The return of the Percentage Wheel, a look at KU's 2020-21 strengths and weaknesses and a little recruiting
There's no time like the present to get back to our "Ask Us Anything" blog, which will feature questions from readers about KU hoops, KU football and anything else on your minds.
We got a bunch of good questions this week and look forward to more in the weeks ahead. So if we didn't get to yours today, look for it next week and keep the questions coming in the meantime.
We'll plan to post a new version of the blog each Monday at least until sports returns, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.
That leads us perfectly into our first question. Thanks again for the help with the content and if you have questions for future "Ask Us Anything" blogs, you can post them in the comments below, on Twitter with the hashtag #AskKUSports or email them to me at email@example.com.
Let's get to it!
Those of you who have been with us for a while might remember a little something I used to call the “percentage wheel” during the chaotic days of conference realignment.
Yes, I’m just now fully getting over the realignment madness. And, yes, I’m also bringing the percentage wheel back to help answer this question.
First, a quick disclaimer: Because information, planning and even hope for sports during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much and so quickly during recent weeks, it’s hard to get a real feel for what might happen. So my prediction here is based off of a number of factors — conversations with people in sports across the country, the latest I’ve read from scientists and health experts and even a dash of a gut feeling tossed in for good measure.
With that said, I think a spring football season is looking more and more likely by the day.
Last week’s news that KU was temporarily pushing the pause button on its voluntary football workouts, though not catastrophic, was a blow that those in the college football will be back this fall camp did not need.
And it’s not just happening at KU. It’s happening in even greater numbers in other cities, with Clemson being the most notable. But down the road in Manhattan, Kansas State shut down its workouts before KU even reached that point. And others continue to follow suit as positive tests inevitably continue to pop up.
I’ve thought for a long time that the powers that be in the college football world would do whatever they had to do to ensure that football is played this fall. And I still think there’s a strong chance that’s true.
But if you’re asking about the likelihood of football — at any level, really — being played in the fall, my optimism for that is far lower than it was 10 days ago.
Without further ado, here’s my percentage wheel for college football’s return. As always, it’s subject to change, perhaps even later today.
1 – 2020 season delayed to a spring start – 48%
2 – 2020 season starts on time – 34%
3 – 2020 season delayed but still starts in the fall – 15%
4 – 2020 season canceled altogether – 3%
I know that fourth option is awful to look at, but, as KU AD Jeff Long has said throughout the past couple of months, the virus is control here and, because of that, no one truly knows exactly how it’s all going to play out.
I saw last week where Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott noted that college football in 2020 might not be a one-size-fits-all scenario, and I think that’s important to remember, as well.
Some schools and conferences might be able to play and others might not. So I don’t know exactly how that fact fits into your question — or my answer — but it’s also worth remembering when thinking about the college football season as a whole.
I still think there’s hope that KU and college football can find a way to play starting in September, but that hope is starting to dwindle a little bit each day.
We don’t yet know how many players will be in the 2021 recruiting class, so that makes this question a little tougher to answer.
With Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett and Silvio De Sousa all being seniors, it seems safe to predict that it will at least have three players in it and it’s possible that it could have one or two more depending on some early-entry potential on the rest of the KU roster.
One of those spots is already spoken for by 2021 forward Zach Clemence who committed to Kansas this spring. And, truth be told, Clemence would not be a terrible prediction here.
The 6-10, stretch 4 who committed to KU in May recently moved up a couple spots to No. 29 in the Rivals.com 2021 rankings and I wouldn’t be shocked if he finishes a couple of spots higher still.
Having said that, I think the best answer here is one of Clemence’s teammates at Sunrise Christian Academy — small forward Kendall Brown.
Brown is far from a lock to join the Jayhawks, but they’re in on him and his game and skill set fit the program to a tee.
The versatile 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing who continues to improve and rise in the recruiting world is currently ranked No. 12 in the Rivals 150.
Others to watch as you wait for this question to be answered include point guards Hunter Sallis (currently ranked No. 11) and JD Davison (No. 15), along with Atlanta power forward Daimion Collinson, who is ranked No. 20 and just recently trimmed his list to a final 10 that includes KU, and shooting guard Matthew Cleveland, who is down to a final five that includes KU.
All are players worth tracking, but I’ll put my money on Brown.
It’s been an interesting first couple of years for Jeff Long and I’m not surprised that this question came up.
But I think it’s important to point out that the easy answer to your question is, yes, he is competent.
