At one point during Tuesday's postseason banquet, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self took a minute to praise sophomore center Udoka Azubuike, not only for his solid season and all of those dunks, but also the hard work and fight he put in to come back from a knee injury before the Big 12 tournament in time to help Kansas reach the Final Four.
“Dok, we are all very proud,” Self told his 7-foot center in front of the entire room. “You have grown up and you are one bad man.”
“That was great,” Azubuike said after the banquet. “That was nice, seeing that come from him.” Asked if he had heard any such compliments from his head coach before, Azubuike grinned before answering.
“I have,” he said. “Something like that, probably in games, some games when I was playing good.”
With the season now behind him and Self at least temporarily having to wonder if he has coached Azubuike for the last time, the way he has seniors Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk and underclassmen Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick, who decided to leave early to turn pro, the KU coach said he was uncertain about where Azubuike's head was at regarding his future.
“I think it could be in the next week or so, but I don't think it'll be tomorrow or anything,” Self said of a possible Azubuike announcement. “I don't know exactly where he is right now.” That makes two of them.
“I'm still thinking about it,” Azubuike said of the decision to try to declare for the NBA Draft or return to KU for his junior season. “I'm still thinking about what I'm going to do. I haven't made my decision.”
Azubuike said he spent some time last week talking it over with his family but believes now that the rest is up to him.
“Yeah it is. It definitely is,” he said when asked if it was a tough decision. “Like I said, I spoke to my family about it and all that, and right now it's pretty much my decision. I've just got to start thinking about it probably the next couple of days or the next week, I'll make my decision about what I'm going to do.”
One thing that is certain is that the knee injury that plagued him throughout March has continued to improve since the end of KU's season.
“It's getting better, way better than it was,” Azubuike said. “Way better. Right now I can sleep without the brace on so that's good news for me. It's pretty much just staying in the brace right now. That's pretty much it.”
During Sunday's broadcast of the Jordan Brand Classic, featuring KU signee Quentin Grimes and Kansas target Romeo Langford, Paul Biancardi, the national director for recruiting for the ESPN 100, mentioned briefly the fact that there were still a few unsigned players in the 2018 class who could change the recruiting rankings significantly before all is said and done.
Langford is by far the biggest mover in that group and his impact on whichever program signs him between KU, Indiana and Vanderbilt could be seismic.
Let's start with Kansas, since that's why pretty much all of you are here.
The Jayhawks currently rank 6th by Rivals.com in the 2018 standings, with 2,770 points spread out among four players — two five-star prospects (Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes), one four-star big man (David McCormack) and three-star guard Ochai Agbaji.
Without knowing exactly how the points are awarded, beyond the obvious fact that five-star players are worth more than four and so on down the line, it seems like a safe bet that adding Langford, who, at No. 6 overall in the class no doubt would be big points, could potentially move KU into the No. 2 spot in the 2018 team rankings.
That would give KU as many five-star players as anyone in the country other than Duke, which has four, and give Kansas as many total 2018 signees (5) as any program not named UCLA, which has six, currently in the Top 12.
Beyond that, the average star ranking for those five players in KU's 2018 class would jump slightly from 4.25 to 4.4, moving the Jayhawks ahead of UCLA (4.17) and behind only Duke (5), Kentucky (4.75), North Carolina (4.67), Vanderbilt (4.67), Oregon (4.5) and LSU (4.5).
Vanderbilt? How'd they pop in there? Well, consider that at least some of the reason why Langford is seriously considering the Commodores, who, with two five-star prospects and one four-star prospect in their 2018 class, currently rank eighth in the Rivals team rankings.
Landing Langford not only would give Vandy a player with serious star power, but it also would likely move Bryce Drew's program into the Top 4 of the 2018 team rankings and give the program arguably its best recruiting class of all time.
As is the case with KU, where Langford appears to be the missing piece for KU's stacked perimeter, adding the 6-foot-6, 190-pound New Albany, Ind., guard to a 2018 haul that includes five-star forward Simisola Shittu (6-9, 220, ranked No. 7 by Rivals), local five-star guard Darius Garland (6-1, 165, No. 18) — and four-star small forward Aaron Nesmith (6-5, 180, No. 68), would round out Vandy's 2018 class nicely.
And then there's Indiana, the local school in desperate need of a player who can put the Hoosiers back on the map and bring some of that shine back to Bloomington.
With four four-star players signed in the 2018 class, Indiana's recruiting under second-year coach Archie Miller is off to a strong start. But adding Langford, who has become a cult hero throughout the Hoosier State would be by far the biggest move Miller has made in his coaching career.
Beyond that, it also would likely send IU sky-rocketing in the 2018 team rankings, from its current spot at No. 21 potentially as high as Top 5 or 6, possibility even ahead of Kansas.
