When one thinks about the best way to sum up Bill Self’s tenure as head coach at Kansas, the phrase “continued success” should come to mind. Under Self, KU has won 11 straight regular-season Big 12 championships, had a record of 352-78, and has averaged over 29 wins a season. The most telling stat of how dominant the stretch has been under Self is that KU has won more regular season conference titles (11) than has lost home games (9) while Self has been coaching. When looking at how all of this success has been sustained year after year, one main factor seems to continually pop up: the big men (power forwards and centers.)
At KU, Self has had players like Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich, the Morris twins, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, to name a few. Although Self’s rosters have had great strength in most areas (guards and swing players as well), developing dominant big men is rare and can be crucial to building success at a program. A perfect example of how important having a dominant big man can be is the 2011-2012 season. During the 2011-2012 season, KU rode the shoulders of Thomas Robinson, who at times seemingly willed the team to victory by himself, all the way to the NCAA Championship.
Last year KU had what most would call the weakest group of big men since Bill Self has taken over at Kansas. Highly touted recruit Cliff Alexander never seemed to get comfortable, and was later suspended. Jamari Traylor continued to be a hustle player who excelled in rebounding but sometimes lacked an offensive touch and knowledge of the game, and Landen Lucas seemed to be a plus rebounder, but not much else. The lone bright spot was Perry Ellis, who at times was shaky but ended out the year in promising fashion. Often times last year Self was asked about his offensive philosophy and whether or not he was considering a system that favored guard play and the outside shot instead of his usual high-low style of play. All of this stemmed from how much KU’s big men struggled. Fortunately for Kansas, Self has the Jayhawks poised to once again make a run at a Big 12 and NCAA championship this year with a resurgence of depth and talent at the PF and C positions.
Bill Self was a very busy man this offseason, as he put together one of the nation’s most promising recruiting classes. The class includes two 6’9’’ five star power forwards, Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, (ranked the 5th and 21st overall recruits by rivals) and four star shooting guard LaGerald Vick. He also picked up a transfer player, Mississippi’s Dwight Coleby, a 6’9 power forward (although he will be sitting out this year). The addition of two five star recruits in the paint is a major plus by itself, but it looks even better when paired with the fact that Perry Ellis decided to stay for his senior year. In fact, the only loss from last year’s big men was Cliff Alexander, who had a lot of potential but struggled to consistently show it.
Now, KU has one of the deepest groups of big men in the nation.Self will be able to start Perry Ellis at the 4 spot and Cheick Diallo at the 5 (though Self may start the season with Traylor or Lucas starting over Diallo). Although Diallo is only 6’9, he should be able to play the center position well thanks to a 7’3 wingspan and a reputation as a rim protector. Diallo is still a raw player, but Self has developed others like him before (such as Embiid) and his potential is through the roof. That leaves Bragg, Traylor, Lucas, and Mickelson to pick up minutes from the bench, which is a very solid group of role players to choose from. Bragg is an explosive player who is strong in transition and a good rebounder. He also has a respectable jump shot that will force defenders to respect him at all times, and he should see quite a few minutes each game. Traylor will also get a good amount of playing time, and should be a very solid option for Self to play at any time. Lucas should also see some minutes off the bench and provide a strong presence on the glass. Overall, Self has a star in Ellis, 2 potential stars in Diallo and Bragg, and 3 very solid upperclassmen in Traylor, Lucas, and Mickelson.
Add these big men to a group of players like Frank Mason, Wayne Selden Jr., Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham, Brannen Greene and LaGerald Vick and it makes a preseason top 5 team. Look for the Jayhawks to once again be dominant in 2015-16, and look for the resurgence of KU’s big men and the high-low offense to be at the center of it all.
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