ball mover on offense and pest on defense bring a well-roundedness and X-factor feel to both ends of the floor.
4 – Mitch Lightfoot – Lightfoot was a monster against Oklahoma, posting up and scoring at will while bringing the same energy he typically does on defense. With Jalen Wilson out for a bit and David McCormack still working his way back, KU’s going to need Lightfoot to be both big and steady this postseason. Luckily for Kansas, he has played that role before, holding down the fort in the early rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament to help KU get by Penn and Seton Hall in Wichita.
5 – Christian Braun – The sophomore guard averaged just 7.6 points per game in KU’s final six contests, down five points from the six games before that. But it’s not just the point total that’s down. Braun has looked reluctant to shoot of late and has made just five 3-pointers in KU’s last seven games. If he can free up his mind and play with a little more intensity on the offensive end, he could provide Kansas with a significant lift. Remember, this is a guy who is capable of going off from 3-point range on any night, as he showed in an early win over Saint Joseph’s when he scored 30 and hit five 3-pointers.
6 – David McCormack – McCormack would be much higher on this list if we knew for certain what his status was entering the weekend. The expectation is that he’ll play, but will he be rusty and what about his conditioning? If neither of those is a factor, McCormack seems poised for a strong tournament.
7 – Bryce Thompson – The type of player who will do anything that’s asked and mix it up with a guy twice his size at any point. Coaches love players like that. And if Thompson can get his offensive game to catch up to his defense and desire to compete, he could emerge as the type of player who could take the Jayhawks to another level.
8 – Jalen Wilson – It’s hard to rank Wilson any higher since we don’t know when — or if — he’s going to play again this season. But he’s undoubtedly one of KU’s most important pieces when he’s out there, and has shown throughout the season — especially early — that he’s a true gamer. Getting him back at any point would be a huge lift for Kansas.
9 – Tyon Grant-Foster – Imagine not playing much throughout February and then hearing your Hall of Fame head coach say he’s going to give you a chance to become an impact player in the NCAA Tournament. That alone should give Grant-Foster the confidence he needs. Now he just needs to pick one or two things to lock in on and then do them really well while he’s out there. My suggestions: Defend and rebound.
10 – Tristan Enaruna – The sophomore wing from the Netherlands is in the same boat as McCormack in terms of rust and conditioning, but since he had fallen almost entirely out of the rotation prior to last week, Enaruna’s as much of a wildcard as there is on this roster. He has the potential to make a big impact. But first he’ll need an opportunity and then he’ll need to deliver for that to matter.
11 – Gethro Muscadin – Muscadin is listed ahead of his fellow freshman here because Self mentioned him as an option prior to the Big 12 tournament. He didn’t play, of course. And hasn’t seen much action this season. But he could contribute in a pinch, even if just as five fouls and a big body.
12 – Lattrell Jossell – He was wearing a boot late in the season and hasn’t played much anyway. He's not likely to be a factor on game days this month.