While we should know where Langford is headed in the next couple of weeks, it's clear that whichever program lands him will get a huge bump in just about every way imaginable — talent, scoring, odds of making a run during the 2018-19 season, exposure and, yes, even in the recruiting rankings.
Whether you're talking about KU jumping from No. 6 to No. 2, Vandy from No. 12 into the Top 5 or Indiana from No. 21 all the way up near Kansas, the impact of signing a player as talented as Langford is enormous no matter where you're starting or which players/program you're adding him to.
Wanted: 3-point shooters for KU team seeking to replace nearly all of its outside shooting from 2017-18 season
It's been an explosive run of 3-point shooting for Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks during the past three seasons. But all signs for the immediate future point to a potential change.
After playing primarily through the post throughout Self's time in charge, the Jayhawks, in three consecutive seasons, set a KU record for 3-pointers made and attempted in a single season. Don't expect that to be the case when the 2018-19 season rolls around. But that does not mean the Jayhawks will abandon the 3-point shot altogether.
“We may not make a school record, but we'll still be OK,” Self told the Journal-World on Monday. “Perimeter shooting is a concern, but not from the standpoint of how many 3-pointers we make. More from the point of do we run good offense and get open looks.”
KU's record-setting run started in 2015-16, when the first team to crack the 300 mark in school history made 304 triples during its run to the Elite Eight. It continued last year, when Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson teamed to break that record by knocking in 318 3-pointers during their run to the Elite Eight.
And both marks were shattered this season, when Graham and Mykhailiuk became the first KU teammates to each make 100 3-pointers in a season, joining Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick in making 391 3-pointers to help the Jayhawks get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.
Only four Division I teams in power conferences finished the season in the top 15 in 3-point makes this season. And three of them reached the Final Four. Kansas, at third overall, was one of them, with Villanova (464) leading the nation and Michigan (361) ranking 11th. Marquette, with 385, was the other team in that group.
To put those numbers in further perspective, 63 Division I teams made 300 or more 3-pointers this season. That's seven times the number of programs that made that many 3-pointers during the 2010-11 season.
Naturally, that stat might lead one to believe that 3-point shooting is the wave of the future — perhaps at all levels of basketball — and that any program wishing to replicate the success of KU, Villanova or Michigan in 2018 would do well to copy their game plan. While that might make sense on the surface, personnel has a lot to do with it, and the Jayhawks' 2018-19 personnel, at least at this point, does not appear quite as poised to follow in the footsteps of Self's last three teams.
“I think our style will be different, without question,” Self said. “Because I think we'll play two bigs. But I do think one of the bigs, Dedric (Lawson), is a 3-point shooter. I could see him taking as many 3s as Lagerald (Vick, who made 59 of 158 this season).”
If Lawson is able to hit that pace, that will go a long way toward making the transition back to the post a smooth one. The Jayhawks will enter the 2018-19 season seeking to replace the highest percentage of 3-point makes in Self's 15 seasons at KU. And it's not even close.
In all, 369 of the 391 3-pointers made by the 2017-18 Jayhawks, or 94.4 percent, will be gone when next season tips off, with only Marcus Garrett's 12 triples, six from Mitch Lightfoot and two each from Sam Cunliffe and walk-on Chris Teahan returning.
Only once before in Self's 15 years at KU, has he had to replace even 80 percent of a team's 3-point shooting and that came after the 2004-05 season, when Self said goodbye to 157 of his team's 198 3-point makes, which were dropped in primarily by J.R. Giddens, Keith Langford, Michael Lee, Aaron Miles and Alex Galindo.
All five of those players were gone after the 2004-05 season, but Self had the luxury of replacing them with a class that included Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush, both players who finished their careers in the Top 10 on KU's all-time 3-point list.
It remains to be seen how well the incoming Jayhawks shoot the ball next season, but, as of today, none of KU's new perimeter players are known first for their 3-point prowess.
Freshman Devon Dotson is more of a pure point guard who attacks the basket. Freshman Quentin Grimes is a versatile combo guard. And transfer Charlie Moore, who red-shirted this season, shot 35.2 percent (45 of 128) during his freshman season at Cal. KU remains in pursuit of Romeo Langford, the No. 5-ranked player in the 2018 class who is expected to pick between Kansas, Indiana and Vanderbilt by the end of the month.
Langford (36 percent) and Grimes (38.6) were both high-volume shooters in high school who showed the ability to get hot from the outside from time to time.
Lawson, who nearly averaged a double-double during his final season at Memphis (2016-17), made 32.2 percent (48 of 149) of his 3-point attempts during his two seasons with the Tigers.