Long has a ton of experience and has been through nearly everything a college athletics administrator could possible go through on one level or another throughout his career.
His style is not for everybody and I know there are fans out there who don’t love his on-camera personality and zany stunts like diving into a swimming pool with his suit on and things of that nature. But that’s him. And, in my opinion, being true to yourself is a pretty key part of leadership, whether you're talking college athletics or anywhere else.
I thought Sheahon Zenger was dealt an insanely tough hand during his first two years on the job, when he took over and almost immediately was thrust into the conference realignment craziness while also having to fire and hire a football coach at the same time.
But Long has had a similar go of things. Realignment has been replaced by the COVID-19 pandemic — who could possibly have been prepared for that? — and he, too, found himself in the position of firing and hiring a football coach while also navigating the choppy waters of KU’s NCAA infractions case.
Any one of those things would be a lot for any AD to handle and Long has had to deal with all of them at pretty much the same time.
Has he played it all perfectly? Nope. But I don’t get the sense that the missteps have come because he was incompetent.
We’ll know more in the months and years ahead. And a big part of summing up Long’s time at Kansas — however long that winds up being — will be how he leads KU through the pandemic madness, both from a health and safety standpoint and the inevitable hit to KU’s athletics budget.
I know you didn’t ask me to grade his first two years, but if you had I’d probably have to say incomplete at this point. So many things that were issues when he took over or popped up after he started remain unresolved and we need to see how those things wind up before making any definitive conclusions about his ability as an AD.
I’ll quickly give you a couple of each to answer this question and then we’ll spend the next several months following the progress and breaking things down from there.
Strengths — Depth, versatility and size.
KU’s depth on the perimeter is absolutely insane this season. In fact, even with the likelihood of KU coach Bill Self starting four guards, it’s still hard to not feel like you’re leaving someone out.
Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji are locks to start in my opinion. After that, you’ve got at least four guys with a strong case at the final two perimeter spots — Christian Braun, Dajuan Harris, Bryce Thompson and Tyon Grant-Foster. And we’re not even mentioning Jalen Wilson or Tristan Enaruna here, two players who would probably start for a lot of other teams.
That leads me to next strength — versatility.
With all of those weapons at his disposal, Self has the luxury of mixing and matching talents and styles to fit whatever way he wants to play on any given day.
He can play small and fast. He can play with his best athletes. He can play with Garrett or Grant-Foster at the 4 and go with Harris, Garrett and Bryce Thompson as three legit ball handlers on the floor at the same time. The possibilities are almost endless.
That becomes particularly true when factoring in what he can do with the front court. David McCormack is poised for a big jump. And he can play by himself as the 5 man or at the 4 with Silvio De Sousa in the lineup, as well. Same thing with Lightfoot at the 4.
And then there’s freshman big man Gethro Muscadin, who could either become a prime redshirt candidate or a player who finds a spot in the rotation based off of his motor and bounciness.
So much depth, so much versatility and so much size. It’ll be a much different team than the one we saw in 2019-20, but, in time, it has a chance of being nearly just as good.
The weaknesses are tougher to spot with so many new faces, but here’s what they look like today, at least on paper.
The Jayhawks have done well to improve their shooting by adding Thompson and freshman guard Latrell Jossell, but I’m still not sure this is going to be an dynamic 3-point shooting team.
Agbaji, Braun and Thompson can all shoot it and Grant-Foster has it in him, as well. I actually think Garrett is primed for his best 3-point shooting season, but I know how you guys feel about that topic so we’ll hold off on that for now.
With that said, there is no Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman or Isaiah Moss on the 2020-21 roster.
But that’s where the depth comes in handy. While this roster might not have a player who can approach 40% shooting from behind the arc for the season, it has enough options and guys willing to take those shots to get what they need on any particular night.
Low post scoring might be another weakness, although we’re grading that on a bit of a curve coming off of the Udoka Azubuike era.
McCormack can hang down low but is just as comfortable away from the basket and I’ve actually heard that Lightfoot improved his low-post scoring a great deal during his redshirt season.
The wild card here is De Sousa, but it’s hard to imagine even a combination of those three — plus Muscadin — becoming anywhere close to as dominant and dangerous as Azubuike was when he was healthy.
That’s not necessarily bad news for the Jayhawks, it’ll just make things a little different. And, again, that’s where that versatility and the ability to play different styles and mix and match pieces will prove beneficial for Self and his coaching staff.