With the 2015-16 college basketball season approaching, Bill Self looks to keep adding to the Jayhawks’ streak of consecutive Big 12 titles. During the Big 12 basketball media day in Kansas City, Self talked about a few things that may lead to another banner being hung up in Lawrence and the challenges that the team faces this year. Last week’s media day got off to a hot start, as Self took the podium at 9 AM and shortly after was already hinting at a starting lineup (which is unusual for Self to do). When asked how he perceives playing time will be divided out between the backcourt, Self said “I’m not saying that it will for sure happen, but as of now, Devonte’ and Frank will start next to each other.” This is a significant change to past years when Wayne Selden Jr. started at the 2 guard spot instead of the wing. By moving Selden to the wing it will allow KU to space out the floor more, play at a faster pace, and it adds a great deal of ball handling ability to the lineup. KU has been at its’ best during the Bill Self era when using a lineup with multiple guards before, weather it be Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson during 08’ or Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson in 12’ (both made the championship game). By playing with a lineup featuring both Graham and Mason, it will allow for KU to play faster, to have better ball movement and decision making on the court, and will allow for the Jayhawks to be a quick team on defense.
Besides going back to a smaller lineup, what other changes in the team might fans see this year? Here is a look at the top 3 things to watch for as a KU fan this upcoming season.
1. The quest for a 12th straight Big 12 Conference Championship: Plain and simple, no other current streak in the sports world compares to what Bill Self has put together at KU throughout the last 11 years. To win 11 conference titles in a row is beyond impressive in itself, but Self has done it time and time again under a number of different circumstances. It is worth noting as well, that this all came during a time in which talent is generally spreading out in the NCAA and the league as a whole is no longer as top heavy as it used to be. To win 11 conference titles in a row (in a power 5 conference nonetheless) it means that there can never be a single “down year.” There have been years that the Jayhawks have played with four new starters on the court and still dominated the conference. Look for more of the same in 2015-16, as KU was once again unanimously picked to win the conference for a whopping 12th straight season.
2. New rule changes: During the offseason this year a few big changes were made to the rules. For starters, the shot clock was moved to 30 seconds. This shouldn’t end up having much of an impact on the game, as it has been estimated that it will only increase a team’s average number of possessions per game 0.6 times. The big change will be the resurgence of the emphasis on the freedom of movement rule. Basically, as described by Curtis Shaw, the coordinator of men’s basketball officials for the Big 12, anytime a defender initiates contact, it will be called a foul.
You may remember hearing something like this a few years ago, as the same rule was basically attempted and then was backed off once it slowed the pace of the game and big name coaches disapproved of it. Shaw stressed that this would not be the case again this year, but did say we should expect some ugly games early in the season. When asked about how these changes will specifically affect the Big 12, Self said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see games in the conference this year in which teams shoot a combined 60 free throws. In other words, expect an ugly and slow start to the season while everyone is still getting used to the new rule changes.
3. Breakout player possibility: Last year, Bill Self said that Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk may be the best NBA prospect that he has ever had on a roster. That is insanely high praise for a kid who was not even 18 yet at the time, especially when Self has already coached a player, Andrew Wiggins, who was picked first overall in the draft. Although Mykhailiuk didn’t get a chance to see much of the court last year, a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that he was still only 17 and he looked like it. Although he had good height at 6’8, he was too slim to body up bigger conference opponents and play aggressive defense. These are all things that an offseason with strength coach Andrea Hudy can fix, as she has transformed boys into men year after year in Lawrence. Look for the sharp-shooting Mykhailiuk to get an extended amount of playing time this year, as he could be the main backup for Wayne Selden. If Sviatoslav can show an ability to play strong defense and take care of the ball, he should be an important role player for the Jayhawks this year.
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