“No matter who you have out there, you're going to make at least 200 or 250,” Self said. “So I don't worry about those kind of numbers. We're obviously losing a lot, but the losses always seem exaggerated because who's going to replace them, just by default, will be shooting a large percentage of those 3-pointers lost. I think what you have to look at is the difference. How do you make up the difference between 7.5 and 10 a game? And you probably do that by going inside more.”
— Here's a quick look at the percentage of 3-point makes that each of Bill Self's KU teams have had to replace from the season before. —
|KU season||% of 3-point makes KU had to replace
from previous season
Now that we know for sure that KU sophomore Malik Newman is leaving school and headed to the NBA, it's time to take a quick look at his chances at the next level.
Kansas coach Bill Self said throughout Newman's time as a Jayhawk that he was a prototypical 2 guard, with the skill set needed to play that spot and no other. That certainly showed throughout his one season on the floor, but one of the best things about Newman's time at Kansas was that it appeared as if he continued to get better week after week.
Some of that improvement may have been hard to see because of the enormous expectations placed on Newman from opening day on, but I think a big part of his season was about progress and moving forward to the point where he was finally comfortable with his game and how it fit into the way Self and Kansas basketball operate.
Obviously, that moment of comfort came during the postseason, when Newman was sensational and played the best ball of his college career.
While those skills that he showed in the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament certainly were present within him before that point, his ability to unleash them on the biggest stage and with such consistency will be what ends up getting him drafted.
Everybody that thinks they belong in the NBA has basketball skills. You don't even get to knock on the door if you don't. But what the NBA folks like to see is those skills put on display in adverse situations and few players this past month showed that off better than Newman.
That, to me, is the reason he gets drafted and gets a legit shot at making his NBA dream a reality.
The guess here is that Newman will end up going in the early to middle part of the second round. Maybe in the 38-45 range.
That could easily change, of course — for better or worse — based on what Newman does and shows at the NBA Scouting Combine May 16-20 in Brooklyn. But it seems like that's a pretty good range for him to fall in unless he just absolutely tears it up at the combine.
Here's a quick look at the bottom-line skills that should get Newman drafted.
• Shooting ability — As one of KU's best 3-point shooters all season, but particularly in March, Newman has shown an ability to knock down shots of all kinds. His 3-pointers made the biggest splashes for KU, but those mid-range pull-up jumpers he took — and pretty much hit every time — are NBA shots and his ability to get up shots quickly off of his own dribble sure looked like pro moves, as well. I don't know if Newman will be as effective driving the ball to the rim as he was down the stretch for Kansas, but don't bet against it. He might not look like the strongest dude on the planet, but his strength played a huge role in him both getting into the paint and finishing at the rim when he got there.
• Rebounding — Newman, at 6-3, 190 pounds, finished as KU's second leading rebounder for the entire season at 5 boards per game and 197 for the season. While it might be hard to see him carrying that over in the bigger, stronger NBA, his ability to do it in college shows something to the pro scouts and that's that Newman is the type of player who is willing to find other ways to impact a game on a night when he might not be shooting the ball that well. Make no mistake about it, he'll either make it or not in the NBA based on his ability as a scorer, but sometimes, like a good special teams player in football, you need to find that other area to make an impact in order to give yourself a chance to find your footing. And if Newman can get on the glass with his next team the way he did during the second half of the season for Kansas, he'll give himself every opportunity to stick and allow his offense time to get comfortable and come around.
• Attitude — It's a small thing and doesn't always play that big of a role when you're talking about the best players in the world, but Malik Newman's mind is right where it needs to be to make this jump. For months after finally becoming eligible at Kansas, Newman wore heavy criticism from fans and analysts who had huge expectations for him and his season. And for months, Newman quietly wore it, continued to work hard and, most importantly, continued to carry himself with that fun-loving spirit that made him fun to be around. It might have been obvious on the court when Newman was struggling, but he never carried that with him off the court. And that's not an easy thing to do. Credit his teammates and coaches for helping him keep his head right, but most of the credit goes to Newman himself, who simply believed in himself too much to let a slump or a slow adjustment chip away at his confidence.
Here's the other quick thing about Newman's chances of making it in the NBA: He's still got plenty of time to get better.
Remember, a big part of the reason players leave school early is because they're willing to bet that, if given the time and resources to work on their game all day and all night, like the job that they hope it will become, they'll be able to make progress at a much faster rate than they would in college, where class, tutoring and time restrictions on practice all get in the way of major progress.
Newman has the framework to become an NBA player, but he'll only make a long career out of it if he remains confident, works on his flaws and strives to put in 10 times the amount of work he put in during his time at Kansas.
