Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ranking KU’s top perimeter trios of the past 25 seasons

Kansas guards, from left, Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham and Josh Jackson, have made up one of the more impressive perimeter trios in recent KU basketball memory.

Kansas guards, from left, Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham and Josh Jackson, have made up one of the more impressive perimeter trios in recent KU basketball memory.


A talented trio of terrific guards in the starting lineup hardly has been a rare occurrence at Kansas throughout the past 25 years, but few groups have had the sort of night in, night out impact that senior Frank Mason III, junior Devonte’ Graham and freshman Josh Jackson have for this year’s Jayhawks.

While Jackson technically has been playing the four spot, with junior Svi Mykhailiuk starting at the three, KU coach Bill Self has said on more than one occasion that even though Jackson is at the four, the Jayhawks are using him, 100 percent of the time, as a guard.

That’s a key distinction for the following exercise, which will both tug at the heart strings of even the most loyal Kansas fans and also challenge many memories.

With that said, let’s rank the best starting trios on KU’s perimeter of the past quarter century.

My list:

1. 2016-17 — Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson

This season’s trio gets my vote because of their impact and enormous importance every time they step on the floor. Mason and Graham are averaging 35 minutes a game, Jackson is right at 30 and that group has accounted for nearly 60 percent of KU’s points and 75 percent of the Jayhawks’ assists while also being asked to carry the load both offensively and defensively. They do not have a Jeff Withey, Thomas Robinson, Perry Ellis or set of Morris twins to help them out. That’s not a knock on this team’s supporting cast, more a tip of the cap to just how good these three have been.

2. 2002-03 — Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Kirk Hinrich

This group features the Big 12 and KU’s all-time leading assist man in Miles (954 career assists) and two of KU’s Top 11 all-time scorers in Langford (7th with 1,812 points) and Hinrich (11th, 1753 points). Beyond that, they played fast, fit together perfectly and led the Jayhawks to the 2003 NCAA title game, an achievement that can’t be overlooked on this list and will factor heavily into how Mason, Graham and Jackson will be remembered.

3. 1996-97 — Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase and Paul Pierce

Had Pierce stayed for his senior season, which players actually did back then, he likely would have scored enough to move into the No. 2 spot on KU’s all-time scoring list. As it stands, the future NBA champion and 10-time All Star sits in ninth place with 1,768 career points, the most per season by any Jayhawk not named Chamberlain, Lovellette or Manning. Add to that fierce competitors like Vaughn and Haase, who defended as well as any KU backcourt ever and also did enough offensively to keep teams from swarming Pierce and it’s easy to see why this group was known as one of the best college teams to not win a national title.

4. 2007-08 — Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush

The only trio on this list with a national championship ring falls to fourth on my list simply because of the incredible talent that surrounded them. KU’s 2008 title team was known as one of the deepest and most balanced groups in recent memory and it was the presence of players like Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun, along with Sherron Collins, who shared point guard duties with Russell Robinson, that made this team so tough to beat.

5. 1992-93 — Adonis Jordan, Rex Walters and Steve Woodberry

For two seasons in the early 90s, Jordan and Walters set the standard for tough backcourts in college basketball by playing fast, tough and with a ferocious will to win. Leading the second Roy Williams-coached team to reach the Final Four in Williams’ first four seasons at Kansas, all three guards averaged in double figures in scoring and accounted for 44 percent of the team’s scoring and 61 percent of its assist total. Jordan was the first big time recruit landed by Williams at Kansas, and when Walters joined him after transferring from Northwestern, it was a match made in heaven.

6. 2009-10 — Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor and Xavier Henry

Led by Collins’ 15.5 points-per-game average and tenacious attitude, the Jayhawks entered the 2010 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed with a 32-2 record. Two games later, their season was over, well short of where anyone thought it would end, but that did not erase the monster effort turned in by this trio of athletic and attacking guards that could deliver inside and out.

