As the Kansas men's basketball program closes in on one week remaining until players report back to campus for the start of summer school and summer workouts — and their leader prepares to leave campus for his stint with USA Basketball — KU coach Bill Self said his team was enjoying a quiet time of sorts in the wild and always-on modern world of college athletics.
A guest on Andy Katz's March Madness 365 podcast this week, Self said the past couple of months have been about as calm of a stretch as any he can remember.
“There have been less balls in the air this spring than there have been a lot of years,” Self said.
One of the reasons for that is the fact that Self and company nearly completed their recruiting in the 2018 class during the early period. Sure, the Jayhawks stayed in pursuit of Romeo Langford through the spring and do still have one scholarship still to give, but that was much easier to manage than it could have been, especially given the fact that the Jayhawks had five scholarships to dish out in the 2018 class.
“We signed one youngster late, but he had committed to us in January, so that wasn't really a surprise,” Self explained. “We were pretty much settled in early with our recruiting class, we signed a few early and then the one that committed to us in January. There weren't a lot of decisions to be made because four of my (2017-18 starters), two of them walked in and said they wanted to go to the combine and sign with an agent and two of them were seniors and so that left just one kid, Udoka Azubuike, to determine what he wanted to do.”
Azubuike, of course, spent last week at the NBA combine in Chicago and has until next Wednesday to decide whether to remain in the draft or pull his name out and return to Kansas for his junior season.
If he elects to do the latter, the 7-foot center will bring quite a bit to the Kansas lineup that will be looking to replace those four starters Self talked about.
“First of all, Udoka's so much better than even where he was four months ago, three months ago,” Self said. “We had to have a good spring with three or four of our guys and I think that happened.”
Asked to share names of those players, Self did not hesitate to mention a handful of newcomers and one returning player poised to make a big jump.
“Dedric Lawson's a really good player. He's taken his body and (improved it) and everything,” Self said of the Memphis transfer who sat out the 2017-18 season and is a likely starter at the 4 spot during the 2018-19 season. “And his brother, K.J. Lawson, has been really solid for us. Then the two kids who have been really impressive are a freshman we had, Marcus Garrett, most kids make the biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore year, and then we had a freshman sit out this past year that started at Cal last year, Charlie Moore.”
Although three of those four will be new to game action at KU next season, Self said the Jayhawks, though young in many ways, figure to have the luxury of still feeling like a veteran club because of the presence of that trio of transfers and Garrett.
“You look at it,” Self began. “We could lose all five starters, we will lose at least four, and what do they have coming back? The reality is we've got quite a bit coming back because we had those three sitting out last year.
“The big thing with us is we've been really fortunate that when we lose a bunch of guys we've had some guys waiting in the wings who have been role players that turned out to be primary guys for us.”
Two of those players, provided Azubuike returns, which most who have tracked his NBA testing expect to happen, can give Kansas the same type of elite player they have had during the past couple of years, albeit at a different position.
Asked if he thought he had a player who could follow in the footsteps of Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham, who earned back-to-back Big 12 player of the year and All-American honors, Self said simply, “I actually think we do.”
“I actually think that, depending on what Udoka does, Dedric Lawson is a guy that could compete for conference player of the year honors in addition to Udoka,” he said. “And the freshmen we have coming in, Devon Dotson and David McCormack were McDonald's All-Americans and all of that, but we have one freshman coming in, Quentin Grimes, that may be a guy that could be mentioned as one of the premiere freshmen in our league, as well. So I think we've got a nice blend of guys but we're just going to be a lot younger and more inexperienced.”
There's this notion out there that it's going to be tough for the Kansas men's basketball team to move forward with somebody new in the driver's seat, playing point guard for Bill Self's team during the 2018-19 season.
Makes sense, if you ask me.
After all, the next KU basketball season will be the first in four seasons that did not feature either Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham or both handling point guard duties for the Jayhawks.
Big shoes to fill. A tough adjustment for the coaching staff, players and, probably most obviously, the adoring Kansas fan base.
But KU fans need not worry about whether the Jayhawks have pieces in place who are capable of handling the role.
We may not yet know if Cal transfer Charlie Moore or incoming freshman Devon Dotson will be able to put up the kind of numbers that Graham and Mason did during their best seasons as Jayhawks.
In case you have not yet grown tired of hearing about those two, here's one way to look at their careers that you might not yet have considered. In the five seasons where KU's latest dynamic duo ran the show in the Jayhawks' backcourt, Mason and Graham's combined averages were: 15.2 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game and a 41.8 percent clip from 3-point range.
Getting numbers like those from either Moore or Dotson this season — or even the two of them combined — while not impossible to foresee will not be easy.
But forget about numbers for a minute. One of the strengths of the 2018-19 team will be its depth and when you've got nine or 10 guys who can log minutes on the court, the pressure is off of any one or two guys to put up big numbers.