Leaving KU will afford him the opportunity to do so, and, knowing how much Newman loves the game, I can't imagine for a second that he'll do anything less.
Say What? Tait’s weekly appearance on Rock Chalk Sports Talk (including plenty of talk about Jayhawks turning pro)
The 2017-18 college basketball season ended on Monday night with Villanova as the last team standing.
The Wildcats rolled through the 2018 NCAA Tournament, knocking off all six of their victims by double digits and winning by an average of 17.6 points per game, including a 16-point win over Kansas in the Final Four.
While that loss ended KU's season, it did not end the reason to talk Kansas basketball. There's still plenty on interesting topics at our disposal, including current players possibly turning pro, recruiting and, of course, a look ahead to the 2018-19 season.
In my latest meeting of the minds with Nick Schwerdt, we address all of those things and more. Give it a listen!
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.
For much of the recently-wrapped 2017-18 college basketball season, the Kansas men's basketball team spent its time ranked in the Top 5 or Top 10 and head coach Bill Self spent his time insisting his team probably wasn't quite deserving of such lofty rankings.
For much of the season, Self was right. Kansas, which opened the season in the Top 10 and climbed as high as No. 2 at one point, never really was a Top-5-type team throughout most of the regular season.
By the end of the year, however, that certainly changed, as the Jayhawks found the switch, flipped it to “on” with full force and left it there until the season ended with a tough loss to what proved to be easily the best team in college basketball this season. You don't win every NCAA Tournament game by double-digits, with an average margin of victory in those six wins of 17.6 points, the way Villanova did without getting that kind of title.
With the 2017-18 season now in the books and people already starting to look ahead to 2018-19, it appears that Self would do well to spend at least some of the offseason ahead preparing to see his squad ranked way up there again for most of the far-away-but-upcoming season.
Within 12 hours of Villanova's title-game victory over Michigan going final on Monday night, 10 major publications came out with their way-too-early Top 25 lists for the 2018-19 college basketball season.
Such an exercise has become almost as big of a tradition on the final Monday night of the season as the One Shining Moment video. And, let's face it, whether your team is on the list or not, it's always fun to at least scroll through and see who's ranked where and why.
Kansas fans who did that on Monday night probably ended the exercise beaming.
Nine of the 10 spots I found, including a Tweet from Ken Pomeroy about what the numbers would show provided all of those players projected to go in the Top 40 of this summer's NBA Draft actually leave, had Kansas ranked as the No. 1 team heading into the 2018-19 season.
"I think Kansas checks all the boxes you want," said CBS Sports analyst Gary Parrish during a Tuesday morning television spot. "They've got a Hall of Fame coach, they've got experienced talent and then they've got super-duper freshmen. ... You've got a team that is deep, talented, experienced and I think should be the favorite to win the national championship. When you've got experience mixed with five-star talent, that's when you can be special."
All of the analysts had slightly different takes and reasons for putting the Jayhawks on top. But the bottom line and common theme for each of them was this: Self's squad will be deep, talented and big and will have much more versatility and flexibility than either of his past two rosters, which just happened to combine for 62 victories and trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four. Poor Kansas, right?
For what it's worth, online sports book Bovada.LV on Tuesday released its odds to win the 2019 national title and Kansas came in as the No. 2 favorite in the country, at 7-1, just behind Duke at 6-1.
I'm in total agreement with nearly all of the takes below about why Kansas has a claim as the No. 1 team in college basketball heading into next season, even if I'm not in agreement about who will be back and who will leave. More on that a little later.
For now, though, here's a quick look at what each of those 10 sites is saying about the Jayhawks in their way-too-early Top 25 rankings for a college basketball season that, sadly, is still six months away.
• ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf likes the Jayhawks because of the addition of the Lawson brothers, who transferred to KU from Memphis last year right around this time.
Bill Self's squad should defend its Big 12 title streak and make another run in the NCAA tournament. He'll have more talent. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but Malik Newman -- if he returns -- will enter next season as a preseason All-American after his dominance of the NCAA tournament landscape. Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike should also return, joining a top-10 recruiting class that features a pair of five-star guards: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Wait. There's more. Self will also add Memphis transfers K.J. Lawson (12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG in 2016-17) and Dedric Lawson (19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG) and Cal transfer Charlie Moore (12.2 PPG, 1.1 SPG), who are all eligible to play next season. Oh, and Romeo Langford, a top-five recruit who is unsigned, could still pick the Jayhawks, too. That's a helluva talent pool for Self.
• Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg likes Kansas because he envisions Self going back to the traditional high-low offense with a mammoth front line in 2018-19.