7. 2011-12 — Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford

Not the most impressive group when it comes to the recruiting rankings, but they may have had the most impressive run of any trio on this list. Refusing to lose time after time in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Taylor, Johnson and Releford led the Jayhawks all the way to the national title game where they fell to Kentucky in a game that many believe could have gone KU’s way if the game was just a few minutes longer. Long, athletic, deadly in transition and as tough as nails on the defensive end, this group also benefited a great deal from the presence of All-American Thomas Robinson and shot blocker extraordinaire Jeff Withey.

8. 2013-14 — Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden Jr. and Andrew Wiggins

When you’ve got a team that includes arguably the best recruit a school has ever landed, it has to show up somewhere on a list like this. But as good as Wiggins was on the stat sheet during his lone season as a Jayhawk, this group never quite gelled and went home early after a disappointing loss to Stanford in the second game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. All three players were among KU’s Top 5 leading scorers that season, with Wiggins leading the way with 17.1 points per game.


Len Shaffer 5 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for putting together this list, Matt. It certainly brings back a lot of memories (some of which, unfortunately, are quite painful)

I can't really argue with the rankings, although I would move Russell, Mario and Brandon up to number 3. I know they had a tremendously deep team, but those three were so solid and so consistent that I think they should be ranked a little higher. And Mario was one of the best clutch shooters I've ever seen. I always thought it was funny when people around the country were asking who the go-to player on that team would be. All true Jayhawk fans knew it was Mario, and none of us were surprised that he was the one who was chosen to take the biggest shot.

A couple of minor quibbles:

  1. In the part about this year's trio, you say, "... that group has accounted for nearly 60 percent of KU’s points and 75 percent of the Jayhawks’ assists while also being asked to carry the load both offensively and defensively." Saying that they "carried the load offensively" fits in well in the Department of Redundancy Department. If they've accounted for nearly 60% of the points and 75% of the assists, they're OBVIOUSLY carrying the load offensively. I would just say, "... while also being asked to carry the load defensively."

  2. For '96-'97, you say, "... and it’s easy to see why this group was known as one of the best college teams to not win a national title." As we all know, that group didn't just fail to win a championship; they never even made it to a FINAL FOUR. I still find it mind-boggling that in the four-year stretch from '95 to '98, KU couldn't make it to a SINGLE Final Four. And that '97 loss to Arizona still ranks as the most painful loss I've ever experienced as a Jayhawk fan (tied with the '03 championship game loss to Syracuse -- aka the "12-for-30" (from the line) game).

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 5 years, 6 months ago

Does anyone have any examples of Mario being clutch other than the one shot? It made him famous but he never would've had a chance to throw up a hail mary without Sherron's steal. In comparison, Frank takes two or three every game before half and at the end.

Alan Dickey 5 years, 6 months ago

You missed, among many others, KU’s OT victory over Texas in the Big12 tourney title game the previous year in 2007. It was the exact same play, and Chalmers hit the game tying shot (just like in the 2008 NC game) with 13.8 seconds left in regulation to send the championship game to OT, in which the Jayhawks won.

I was at the Final Four games in San Antonio in 2008. I had watched Chalmers in every game. I had seen where all of the great (and some future NBA players) at KU at the time, when asked, all said that Chalmers was the KU player they all wanted to make the last shot when it mattered (not themselves). When Chalmers made that last desperation shot against Calipari and Memphis, I was watching it live in extended real time and thinking: “It is such a shame that it is not going to go in because that is Chalmers’ thing.” But then it did go in. I then turned to my UT friend who was sitting next to me and yelled that “we could win!” He said, “You’ve won. There’s no way Memphis can come back in OT.” I wasn’t convinced, but he was right, and we celebrated with many drinks.

Alan Dickey 5 years, 6 months ago

I would say that Sharron's steal and subsequent three was the most amazing part of the comeback. But Chalmers was a killer at making last-second defining shots.

