This article really pains me to write it because I will be graduating at the end of this year and won't be in Lawrence during the 2016-2017 season. And while I fully believe the University of Kansas basketball team will be extremely talented this season, I think their next best chance for them to reach the Final Four will be in 2017. I would love for them to prove me wrong though, as I have not seen a KU team get farther than the Sweet 16 in my three years as a Jayhawk and want nothing more than to celebrate with everyone on Massachusetts Street after clinching a spot in the Final Four.
Three years ago, KU had enough veteran presence that we looked like we could have made a deep tournament run, but alas Michigan’s Trey Burke hit a three-pointer in the dying seconds of that game—a shot that he had never made before and that he will never make again (he has never shot above 33% from three-point range in his NBA career … ugh). But basketball is funny that way, and I don’t want to throw up every time they replay that shot during one of the NCAA’s promotional video montages in March. The last two seasons have ended in disappointment as the Jayhawks have been bounced after winning just one tournament game each of the past two years.
So, the rest of this article will be written under a few assumptions. The first is that Cheick Diallo had a good freshman season, and his raw talent makes him a lottery pick after just one year at KU. The second is that KU will not land 7-foot-2 Providence transfer Paschal Chukwu because we have no scholarships left. The third is that Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk uses all of his tools and athleticism and size and improves so much this upcoming season that he also leaves for the NBA.
Now let’s breakdown what the roster will look like. In the back court, Frank Mason will be a senior and Devonte’ Graham will be a junior. So, you have two of the best point guards in the Big 12, each with at least three years of college basketball experience. Having two veteran point guards running the team will do wonders for KU. KU fans know all too well what it is like not have a good point guard (looking at you Naadir Tharpe). So, be ready for some more of this ...
and more of this ...
Accompanying Mason and Graham will be LaGerald Vick, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound shooting guard who will be a freshman this year. Vick is athletic, has quick feet, a good vertical and a knack for scoring. Some have compared him to former Jayhawk Ben McLemore, but I don’t think they play the same way. Ben could fly and was mainly just a spot up shooter during his one season at KU. Vick is much quicker, a better defender and plays much lower to the ground than Ben did. He reminds me of Patrick McCaw, who just finished his freshman year at UNLV. They are both about the same height and weight and have similar styles of play. McCaw averaged nine points per game and three rebounds and two assists as a freshman. Vick might not get as much of a chance to score this year, but by his sophomore season in 2017, he should be ready to break out.
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Also in the back court will be Brannen Greene and Wayne Selden Jr. as seniors. A lot of people have their issues with both players due to a lack of consistency in their careers so far, but college basketball players usually don’t get worse as they play more years. Greene is a confident shooter, and I would imagine that by the time he is a senior, he will be nearly unstoppable from three-point range. His defense can’t be any worse, so it has nowhere to go but up from here. If he learns to drive and score off the dribble, he will be a major problem for other teams. We’ve seen flashes of greatness from Wayne. When he’s on, he hits everything. He has the size and athleticism, he just needs to be a more consistent shooter.In the front court, we won’t have Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor anymore, but we will be taller. Right now Ellis and Traylor are 6-foot-8 on a good day. In two years we will most likely have Carlton Bragg, who is a legitimate 6-foot-8 and extremely coordinated and athletic for his height. He has a developing mid-to-long range game that should allow him to split time between the small forward and power forward positions. Bragg has the potential to be a huge mismatch problem for opponents.
Joining Bragg will be Dwight Coleby, a transfer from Ole Miss. He has two years of college basketball experience and will spend all of this upcoming season practicing with the team and learning the system and improving physically with Hudy. Coleby’s numbers at Ole Miss weren’t staggering, but he is a solid 6-foot-9, 236 pounds. He’s big and loves to compete on the glass, while having a high motor. I’ve heard comparisons that liken Coleby to former Jayhawk Darnell Jackson. If he can be close to what Darnell was to the 2008 national championship team, that would be great for KU. Rounding out the "for-sure" members of our front court will be Landen Lucas as a senior (the theme here is veterans). Lucas showed flashes of brilliance last season and at 6-foot-10-inches tall with long arms, Lucas will be the best rim protector we have. His offensive game will need to continue to improve, but his post positioning on both ends of the floor has gotten better since his first year here.
As far as freshmen we might get for the 2017 season, it's hard to project. But, I know KU is very close with small forwards Terrance Ferguson and Josh Jackson, both of whom are 6-foot-7. KU is also very high up on the recruiting lists for big men Marques Bolden, Schnider Herard and Tyler Cook. I've seen Cook play in person because he goes to one of my high school's rivals. I vouch for his ability to out muscle smaller players and finish through contact. Unfortunately, there is no recent video of Herard. Because I want you all to see how good these kids are and be as excited as I am, I've embedded links to their high school highlights to this point.
WARNING: Don't watch these videos unless you have time to be on YouTube for over an hour looking up all possible footage of these guys.
So even though I'm praying for another Final Four appearance this upcoming season, I believe the 2017 Kansas Jayhawks have a chance to be really special.