Pencil Kansas in as the class of the Big 12 next season despite the departure of All-American Graham and potentially two other members of the Jayhawks’ starting backcourt. Bill Self will reload thanks largely to a strong crop of newcomers highlighted by a trio of incoming transfers. Lawson averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds at Memphis during the 2016-17 season and performed like a potential All-American on the Kansas scout team this year. The opportunity to pair him and either Azubuike or De Sousa together could force Self to abandon his four-guard look and go back to Kansas’ traditional high-low system. The loss of Newman’s outside shooting and perimeter scoring would be a blow if he decides to turn pro after a brilliant March run, but Kansas has the perimeter firepower to absorb that loss. Look for Grimes and Moore to play alongside one another in the backcourt and K.J. Lawson and Vick to both see time at wing.
• NBC Sports' Rob Dauster has Kansas at No. 1 but also has Malik Newman pencilled in as a projected starter. It's possible that Newman will be back, but the guess here is that he's gone. Who knows if that would change where Dauster would rank KU?
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. There is still going to be some turbulence with this roster. Do they hold onto Malik Newman and Udoka Azubuike? Will they land Romeo Langford? Will anyone get run out of town? But the bottom line is that they are talented, they are old, they are well coached and they actually have a functional point guard on their roster.
• Jon Rothstein, of FanRagSports, also has KU at No. 1 but he's basing that on both Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick returning for another season. Rothstein did not include any blurbs, just a projected lineup, bench and lists of newcomers and departures.
• Gary Parrish, of CBS Sports' Top 25 (and one) slid Kansas into the top spot and predicted KU will stretch its conference title streak from 14 to 15.
Bill Self will once again have a roster loaded with talent and experience — the kind that makes the Jayhawks the clear favorite to win a 15th straight Big 12 title. Former Memphis star Dedric Lawson should be a double-double nightmare for opponents right from the jump. The arrival of five-star freshman Quentin Grimes makes the expected loss of Malik Newman less of a big deal.
• Ryan Fagan, of The Sporting News, puts KU first and explains why in five simple words: “It's all about the newbies.”
They’re adding two five-star guards, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dodson, and four-star big man David McCormack. The thing KU fans probably are most excited for, though, are the transfers. The Jayhawks have three established college players ready to hit the ground running after a year of pushing the starters on the scout team. Point guard Charlie Moore averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at Cal. Brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson starred at Memphis, though their experiences with the hometown team were certainly tumultuous at times. Dedric, a 6-9 forward, averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks for Memphis in 2016-17; K.J. checks in at 6-8 and averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
• Pomeroy did not include a write-up at this time, but did list his Top 11, based on the numbers and that disclaimer mentioned above.
Here's my computer's top 10 for 2019 assuming everyone in @DraftExpress top 40 leaves: 1) Kansas, 2) Duke, 3) Villanova, 4) Auburn, 5) Kentucky, 6) North Carolina, 7) Nevada, 8) West Virginia, 9) Gonzaga, 10) Virginia, 11) Maryland.
• Scott Gleeson, of USA Today, put the Jayhawks at No. 1 because he loves the idea of Kansas mixing fresh talent with experience.
The Jayhawks lose Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham and sharpshooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk but could get NCAA tournament breakout star Malik Newman and elite big man Udoka Azubuike back, along with a heavily-improved Silvio De Sousa. They also bring in a five-star guards in Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. However, coach Bill Self’s reinforcements come via the transfer route. Cal transfer point guard Charlie Moore (12.2 ppg in 2016-17) and Memphis transfer forwards Dedric Lawson (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) and K.J. Lawson (12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will give Self the depth (and size) he lacked on this year’s Final Four team.
• And Molly Geary, of Sports Illustrated's SI.com, pegged KU as the early preseason favorite because of the suddenly deep roster awaiting Self.
Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are definite departures, but Bill Self is set to reload again via a mix of transfers and recruits. Former Memphis standouts Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Cal transfer Charlie Moore will all become eligible next season after sitting the year out, and the Jayhawks’ top-five recruiting class includes five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and four-star center David McCormack (and as mentioned above, they’re still in on top recruit Romeo Langford). Odds are that Kansas gets one of sharpshooter Malik Newman, whose future in Lawrence is less clear after his breakout March, or center Udoka Azubuike back—if not both. That would make Kansas a favorite to not just get back to the Final Four but win the whole thing.
• And then there's Sam Vecenie at The Athletic, who, at least on Monday night, was the lone analyst to pick Kansas somewhere other than first in this too-early exercise. Vecenie had the audacity to drop KU all the way down to No. 2 on his list.