Bill Horton 5 years, 6 months ago

  1. KU comes from 16 points down against Oklahoma. Mario hits a floater in the lane for the game winner.

Scott Smetana 5 years, 6 months ago

Mario hit a deep 3 from nearly half court to seal the deal at USC in 2007. I also believe he had 7 or 8 big 3's against Durant in the Big 12 tourney.

Austin Breding 5 years, 6 months ago

  1. Up 55-53 at USC, Chalmers pulls up from 26 feet with 3 seconds on the shot clock to put Kansas up 58-53 with 19.3 left in the game.

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

Glad you enjoyed it, Len. Thanks for the feedback!

Tony Bandle 5 years, 6 months ago

Great article but I choose to argue that Wiggins is the best recruit a school has ever landed, I would name Wilt Chamberlain and Josh Jackson and rest my case. And even if the article meant only guards, I would still rest my case.

Andrew may have more talent but I haven't seen a killer instinct in a freshman like Josh brings to the court. He has the heart of an assassin.

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

Fair enough, Tony. I based the statement on these factors:

No. 1 - Recruiting was not the crazy, 24/7 world we know it to be today back in Wilt's day.

No. 2 - Wiggins, whether he is a better, worse or different Jayhawk than Jackson, was a much bigger get and generated far more buzz in the college basketball world when he picked Kansas than Jackson when he chose KU. Jackson was still a HUGE get and got plenty of hype but what followed (and led up to) Wiggins' decision was unlike anything I've seen.

Glad you enjoyed it!

David Friend 5 years, 6 months ago

Danny Manning was incredibly hyped as much as any recruit anywhere (And no social media) and was the number one HSer in the country. He needs to be on the list as a top three 3 recruit of all time at KU

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

No argument here on that one, though you surely can understand my point about how recruiting today is a much different — not better or worse, just different — beast than it was in the 1980s...

Tim Taylor 5 years, 6 months ago

I would have to argue that the 2001-02 trio of Miles, Hinrich, and Jeff Boschee comes in at least at #2 on this list. Easily one of the best threesomes in KU history. Arguably better than the 2002-03 group which comes in at #2 on the list above.

Jesse Johnson 5 years, 6 months ago

Ha. I logged in to say the same thing. The 2002 squad also made the final four and I would argue was better in every way than the 2003 squad (overall, not just the guards), since in 2002 we had Gooden, Boschee and a healthy Simien (albeit still a little raw/young).

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

Interesting take and they probably should've been on the list, too. Not sure why I stopped with 8, other than the fact that I didn't want to include every season and I also didn't want too much overlap.

That left me to choose between Miles, Hinrich and Langford and Miles, Hinrich and Boschee and I went with the first group because (a) they reached the national title game and (b) Langford was a Top 10 all-time scorer and much more versatile player than Boschee.

Jesse Johnson 5 years, 6 months ago

Yeah I initially assumed you just didn't want to have overlap but then I noticed that Tyshawn Taylor was included twice, so I wasn't sure of your exact criteria.

David Shaw 5 years, 6 months ago

The writer seems confused as to whether this list is based on "best" or "impact." If you're listing the best trio, then any trio that includes future NBA HOF Paul Pierce has to be number 1. Vaughn had a long NBA career, too. If you're arguing impact, certainly a case can be made for the current trio, especially considering the current college game is dominated by guards.

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

Not confused, David. Just my opinion. Happy to entertain other peoples' opinions and I love that this has created a little debate. All in good fun!

Joe Joseph 5 years, 6 months ago

There's no real fair metric for evaluating "the best" backcourt.

Do you weigh quantifiable, yet skewed stats more heavily?

Or, does talent count for more? And how do you quantify talent? Recruiting rankings? Post-college success in the NBA or overseas?

How much does team success factor in? How much does post season success harm or hurt this metric?

I guess that's why such a subjective list is so fun!

Matt Tait 5 years, 6 months ago

Bingo! People place different value on different factors and that's what makes lists and rankings and the debates that come from them such great entertainment.

Chad Smith 5 years, 6 months ago

Nice list Matt.

