Basketball

With Strong Incoming Class, KU Jayhawks & Bill Self Need Final 4 Run

As the recruiting season is coming to an end, it appears that Bill Self’s Kansas team will once again be the squad to beat in the Big 12 in 2015-2016. With the additions of Carlton Bragg, Cheick Diallo, and LaGerald Vick, Kansas should have one of the deepest teams in the country. While Kansas won the Big 12 and had a successful season in their previous campaign, there is no doubt the Jayhawks underachieved in the postseason. The loss to in-state opponent, Wichita State, had to be particularly tough for junior forward, Perry Ellis. Ellis, a Wichita native, was the leading scorer on last year’s Jayhawk squad and was never 100% during March Madness (knee injury in the season finale vs. WVU). The rising senior should be the favorite to be the Big 12 Player of the Year, as he leads Kansas to a place that they haven’t been to since 2012, the Final Four.

Before I get into who Kansas picked up in the offseason, let’s take a look at who Kansas lost. Freshman wing Kelly Oubre is not going to be easy to replace. While it took him longer than many expected to fit into his role at KU, he was still one of Kansas’ best players in Big 12 play. The other key loss for the Jayhawks is freshman forward Cliff Alexander, who had a very difficult season at Kansas. He never seemed to get into a grove or find his role, but the Jayhawks will still have to find a way to replace his ability as shot blocker. While Kansas fans will miss these two freshmen, the Jayhawks have a lot to look forward to following the class that Bill Self has brought in for next season. Cheick Diallo will be an immediate high impact player for Kansas. He can be a rim protector and pick up garbage points. Currently, Diallo ranks as the fifth best player from the 2015 class, according to Rivals, and was the MVP of both the Jordan and McDonald’s All-American games. I believe he’ll bring the “junk yard dog” mentality that Kansas has lacked over the past few seasons.

Carlton Bragg, who is also a McDonald’s All-American, brings the element of being a big that can stretch the floor and shoot, while also being able to post up. I don’t expect Bragg to impact the game as much as Diallo this season, but I could see Bragg being a great player at Kansas, if he chooses to stay for 2-3 years. LaGerald Vick is a 6’6’’ wing who can create his own shot and get to the rim. He is not as highly touted as Diallo or Bragg. But the addition of Vick provides Kansas with depth at the guard position, as Junior Brannen Greene will be recovering from a hip surgery in the offseason. Kansas picked up Vick after he decommitted from SMU. Overall, this is a class that Kansas needed. It gives the Jayhawks as much depth and talent as any team in the nation. While Diallo is likely a one-and-done player, Vick and Bragg could be guys that anchor KU hoops for years to come.

While recruiting was a major part to the offseason at KU, so was the return of Perry Ellis. Ellis was considering skipping his senior season at Kansas to declare for the NBA draft. With the return of Ellis, Kansas will be a team led by upperclassmen. Frank Mason had a great season last year as he controlled point guard duty for the Jayhawks. He is only going to get better with more experience.

Another returner, Wayne Selden, has been disappointing in his first two seasons as a Jayhawk. He is a very talented guard with the ability to get to the rim. Bill Self believes that the problem he has had in his first two seasons has been the way he has fallen in love with his jump shot rather than going to the rim. If he can turn things around and have a big junior season, Kansas added another big time threat. Elsewhere, Brannen Greene was very streaky last season. At times, he was unstoppable from three-point range, but when he was not shooting well, he was a major liability because of his poor defense. But overall, from top to bottom in 2015-16, you will be able to line up Kansas against any team in the nation and expect KU to match up well.

There is no doubt that Bill Self is among the best coaches in college basketball right now. Winning eleven straight titles is a tremendous accomplishment in any conference, but in the Big 12 it is a remarkable streak. While this is the case, it is tough to compare Self to coaches like Tom Izzo, John Calipari, and Mike Krzyzewski, simply because Self has had a tough time winning in March. Self has been to two Final Four’s in his time at Kansas, while Calipari has been to five, Izzo has been to four, and Krzyzewski has been to three (while winning five National Championships). If Bill Self wants to be considered as one of the best coaches in NCAA history, he has to start having more success in March. This team is going to be ranked in the top five to start the year, and I expect them to be a Final Four team. Winning conference titles is great, but winning in March is what players play for and what coaches coach for. With all of the talent and leadership in the world on this Kansas roster, there is no reason to doubt that Kansas should be expected to reach the Final Four next season.

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