Following a Final Four appearance in 2018, the Jayhawks should unquestionably have a more talented team in 2019. The reason for that comes with an elite recruiting class and terrific transfer group. Grimes has an argument to be the best guard in the 2018 recruiting class, a tremendously athletic scorer who can get into the paint at will. Dotson also should be able to immediately contribute at the point guard position along with Cal transfer Charlie Moore, who averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at Cal. The key, though, is the appearance of the Lawson brothers. Dedric Lawson has potential to be an All-American in 2019, moving to Kansas after averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks at Memphis in 2017. His brother K.J. Lawson averaged 12.3 points, too. With Azubuike coming back and a high-level, energetic defender in David McCormack coming in to back him up.
For what it's worth, now that you've read all of that, my best guess, as of April 3, 2018, has Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both leaving and Udoka Azubuike returning after testing the water but not hiring an agent. If that's correct, the biggest mystery surrounding KU this offseason will be whether or not they'll be able to land Romeo Langford.
If they do pick up a commitment from the top-ranked remaining uncommitted player in the 2018 recruiting class, the Jayhawks are definitely worthy of a No. 1 ranking from a pure depth and talent standpoint. If not, they're probably still easily in the Top 5.
The moral of the story for you Kansas fans is simple: This year was fun and next year could even more fun... in a totally different way.
The season might not have ended the way the Kansas men's basketball team had hoped it would. But a quick glance at the annual tournament tradition that features some of the tourney's best moments set to the tune of "One Shining Moment" shows, yet again, that Kansas had one heck of a season.
In all, the Jayhawks appeared in the video montage somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-16 times. The exact number depends upon how you count, whether you consider cuts of the same play/sequence as one entry or two and also whether you count the times when KU was lurking in the background.
Still, even if you're a tough grader when it comes to those sorts of things, the Jayhawks got more than their fair share of air time during the One Shining Moment celebration.
And why not? Kansas made the Final Four, had some of the best players in the tournament and is an easily recognizable college basketball powerhouse. It's one thing to limit the KU love to one or two shots during the years when they lose to Stanford in the second round. But limiting it during a Final Four run would be crazy.
Included in the good shining moments for KU in this year's video were:
• An alley-oop dunk by Svi Mykhailiuk against Clemson.
• Devonte' Graham's alley-oop pass to Silvio De Sousa and the ensuing reaction by De Sousa in that same game.
• A close-up of Lagerald Vick pointing and smiling, presumably after a big 3-pointer.
• Nearly the entire possession — along with some reaction/celebration (think jumping and hugging Graham and Clay Young and a high-five and hug between Svi and Vick) after the game went final — when Malik Newman defended Grayson Allen on the final shot of regulation that sent the Elite Eight game against Duke to overtime.
• A close-up of Graham bouncing and smiling during a Kansas victory.
• A close-up of Newman slyly grinning, likely after his insane performance against Duke.
There were, of course, five or six highlight scenes — or lowlights, if you're a KU fan — of Villanova running past the Jayhawks in Saturday's Final Four game, as well.
Take the good with the bad, I guess. But there's plenty of good Kansas moments in there to make the whole thing worth watching if you didn't catch it live on Monday night.
Saturday's 95-79 loss to Villanova in the Final Four in San Antonio marked the official end of an impressive and somewhat improbable run through the 2018 NCAA Tournament by the Kansas Jayhawks.
When this year's bracket was unveiled back in mid-March, all eyes went directly to No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 seed Michigan State as the favorites to emerge from the Midwest region despite Kansas entering postseason play on a hot streak and as the region's No. 1 seed.
Very few college basketball analysts and/or fans outside of the state of Kansas picked the Jayhawks to get through that region to the Final Four, but the Jayhawks, as they had done a few times already this season proved people wrong by making it happen with four tough wins over No. 16 Penn, No. 8 Seton Hall, No. 5 Clemson and No. 2 Duke.
That stretch — which played out in Wichita and Omaha — put Kansas back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012, the third time under Bill Self and the 15th time in school history.
Although the run ended there, in somewhat unceremonious fashion against Villanova on the sport's biggest stage, it's still worth noting what an incredible accomplishment it was for this team to even get there in the first place.
It's also worth noting that the Jayhawks are now officially off the hook in 2028. Had KU won this year and added to the run of big finishes in years ending with 8 — 1988 national championship, 2008 national championship — that group of future Jayhawks that are currently in third and fourth grade would have had an enormous amount of pressure on them a decade from now.
With that in mind, let's quickly recap KU's Top 8 moments of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
1 – Svi Mykhailiuk's huge 3-pointer to tie Duke
Forget marking this down as just one of the best moments of the 2018 tournament. This shot, the biggest of Mykhailiuk's four-year career, will go down as an all-timer for Kansas and be remembered for years to come. After missing two wide open looks in the couple of minutes before this, and with Kansas trailing No. 2 seed Duke by 3 with inside a minute remaining, Mykhailiuk, as he had done 235 times before in his stellar four-year career, stepped up without hesitating and buried a 3-pointer from the wing in front of the Kansas bench that helped send the game to overtime and KU to the Final Four. Svi's stare after the bucket and Self's words in the locker room, “biggest shot you've ever made,” told you all you needed to know about the big moment.
2 – Udoka Azubuike's mother arrives at the Final Four
Thanks to the Jayhawks' return San Antonio and the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and a new NCAA program that provided financial assistance for families of players, KU sophomore Udoka Azubuike was able to see his mother, Florence Azuonuwu, for the first time in six years. It was not easy to make it happen, and Azuonuwu had to rush through an emergency travel visa hearing in Nigeria and battle flight and airline issues all the way to the United States. But, a little more than 20 hours before her son tipped off in the Final Four, Azuonuwu made it to San Antonio and was able to take her seat behind the Kansas bench to watch Azubuike play basketball for the first time in her life. What a special moment for both the player and his mother.
3 – Malik Newman dominates overtime vs. Duke
Svi's shot might have been the biggest single play of that Elite Eight game, but Malik Newman delivered a dozen different daggers. Whether you're talking clutch free throws down the stretch or silky 3-point jumpers from the corner, Newman was absolutely unstoppable in this game and his teammates — particularly Devonte' Graham, Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick — did a fabulous job of getting him open and getting him shots in rhythm. After a six-point first half, Newman scored 13 in the second half and all 13 of KU's points in overtime to move the Jayhawks past Duke and into the Final Four. Nevermind his superb D on Grayson Allen in the waning seconds of regulation with the game on the line.
4 – 13,000+ fans pack Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena for KU practice
Kansas fans turning out to open practices at NCAA Tournament sites is certainly nothing new. But this was. Nearly 14,000 KU fans packed — 13,695 to be exact — packed the Wichita venue one day before the top-seeded Jayhawks opened play in the NCAA Tournament against No. 16 seed Penn. The most fans I can remember seeing at an open practice like this was four or five thousand and even that was wildly impressive. But this was unreal. Fans filled the upper deck, roared along with the band and KU fight song and screamed and yelled for everything the Jayhawks did for about 40 minutes. The wall of sound that filled the arena when the Jayhawks first took the floor for that practice is something I'll remember for a long time. Impressive stuff.
5 – Devonte' Graham takes over vs. Penn
No one ever doubted that this was Devonte' Graham's team. And no one Kansas player in decade had been looked to more during a single season to make a play or provide some inspiration than Graham. So it was only fitting then that, with the Jayhawks down 10 points in the first half of their first-round game against a team that many were saying could become the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1, Graham absolutely took over and led the Jayhawks to victory. His steal and tip-in, followed by four quick points on drives to the rim, helped Kansas erase the deficit and take a seven-point lead into the locker room. From there, he merely kept going, finishing with 29 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 39 minutes. It was as signature a Devonte' Graham as there ever has been and it came when this team needed it most.
6 – Udoka Azubuike checks into KU's Rd. 1 game vs. Penn
Speaking of that Round 1 game vs. Penn, there was another big moment in that first half and it had nothing to do with putting points on the board or the flow of the game. Instead, it featured a rather large man walking to the scorer's table to check in. After missing the entire Big 12 tournament because of a sprained MCL in his left knee two days before that tourney began, KU center Udoka Azubuike was back in uniform and ready to check back into a game for the Jayhawks. Azubuike played just three minutes in that game, — a move made by design so that he would be fresh and ready for Round 2 vs. Seton Hall — but the ovation he got when he got up off the bench to go check in and the impact he had, on pure size alone, when he was in the game, was enormous. Getting back on the floor gave Azubuike the confidence in that knee that he needed to deliver a big game against Seton Hall two nights later.
7 – KU clicking on all cylinders vs. Clemson
After a strong first half of KU's Sweet 16 clash with Clemson left the Jayhawks with a 14-point lead, Kansas merely kept rolling from there, ripping off a 9-2 run, with 3-pointers from Vick, Newman and Graham, that pushed KU's lead to 20 and forced a Clemson timeout. It looked, at that point, like Kansas might win by 50. And even though the Jayhawks got sloppy down the stretch and allowed Clemson to make this one closer than it needed to be, that trio combined for nine 3-pointers and proved to be too much for the Tigers to handle.
