On the surface, Kansas once again looks like a team that will be the favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title and will have to horses to make a run at a Final Four and head coach Bill Self’s second national title.
That’s what happens when you stockpile talent the way Kansas does.
Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are talented enough that few would be surprised if their time in Lawrence is limited to one season. One of the biggest reasons that Wayne Selden is back for his sophomore year is that a bum knee kept him from playing up to his potential. Perry Ellis will put up enough numbers to make a run at being the Big 12 Player of the Year, while the likes of Brannen Greene and Svi Mikhailiuk will likely be relegated to the bench despite having NBA potential in their own right.
But as has been the case every season since Sherron Collins left the program, the biggest question mark — and perhaps the determining factor for success this year — the Jayhawks will have this season is at the point guard spot.
Naadir Tharpe is gone. Sophomores Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp both return and Self brings in talented freshman Devonte’ Graham, which means that Self will have plenty of options.
“We’re probably the deepest we’ve been at point. Last year, I kind of screwed it up and didn’t play Frank there as much as I should have,” the Kansas head coach told reporters on Monday. “He played point, but I probably didn’t put enough on him to get him ready as quickly as he needed to. But certainly with Frank, and Conner can play some point, but Devonte’ Graham’s good. He’s a good player. You could see two of those three playing together a lot.”
But here is where it gets interesting: Not only does Self talk about playing two point guards at the same time, he also mentions that using a four-guard lineup with a pair of his big wings — 6-foot-8 Myhailiuk, 6-foot-7 Oubre and 6-foot-5 Selden — on the floor at the same time is a possibility.
“Your deepest position is wing, so I could see one of our wings being a 4-man and playing real small, which I think would be really hard to guard,” he said.
This isn’t the first time this summer that Self has brought up the fact that he wants to give opponents different looks this season. Back in June, he had this to say about his perimeter attack:
“I don’t want to play a point guard any more,” Self said. “[…] I want to play, ‘You play three guards, and whoever gets it, brings it.’ That’s how we’ve always had our best teams.”
“I want Wayne (Selden) to be able to play point. I want Frank (Mason), I want Conner, I want Devonte’ (Graham), I want Svi (Mykhailiuk) when he gets here … I want all these guys to be able to be a guy that can get it and bring it so we’re playing a bunch of combo guards that can all play point as opposed to just playing a point guard.”
“But up until the last 5-7 minutes, I hope we have three point guards out there playing at once,” Self said, “or at least the appearance of three.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I might be reading a bit too much into the kind of coach speak that happens during the summer, but remember this: Kansas has some talent up front, but they’re not all that big. Cliff Alexander and Perry Ellis are both about 6-foot-8, and while Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson provide more bulk up front, they aren’t quite as good as Ellis or Alexander.
And keep this in mind as well: the best team in the country, Kentucky, has a massive front line. Arizona is going to be really big up front as well. Texas, the second-best team in the Big 12, will also have plenty of big bodies this season.
If the Jayhawks are already going to be at a size disadvantage against some of the best teams in the country, wouldn’t it make sense to use a four-guard attack?