The NCAA cleared Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo on Wednesday—he'll be eligible to play starting Dec. 1—and it's finally time to talk basketball again.
What will Diallo's impact be on the Associated Press' No. 5 team in the nation?
The freshman will change the Jayhawks on both ends with just his length and speed alone.
The biggest influence Diallo could have in the short term is on the defensive end, where Kansas has looked mediocre by Bill Self standards for the first month of the season.
Diallo provides the rim protection that Kansas has missed so far this year at the 5 spot. Self told me this summer that two of the biggest strengths of Diallo are his shot blocking and his ability to "rebound outside his area."
Those two areas just so happen to be weaknesses for the two guys holding down most of the minutes at the center spot to date. Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas have a combined four blocks in 126 minutes of action this season. Both are actually rebounding the ball at a decent rate, but rebounding has been a weakness for Traylor in the past, and Lucas has just been adequate in that area.
The shot blocking is a major need, especially with the new rules that allow guards easier access to the rim.
It's a small sample size, but look at KU's two-point field-goal percentage defense and block rate (that's percentage of two-point attempts that the defense blocks) compared to Self's past teams:
|KU's 2-point FG% defense and block rate under Bill Self|
|2-pt FG%||Rank||Block rate||Rank|
It's no coincidence that some of Self's best defenses had elite rim protectors starting at the 5—Cole Aldrich (2009 and 2010) and Jeff Withey (2012 and 2013). Diallo has the length and jumping ability to be an elite shot-blocker; however, it may take some time for him to develop the instincts that made Aldrich and Withey dominant defenders.
Offensively, Diallo could be slower to have an impact. Most big men in Self's system have been slow to produce as freshmen and then break out as sophomores.
Diallo is not only behind because he's been held out, but he's also not the ideal fit for Self's high-low offense. The perfect fit is a back-to-the-basket scorer, and Diallo is not that, at least not yet.
But the last few days in Maui have suggested that Self is adapting to his talent this year, and the Jayhawks are going to play fast and embrace more of a pace-and-space philosophy rather than a pound-the-ball-in-the-paint system that Self usually employs.
Again, small sample size, but Kansas is playing at a much faster rate than any Self team ever has. The Jayhawks are averaging 75.4 possessions per game, per kenpom.com, which is nearly five possessions more than any of Self's teams ever at Kansas. Pace is up across college basketball, but this start is still an anomaly for KU. The Jayhawks rank 20th in adjusted tempo, and they've never ranked in the top 50 under Self.
And Diallo is only going to speed them up.
"Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here," Self told the Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd this summer. "He can create pace better than any point guard we've ever had here. Just because the dude, from rim to rim, he's as good as I've seen. I didn't say [he's] the best offensive player, but running rim to rim, I think he'll drag everybody along with him. I also think it forces us to play at a faster pace when your big guys run like that."
Diallo will also benefit from Self going back to his old ways this year by playing two point guards together in Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham. Both are excellent penetrators and should be able to create easy scoring opportunities for Diallo at the rim. He's also superior to Traylor and Lucas as a finisher.
This isn't meant as a jab at the abilities of Traylor or Lucas. Both are solid bench pieces. But that's what they should be on a team that has hopes of competing for a national title—bench pieces.
You win championships with futures pros, and Diallo is a future pro. It could take some time for the Jayhawks to see all the benefits of his services, but the ceiling has now been raised with Diallo getting cleared. Finally.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.