The 2008 trio has to be higher considering they sealed the deal and won it all against two other #1 seeds in the final four.

The trio of taylor, johnson, and releford should be higher because they made it to a title game and squeezed out every drop of talent and desire they had. Those boys were in a zone against unc and ohio state.

Titus Canby 5 years, 6 months ago

Two more to consider:

1985-1986 - Cedric Hunter, Calvin Thompson, Ron Kellogg: Hunter was the prototypical point guard. I don't think I've ever seen better shooters than Thompson and Kellogg. Made it to the Final 4. Manning kind of helped.

1979-1980 - Darnell Valentine, Ricky Ross, Tony Guy, Dave Magley: I still think Darnell was the best college PG I've ever seen. If only he could make a layup (for those of you who remember that one horrible unmentionable game). I think Ross was a freshman that year, and was a game changer back when freshmen didn't contribute much. Guy and Magley were all-around greats. But I'm still upset about that layup. In my opinion, we're in the Final 4 if it goes in.

Tim Taylor 5 years, 6 months ago

Good points, but the list compiled for the article only goes back 25 years, hence those groups don't make the cut.

Titus Canby 5 years, 6 months ago

I guess it would help if I'd read the headline.

Harlan Hobbs 5 years, 6 months ago

The best part of the debate is that we have so many combinations to choose from. Of course it is subjective, but it gives us a chance to reminisce. All that is missing is a bar stool and a round for everyone to chew the fat.

One thing is for sure. If another Wilt were to show up on the horizon today, he would be the most hyped recruit in history. In recent history, though, I can agree that Andrew Wiggins was hyped more than Josh Jackson, simply because he was our first #1 rated recruit using modern criteria. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see who comes out higher at the next level, Josh or Andrew. I'm going with Josh, but it is certainly a close call.

Chris Shaw 5 years, 6 months ago

Definitely a lot of flaws with this list. I agree with the poster that involved Cedric Hunter, Calvin Thompson, and Ron Kellogg towards the top.

I don't have an exact ranking but Mario, Sherron, and Russ Rob with B-Rush has to be at the top.

Also, I love me some Paul Pierce but Jacque Vaughn and Jerod Haase should be towards the bottom of that list. Jacque Vaughn is the only PG in the last 30 years that hasn't guided his team to the Final 4.

I love me some Mason, Graham, and Jackson, but they need a Final 4 to cement their legacy imo.

Also, as much weight that is put on Adonis Jordan and Rex Walter...the same amount of weight should be put on Adonis Jordan and Downtown Terry Brown. Yes, Adonis Jordan is one of my all time fav KU pg's.

I also believe TT, EJ and Relly should get their due. And miles, Hinrich, and Langford as well as Miles, Hinrich, and boschee get their due.

RJ King 5 years, 6 months ago

All good, but . . . .

" Jacque Vaughn is the only PG in the last 30 years that hasn't guided his team to the Final 4."


Jay Scott 5 years, 6 months ago

Where's Joe Ross on this? Surely he has a trio that features Perry Ellis ranked somewhere on this list!

Kit Duncan 5 years, 6 months ago

Perry was a front court player.

The trios he played with would have been:

2015-16 Mason, Selden, Graham. 2014-15 Mason, Selden, Oubre. 2013-14 Selden, Tharpe, Wiggins. 2012-13 Tharpe, Johnson, Releford

RJ King 5 years, 6 months ago

You are correct sir. However, Jay knows this. He's just being facetious. And unearthing a rather large hatchet.

Jay Scott 5 years, 6 months ago

All rational basketball fans know this.

Thus, the Joe Ross reference....

Steve Corder 5 years, 6 months ago

Premature exercise. The best win championships. Argue after the season concludes.

Theodore Thadogweadore 5 years, 6 months ago

Woodberry was a fantastic 6th man for the squad in 92-93. Jordan, Walters, Darrin Hancock, Richard Scott and Eric Pauley was the staring five. Hancock is kind of a forgotten guy, but he was fun to watch his one season in Lawrence.

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