5 Things Jayhawks Must Prove Early in 2014-15
The Kansas Jayhawks come into the 2014-15 college basketball season ranked no. 5 in the nation. After a disappointing finish to last season and the loss of many key players, including Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, to the next level, Kansas is far from a sure-fire pick for a deep run in March.
If one thing is for sure, though, it is that Bill Self has put together an incredibly talented roster capable of dominating opponents. Self has put his Jayhawks in position to win their 11th straight Big 12 regular-season title, but coming through on that goal will certainly be a challenge for this young Kansas squad.
The Big 12 is starting the season with four teams ranked inside the top 20, tied with the ACC for the most of any conference, showing that clearly it is not going to be an easy road for the Jayhawks. Their toughest in-conference competitor is likely to be the No. 10 Texas Longhorns and their absolute beast of a front line.
Kansas will face some stiff competition prior to conference play, however, and before they get to that part of their schedule, here are the five most important things for the Jayhawks to prove early on this season.
Prove They Are Worthy of Their Ranking
The most important thing for the Kansas Jayhawks to prove right off the bat will be that they are worthy of their high ranking. In the recently released Coaches Poll, the Jayhawks are ranked fifth in the country, and according to Las Vegas the Jayhawks have the sixth-best chance of winning the National Championship at odds of 15/1.
The Jayhawks have some very high expectations and must show that these predictions are not too lofty. Luckily—or maybe not so luckily—for the Jayhawks, they will be able to show themselves right away thanks to their schedule.
The Jayhawks take on No. 1-ranked Kentucky in their second game of the season as part of the State Farm Champions Classic, but that’s not their only challenge. After that, Kansas must play Florida, Georgetown and Utah in their fifth, sixth and seventh games, respectively—all teams who will be an extremely tough matchup.
The opening seven games for the Jayhawks will be dangerous, but if Bill Self can get his guys to come out of them with at least five wins, I’d say they’re absolutely proving their worthy early on.
Prove They Did Not Lose Too Much Talent
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with showing they deserve their high ranking, but Kansas has to show early on that the loss of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will not handicap their team.
Wiggins and Embiid both went top three in the 2014 NBA draft and also ranked in the top three in rebounds, steals, blocks, points, PER and win shares in their one season at Kansas, according to sports-reference.com. Kansas also lost very important, yet underrated, role players in Naadir Tharpe and Tarik Black.
Clearly it is not going to be easy when you lose those types of players, but Kansas has the third-ranked recruiting class this season, which is what gives them a ton of hope.
A lot of the focus is going to go on the freshmen, but sophomores Wayne Selden and Frank Mason and junior Perry Ellis might just be the three most important players on this roster.
While all three players are going to need to have a big year, the most crucial role might be for Perry Ellis. The 6'8" junior is coming off a wildly impressive sophomore campaign in which he proved he can score with the best of them, eclipsing the 30-point mark twice in 2013-14.
If Ellis can build on last year's success and take another step forward, the Jayhawks are going to be a very scary opponent.
Prove Their Freshmen Can Play at the Highest Level
As mentioned earlier, the Jayhawks have the No. 3 recruiting class in college basketball coming into this season. With the additions of Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Devonte' Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas gained four players with great talent.
Alexander and Oubre are certain to have very large roles on this team, while 17-year-old Mykhailiuk and point guard Graham will also compete for starters minutes.
Oubre and Alexander are the most highly touted freshman of the four and should be immediate starters for the Jayhawks, alongside Ellis, Mason and Selden, in my opinion. Many also believe Graham, the No. 36-ranked prospect according to Rivals, is also going to be a key factor for the Jayhawks, though likely off the bench to start.
Though losing Joel Embiid is a huge blow to the team, Cliff Alexander is going to do his best to make people forget about this year's third overall draft pick. Alexander is going to be a beast in the paint this season, snatching rebounds and blocking shots are going to come easy to the big man. Alexander is a sneaky mobile for his size and seems to have a very strong knowledge of the game.
Just like last season, this Kansas team is going to be relying on their freshmen to succeed right away at the college level. Bill Self has proven time and time again that he has the ability to get his youngsters to do so, and it is going to be essential that he proves it again this year. The whole nation will get to see just how good these freshmen look when Kansas faces Kentucky on November 18th.
Prove the Guards Can Carry the Team
When March rolls around there is nothing more important on a team than its guards. Just look at the recent NCAA Champions—the 2014 Connecticut Huskies were led on a magical run by Shabazz Napier, the 2013 Louisville Cardinals had a dynamic backcourt duo of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and 2011 featured the heroics of Kemba Walker.
Ball security and being able to manage the tempo of the game are two of the most important aspects of March Madness, so it will be imperative early on for Kansas’ guards to show they can handle these key elements.
The best chance for the guards to show they can handle the big moment will be late in games early in the season. Wayne Selden, Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham will be the primary ball-handlers for this team, whomever ends up being the main guy could be based on their composure in the last few minutes of their games.
Self understands the significance of dominant guard play, and each guard’s role will not be something he’ll want to have questioned as the season progresses.
Prove Self Can Find the Right Rotation
Too much talent is never a problem, is it? I’d say no, but a lot of times finding the right rotation with all that talent is extremely difficult. Just ask Kentucky’s John Calipari.
Prior to last season, Kentucky put together one of the most ridiculous recruiting classes ever seen, but for a while the team’s success was underwhelming. The Wildcats stumbled into the NCAA Tournament has a No. 8 seed, before finally meshing and making a run to the national championship game, only to fall short to the Connecticut Huskies.
This year, Bill Self will face many of the challenges that John Calipari faced last year and will face again this year. The Jayhawks have seven or eight players who can make a case for the starting lineup.
Not only that, but Kansas' bench is so deep that almost every player on the roster could be worth a shot in the rotation. The lineups Self puts together are going to be extremely interesting and important to watch this season.
If he can figure it out early and the Jayhawks can reach their potential, there is no reason they can't make a run all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium in April.