A disappointing loss in the Elite Eight ended Kansas’ 2015-2016 season. This was a Kansas team that had Final Four potential. The team possessed the rare combination of both talent and experience that led most experts to believe that they were a National Champion caliber team. While the team accomplished a lot this year, by winning a 12th straight Big 12 title and also representing the country well by winning a gold medal at the World University Games, they fell short of their ultimate goal of becoming National Champions.
The loss to Villanova was very tough to swallow for many reasons. Any season-ending loss is painful, but losing with the senior class that Kansas had along with guys that are going to depart early for the NBA draft makes this defeat particularly devastating. After the game, the Jayhawks leading scorer, senior Perry Ellis said, “We made some plays, but they fought back, got the lead and we fell short. It hurts so bad because we couldn’t close out. We were so close.” Ellis carried the Jayhawks for most of the season. The senior earned second team All-American honors, but had one of his worst games of the season on the biggest stage against the Wildcats, going 1-5 from the field and finishing with a season-low four points.
The Jayhawks are losing some guys that played a key role for the team over the last several seasons, but they are also retaining a solid core that should allow them to be serious contenders next season. Starters Devonte Graham, Frank Mason, and Landen Lucas will all be returning as upperclassmen. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will be returning and playing in a much bigger role, and the same could be said for Carlton Bragg Jr. The guys that Kansas will be returning give fans hope for next season, but replacing the production of Selden and Ellis will not be easy.
On the recruiting front, Bill Self has a chance to once again bring in a top-five class. As of right now, the 2016 class is headlined by 5-star big man Udoka Azubuike, who like Mykhailiuk, will be required to play at least two seasons at Kansas before entering the draft due to his age. But, the other big recruiting news for KU came down on Monday night, when No. 1 recruit Josh Jackson picked the Jayhawks over Michigan State and Arizona. The only other commit that will be at Kansas next year is the athletic forward, Mitch Lightfoot. Self describes Lightfoot as a guy that will need to get stronger and has work to do defensively, but a guy that could be a star at Kansas. In addition to those three, there are several top recruits that have yet to sign that have the Jayhawks as finalists on their lists of schools including big man Thon Maker (who is currently attempting to enter the NBA draft), and guard Terrance Ferguson. The coming weeks will tell a lot about the makeup of this Kansas team, as Self may also explore the option of accepting a transfer to give the team more experience for next season.
Overall, this was a good season for the Jayhawks. They lost to a team in the Elite Eight that was firing on all cylinders at the right time of year. Villanova ended up destroying Oklahoma in the Final Four and winning in a crazy National Championship game. While this is the case, the Jayhawks had a chance to be recognized as a special team this season, and they came up short.
While Bill Self is a great coach and future hall of Famer, he has taken a lot of heat from the national media about his shortcomings in the NCAA tournament. Two Final Four appearances in thirteen seasons at Kansas is certainly not spectacular, but he always has Kansas as a team that is consistently a contender to make a run in March. Before this season, I believed that if Kansas did not make it to the Final Four, it couldn’t be a great season. The same expectations will be held for next season’s Jayhawk team. Until Bill Self makes another Final Four, he will continue face skeptics that believe he is a great regular season coach that cannot get his team ready to play in prime-time games. Only time will tell, but next season would be a great time for Self to silence the skeptics by leading his Jayhawks to a third Final Four appearance under his watch.
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