The Kansas Jayhawks are 11-1 after playing its pre-Big 12 schedule and are now preparing for their conference opener against Oklahoma State on Dec. 31.
With that, we have five thoughts about the Jayhawks at the break.
Don’t forget about our new feature for men’s basketball — Daily Fantasy Lineups. Every night a Big 12 team is part of the Draft Kings pool, I’ll provide my picks for the game, along with my complete lineup. The hope is that by Big 12 play I’m able to put together a full Big 12 lineup during conference games.
At the Moment
The Jayhawks’ only loss was to Tennessee in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis, and anytime a ranked team loses to another ranked team it’s hard to find fault (though certainly coach Bill Self wasn’t happy with only scoring 50 points against the Volunteers). Still, the Jayhawks have looked great so far. They have a 2-1 record against ranked teams. They have a 6-1 record against Power 6 teams. They dominated Missouri and Indiana back-to-back. They overcame a sluggish start to beat Harvard by 14 in the pre-holiday finale. Right now, the Jayhawks look like the best team in the conference.
Jalen Wilson got the note from the NBA and he’s doing what Ochai Agbaji did a year ago — playing his way into the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft. The Big 12 and National Player of the Year candidate leads the Jayhawks in points (21.1) and rebounds (9.0) and straps the team to his back when necessary. The other holdover starter from last year, guard DaJuan Harris Jr., has grown too. He leads the team with 6.6 assists per game, he scores 7.7 points per game, and is second in steals with 2.3 per game. He would lead the team in steals if not for transfer Kevin McCullar Jr., who has 2.7 steals per game and has gradually looked more comfortable with his role in the offense (11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds). Freshman swingman Gradey Dick (15.4 points, 48.6 percent from the 3-point line) is already drawing first-round NBA buzz. He’s made the transition to college ball look seamless.
The fifth starter is KJ Adams (8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds), who is making the undersized post role his own. Kansas is getting solid bench play from three other guards — freshman MJ Rice (4.4 points), Joseph Yesufu (4.2 points), and Bobby Pettiford Jr. (3.7 points). Freshmen Ernest Udeh Jr. and Zuby Ejiofor are giving the Jayhawks 13 combined minutes inside off the bench.
The Recruiting Class
The Jayhawks hauled in a pretty typical recruiting class. All three recruits are in the Top 100 in 247Sports.com’s rankings — point guard Elmarko Jackson, combo guard Chris Johnson and shooting guard Jelani Hamilton. The class was ranked No. 10 by 247Sports.com. The Jayhawks have four players listed as seniors on their roster, not counting any COVID waivers. The Jayhawks will likely have more scholarships to give, especially if Wilson and Dick head to the NBA.
Usually, Bill Self will tell you it’s defense. He has a hard time making the case. His team is a Top 15 KenPom defense right now. Interior defense could end up being the problem for this edition. For the first time in several years the Jayhawks don’t have a bruiser inside (Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack). Kansas showed in the Indiana game they would work around that deficit with great perimeter defense and guarding passing lanes. But in the one-and-done environment of the NCAA Tournament, the wrong matchup could catch up to the Jayhawks.
The Big Stretch
Starting on Jan. 17, the Jayhawks have to play two Sunflower State Showdown games — at Kansas State and then at home on Jan. 31. Along the way, Kansas has to host TCU, travel to Baylor and Kentucky, then travel to Iowa State and host Texas after the second K-State game. That takes them to Feb. 6. While the Jayhawks still have to play Baylor, TCU, and Texas again before the end of the season, that stretch will go a long way toward determining how much control they’ll have of the Big 12 race in the final month.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard