Welcome to Palestra Back’s Season Preview! As this season tips off, we’ll be highlighting some of the most fascinating teams in college basketball. These aren’t the best teams or the highest ranked teams, just the handful that we think you’ll want to have an extra eye on over the next few months.
Why Do We Care?
Kansas has won the Big XII regular season title every year since the Lindbergh baby disappeared (this is a minor exaggeration). The Jayhawks return a great team and added some real talent in the freshman class. Twelve straight Kansas teams have peaked in the top 10 of the AP Poll, but only two of those seasons resulted in a trip to the Final Four.
Who is Gone?
National Player of the Year Frank Mason has graduated after a magnificent career in Lawrence. Reliable big man Landen Lucas also graduated, while unreliable backup forward Carlton Bragg transferred after a rocky time at Kansas.
Bill Self also lost freshman phenom Josh Jackson. He was the fourth pick in last June’s NBA Draft after an electric season with the Jayhawks.
Devonte Graham leads Kansas this season, his third season starting for Self’s squad. Graham has made a name for himself as a lockdown defender. Every big name in the Big XII over the last two seasons, like Buddy Hield, Jawun Evans, and Monte Morris, has had Graham chase them around for 40 minutes. His ability to pest opposing guards has changed games. Graham will assume a bigger role on the offense this season, finally handling the ball with Mason no longer on campus. He could have a breakout year with more on his plate. He had 12 assists in the Jayhawks opener.
Two other experienced Jayhawks return alongside Graham. Palestra Back favorite Sviatoslav “Just Call Me Svi” Mykhialiuk is now a senior. I’m almost legally bound to remind you that he has three years of playing experience, but very young for his class. He turns 21 next June. The Ukranian guard has made 39 percent of his threes over his last two seasons, though is still best known for beating Kansas State at the buzzer last year on an uncalled travelling violation. Keep an eye on Kansas this season for the game in which Svi catches fire and drains eight or nine threes.
Lagerald Vick is also still here, eager to make a name for himself and be known for more than dating the girl Josh Jackson got into an altercation with at a bar. He’s a springy athelte for a guard his height. With Graham at the controls and Svi pasted to the three point line, Vick can cause problems slashing and playing above the rim.
Who is New?
Udoka Azubuike played in just six games before ultimately being redshirted during his freshman year. He came to campus as an exciting recruit, but looked too raw to contribute last season. He’s expected to be a problem in the paint for opponents all season long.
Malik Newman enrolled at Mississippi State two years ago as a highly touted recruit and saw some real ups and downs in his only season with the Bulldogs. He shot just 39 percent from the field, posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of just 1.1, and never quite found a rhythm. Now with a year of practice with Kansas under his belt, Newman has a chance to showcase the talents that had people buzzing when he came to college basketball.
AP Poll: #4
Coaches Poll: #3
Another year, another top five Kansas team. Only two real questions remain for this squad. Will Kansas continue to roll through the Big XII and can it then convert that success into a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?
Big Games on the Schedule
Kansas plays Kentucky on Tuesday, November 14 at 9:30 PM ET. Consume caffeine accordingly.
The rest of the non-conference schedule isn’t very enticing. The toughest game for the Jayhawks is a date with Stanford in Sacramento. Not exactly a murderer’s row before Big XII play starts late in December.
Header image via Nick Krug/KUSports.com
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org