8 – Devonte' Graham checks out vs. Villanova
Unless you're the last team standing, not all memorable moments of an NCAA Tournament run are good. And there's no doubt that the Jayhawks' 95-79 loss to Villanova at last Saturday's Final Four will be remembered as a major disappointment for a long time. But there was one moment in this game, that transcended the final score and was more important than the outcome of any game or play ever could be. That was the moment when Devonte' Graham checked out of the game for the final time in his KU career. With tears in his eyes and his head resting on his head coach's shoulder, Graham's walk to the bench, one last time, will be something KU fans remember forever, just like the player taking the steps. Sure to have his No. 4 jersey retired in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters sometime in the near future, Graham finished his KU career ranked 13th in Kansas history in scoring (1,750 points), second in 3-pointers (296), fifth in assists (632) and seventh in steals (197). He also set single-season school records during the 2017-18 campaign for minutes (1,474) and played every minute in 17 of 39 games.
Even two days after a season ends, one of the most popular questions surrounding the Kansas men's basketball program from year to year is one you've heard a few dozen times: When is Late Night?
And while that question no doubt has crossed the minds of at least a few Kansas fans in the past 48 hours, there is another date that might be of greater interest and more immediate importance for the Jayhawks.
April 11 marks the beginning of the regular signing period for NCAA Division I basketball programs. And with five-star guard Romeo Langford still uncommitted, that date — and the days that follow — is worth watching in a big way.
Langford told Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi at last week's McDonald's All-American Game that he would start to get serious about a decision after he finishes play on the all-star circuit during the next couple of weeks.
“There's not one school that stands out,” Langford told Bossi. “But I plan on getting down to making a decision once I get done with all of these all-star games. So probably around the end of April, that's when I'll make the decision.”
By now, you probably know that Langford is down to Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt as his three finalists.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pound shooting guard from New Albany, Indiana, who is ranked No. 5 nationally by 247 Sports and No. 6 on the Rivals 150, is far and away the most highly coveted, uncommitted player remaining in the 2018 class.
In fact, just seven of the Top 65 players on Rivals.com's 2018 rankings remain undecided heading into the regular signing period, which runs from April 11 through May 16.
Getting Langford is not an absolute must for the KU program, but it might be a bigger deal than people think.
KU's 2018 class, which already is loaded and ranked in the Top 5 by most recruiting services, features two five-star guards in Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, fellow-McDonald's All-American big man David McCormack and Kansas City prospect Ochai Agbaji. Technically, current KU power forward Silvio De Sousa is also in that class.
That group has incredible size, speed, ball-handling, toughness and play-making ability. What the class is missing, though, is a pure shooter.
Langford is certainly more than just a shooter — most view him as just a flat-out scorer from anywhere and everywhere on the floor — but his addition would bolster KU's perimeter scoring and also would push Duke for the top class in the 2018 rankings and also would give the Jayhawks about as complete of a class as you've seen Bill Self bring to town, one that certainly, when it's all said and done, could push for being the best of the Self era to date.
Because of his schedule and the distance, Langford was unable to visit Kansas for a game this season, but that did not stop him from paying close attention to the ins and outs of Self's program.
“No, it doesn't hurt them,” Langford told Bossi of not visiting KU. “I took my time and watched them on TV. Out of all the teams, I probably watched them the most and I got some good things out of watching them on TV.”
The Jayhawks, unlike Indiana and Vanderbilt, got the added bonus of extra television exposure by making a deep run in this year's NCAA Tournament, which allowed Langford an extended look at KU's style of play and the way the program operates in the spotlight.
Langford told Bossi that one thing that stands out about what Kansas does is how much success Self has had with bigger guards.
As for whether the Final Four run put stars in Langford's eyes, it does not sound like that's the thing putting KU over the top but it also does not sound like it hurt Langford's view of the program.
“It doesn't really give them an advantage,” he told Bossi. “But it's real cool to see that Coach Self got them to the Final Four. It's real good to know that he's getting the best out of the players.”
The biggest question surrounding Langford right now is why the wait? With Indiana and Vanderbilt both missing out on the tournament and Kansas making a deep run, the hot speculation is that Langford is waiting to see what happens to KU's roster before making a decision.
While he did not address that with Bossi, nor has he addressed it publicly, it certainly would make sense.
While Kansas is guaranteed to lose Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk from this year's team, it also could lose Malik Newman and/or Lagerald Vick. If that were to happen, there would be plenty of room for Langford to slide right into a prime role with the Jayhawks and his importance, should KU be able to get him, would sky-rocket given the fact that that foursome made up KU's top four 3-point threats during the 2017-18 season.
Langford will join Grimes and 22 other all-stars at the Jordan Brand Classic on Sunday in New York. After that, Langford and Grimes, along with McCormack and eight other elite prospects, will head to Oregon to compete with the 2018 USA Junior National Select Team at the 21st annual Nike Hoop Summit on April 13.