Title Odds: +700
Odds c/o Bovada
Kansas will be there in March, and that is a certainty: The program has been ranked No. 1 seed four times in the past seven years and the No. 2 seed three times. It has not equated to a return to the Final Four. It would seem that trend breaks, as the Jayhawks continually pound on the door of the NCAA and welcome one of the top recruits in the nation in Josh Jackson, who is considered to be as sure-fire top-five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Perhaps it goes without saying he will be of the one-and-done variety, but Bill Self is hoping for a better translation to team success than Kansas garnered from the phenom that was Canadian youngster Andrew Wiggins. That was a one-and-done disaster that never lived up to the hype…
Of course, Jackson is hardly the only reason for optimism in this vaunted program. Carlton Bragg is now matured into a sophomore and he will see a much larger role than his nine minutes per game dictated last season. Pundits expect him to have a breakouts season, while Self will undoubtedly bring a strong collection of talent together again. The frontcourt, though, could be a source of problems for Self and the Jayhawks.
Kansas never seems to have a shortage of bigs, and Landen Lucas may be their next great one. Dubiously college-aged Perry Ellis is gone, and Joel Embiid is three years removed from Kansas and beginning to shine in Philly. They have been coming through. What can be expected of Lucas? Improvement. He averaged just about six and six last season, but should team with Bragg to produce a productive 4/5 tandem for Kansas. Bragg’s role is on the verge of exploding, and few seem to doubt he is ready for that. It is after Lucas and Bragg that things get dicey, because the Jayhawks are not blessed with depth at the 4/5 spots. Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby could help, but he is coming off ACL surgery. Mitch Lightfoot, too, is a freshman with sufficient talent, but most eyes may be on 7’0” center Udoka Azubuike. He is a big bodied 280 pounds and should bring plenty of power to the paint. But of course he will need to develop some moves and footwork this season in the process.
The Jayhawks lack elite talent in the backcourt, but Mason and Graham are still very good guards. And Izzo is renown for getting far more from his guards than the sum of their parts. Mason averaged 13 points per game last season while leading Kansas in assists per game (4.6 per). Graham was good for 11 points per game while hitting 44 percent of his threes. Both are pretty clutch players, too, which is a factor that continually keeps Kansas at the top of brackets in March. Graham had 27 points on Oklahoma in the tournament last season while holding Buddy Hield to a 5 of 15 shooting outing. That is an underrated brilliance the Jayhawks can rely on, given that Graham and Mason were both big minutes (30-plus) players last season.
But the headliner is still 3-man Josh Jackson: He a prototypical small forward and has the offensive skills to thrive this season and become a high lottery pick, as stated. He is a good creator and has a gift for penetrating. Think UConn version of Rudy Gay. Svi Mykhailuk also is a big guard at 6’8” who has the defensive skills and body to be a big time player. He has been mostly disappointment thus far at Kansas, but should see more than 12.8 minutes per game this season.
The Jayhawks have the talent. They have the coach. And, of course, they are among the preseason favorites to win in 2017. Mason, Graham and Jackson are a 1-2-3 trio good enough to take Kansas back to the title game, but a No. 1 seed will not be too much cause for rejoicing as it has not equated to any grand success since the Jayhawks’ 2008 national title.