So let's focus on that other element of what being a point guard is all about — confidence, leadership, style and sizzle.
Moore, a tough and crafty guard from Chicago with an outgoing personality, had enough of those qualities to earn the start in all 34 games for Cal during his freshman season in 2016-17. He also was named Mr. Basketball Illinois following his stellar senior season of high school, when he averaged 28 points, 7 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds per game.
And then there's Dotson. We don't know exactly what he's capable of yet in terms of delivering at the Division I level. But we do know he has style. Lots of it.
Look no further than the recent graduation video he released to see that for yourself.
Regardless of who's running point for Kansas next season, Self's squad appears to be in good hands in natural leadership and confidence department.
And in case you're entertaining the idea of comparing either of these players to Graham or Mason for the next couple of seasons, do yourself a favor and cast that idea aside today.
Both of those guys, in terms of statistics and what they brought to the program, are all-time greats in program history and asking anyone to replicate their careers is an awfully difficult thing to ask for.
Be sure to check out that Dotson video in the link provided above to get a real feel for the young man's flare.
It should be a fun battle to see which one of these two players wins the starting job — my money's still on Dotson — and how they work together to try to fill Graham and Mason's shoes.
As graduation 2018 comes and goes and next season's Kansas men's basketball players head home for a few weeks before reporting back to campus on June 2 for the start of summer classes and workouts, Bill Self's Jayhawks remain in possession of a valuable commodity — an unused scholarship.
Thanks to the departure of five scholarship players from last year's team — six, if sophomore center Udoka Azubuike elects to keep his name in the draft — and the fact that the 2018 recruiting class features just four replacements, KU still has one spot left to fill before the 2018-19 season arrives.
But don't bank on the Jayhawks filling that spot. So says KU coach Bill Self, who discussed his options with the Journal-World this week and said the potential for him to keep the 13th scholarship in his pocket was a “good possibility.”
“Oh yeah,” Self said when asked about hanging on to the 13th scholarship. “Especially because we won't have any seniors next year.”
Because there are no seniors on the 2018-19 roster, there is no guarantee that Kansas will get any scholarships back to use on prospects in the loaded 2019 recruiting class.
With that said, it seems likely that KU will have at least two or three open spots after next season because of the potential for early departures from players like Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and Quentin Grimes.
As of today, the scholarship players on the 2018-19 roster are:
• 4 freshmen — Grimes, Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson and David McCormack
• 4 sophomores — Silvio De Sousa, Marcus Garrett, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore
• 4 juniors — Azubuike, Sam Cunliffe, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot
That's not to say the Jayhawks definitely will hold on to the scholarship instead of giving it out. Just last week, KU welcomed grad transfer Joe Cremo to town for a visit — Cremo ultimately committed to Villanova — and Self and his coaching staff remain on the lookout for the right addition to the 2018-19 roster.
Finding that player is easier said than done, however, given the fact that most of the 2018 talent is already spoken for and very few high-major prospects, if any, remain available.
“We'd have to have something fall out of the sky right now,” Self said. “But we could go with what we've got. There's no problem with that.”
The other option for the Jayhawks, as they have shown a willingness to do in recent years, is to take a transfer who would have to sit out the 2018-19 season the way Malik Newman sat out 2016-17 and Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore sat out the recently completed 2017-18 season.
“That's a possibility,” Self said. “But there's no panic on the deal, though.”
The bottom line, at least as of today, is this: While Self and company would be open to filling the spot if the right player surfaced, they have no plans to use the scholarship just to do it and also feel no pressure to get it done quickly.
While there are players out there who might be considered intriguing options, Self said he and his staff were still in the starting blocks for the few players who are on their radar.
And with Self leaving to coach the U18 USA Basketball team on May 30 through the middle of June, things could be put on hold for a while anyway.
So now that we know that Kansas is not adding Romeo Langford to its deep and talented roster for the 2018-19 season, we have a little clearer picture of what next season might look like.
Yeah, we still don't know for sure whether center Udoka Azubuike will be back — although I'd give good odds that he will be — and KU does still have one scholarship to hand out, which means anything is possible with that final spot.
One quick note on that, though: I wouldn't get your hopes too high that the Jayhawks' 13th scholarship player for next season, whoever he is, will be a high-impact guy. For one, there just aren't that many guys like that out there right now. For two, I think the Jayhawks have a real sleeper in Ochai Agbaji and he could be tough to beat out for anyone KU could add at this point in the game.
But the majority of the players who will play the majority of the minutes next season do appear to be in place. And even with there being some uncertainty surrounding Silvio De Sousa's status for next season, the Jayhawks have a pretty stacked lineup.
Here's a look at the first and second teams, at least in my eyes, heading into the summer.
PG – Devon Dotson
SG – Quentin Grimes
3G – Marcus Garrett
PF – Dedric Lawson
C – Udoka Azubuike
PG – Charlie Moore
SG – Ochai Agbaji/Sam Cunliffe
3G – K.J. Lawson
PF – Mitch Lightfoot
C – David McCormack
Think about it for a second. That second five (six if you count the battle at the 2-guard spot, which could quickly become a three-man race if KU adds another guard with that 13th scholarship, perhaps someone like Joe Cremo) has four players on it who have started multiple games at the Division I level. And that group's experience and talent level grows immensely if De Sousa is eligible to play, which, at least as of today, would be the case.
While it's hard to say that that's a group that could win the Big 12 by itself, I won't call you crazy if you said you thought it could compete for the title.
While the Langford news solidifies most of the spots for the 2018-19 season — KU this weekend will be hosting Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo, a 6-4 guard who shot 46 percent from 3-point range and averaged 17.8 points per game last season — the one name that jumps out most to me, with respect to what Romeo's decision means for Kansas, is one of KU's few returning players on that list.
The bottom line is this: If Romeo Langford had chosen Kansas, the odds are incredibly high that he would have been a starter from Day 1. Because he didn't, that puts the ball in Marcus Garrett's court and it's equally as hard to see a scenario in which Garrett does not start next season.
For one, the versatile, 6-foot-5 combo guard from Dallas started seven games — while playing in all 39 — as a true freshman. That tells you what KU coach Bill Self thought of him right there. And when you add to that the fact that Garrett no doubt will spend the next few months working day and night on his game and his body, it's nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which he's not a starter heading into the 2018-19 season.
Yes, Garrett needs to put in some work to improve in a couple of key areas — most notably his jump shot — but the legit experience he got as freshman combined with the natural talent and ability he has to begin, along with his high IQ and appreciation of all of the little things, sure paint him as the type of player who could start for Self for a number of seasons.
File this away under the category: Worth Keeping an Eye On.
Keelon Lawson, the father of Kansas transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson appeared on Memphis' 92.9 ESPN Radio recently and told sports talk host John Martin that he would not rule out a return to Memphis by the KU forwards should things go south with Kansas and the FBI.
To date, there is no reason to believe that will happen, as the Kansas program has merely been listed as having been defrauded by an Adidas executive in a federal indictment that outlines some of the details into the FBI's ongoing investigation into corruption in college basketball.
But it's definitely worth noting that these kinds of thoughts are (a) being considered and (b) being tossed out there publicly.
In the interest of full disclosure here, Keelon Lawson is on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio every Monday to talk with Martin about the ins and outs of basketball in the city of Memphis. During today's segment, Lawson was talking about the return of Penny Hardaway to Memphis as the Tigers head coach and hinted at some more exciting recruiting news coming in the near future for Hardaway's program.
When asked then, by Martin, if that meant the return of Dedric and K.J. to their hometown, Keelon Lawson laughed.
"Oh, nah. Ha ha ha ha," he said before elaborating on what his sons have been told by KU coach Bill Self about the FBI investigation.
"The only thing I could tell when talking to Dedric, he just said Coach Self said everything is fine," Keelon Lawson said on the air. "You could read the report that says Kansas is a victim, meaning somebody did something behind Kansas' back to make us be a victim. But he said, as far as everything with the coaching staff, they didn't have anything to do with it. And then they'll just let their attorneys handle the procedure.
"He told Dedric, if something were to come down, they (Dedric and K.J.) would be the first ones to know because, you know, they would be the first ones to know so they could have the opportunity to do whatever they have to do."
Asked, point blank, if he were ruling out a return to Memphis by his sons, Lawson said: "If something goes down with Kansas, if Penny would open the door to them to come back, as far as Coach Self being fired, I think the boys would entertain it. But as of right now, they're at Kansas."
The Lawson father was not shy about going on the radio and discussing his son's very public departure from Memphis and then-coach Tubby Smith last spring. On both the local airwaves and a national podcast with CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, Keelon Lawson talked openly about his sons' plans and the reason behind them.
With Hardaway, one of Memphis' favorite sons, now leading the Tigers program, a return to their hometown cannot be ruled out the way it might be if Smith were still leading the program.
But that's a lot of ifs and it seems as if there still would be a lot that would need to happen for this to become something other than idle chatter by the father of a couple of KU players. Beyond that, even if the Lawson brothers eventually did want to head back home, they would have to sit out yet another season before being eligible to play again.
Both Dedric and K.J. Lawson are in line for big roles with the 2018-19 Jayhawks, with Dedric, a potential future NBA Lottery pick, expected to start alongside KU center Udoka Azubuike, should he return for his junior season as many expect, in the KU front court next season.
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF: Jason & John Hour 3, 4/16/18 — Keelon Lawson, who appears on the show every Monday to talk about the ins and outs of basketball in the city of Memphis, jumps into the mix around the 30:00 mark and the specific stuff about KU starts around 37:00 and goes to about 41:00.
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 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.