Top 25 Countdown: No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 5 Kansas.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: AP
Bill Self (AP Photo_

Head Coach: Bill Self

Last Season: 25-10, 14-4 Big 12 (1st)

Key Losses: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Tarik Black, Naadir Tharpe

Newcomers: Cliff Alexander, Devonte’ Graham, Kelly Oubre, Hunter Mickelson, Svi Mykhailiuk

Projected Lineup

G: Devonte’ Graham, Fr.
G: Wayne Selden, So.
F: Kelly Oubre, Fr.
F: Perry Ellis, Jr.
C: Cliff Alexander, Fr.
Bench: Frank Mason, So.; Hunter Mickelson, Jr.; Landen Lucas, So.; Brannen Greene, So.; Jamari Traylor, Jr.; Svi Mykhailiuk, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : The Jayhawks are loaded, as usual. Cliff Alexander is the face of this year’s recruiting class, a powerfully athletic, 6-foot-8 forward that has the potential to one day shatter a back board during a game. He’ll remind some people of Montrezl Harrell in the way that he attacks the glass and the rim. Wayne Selden was overshadowed a top 15 recruit and a projected lottery pick last season even before struggling through knee issues as a freshman. He’s healthy now. Kelly Oubre is this year’s Selden, an elite-level NBA prospect on the wing that may be the most talented player on the roster. All of that is before you consider Perry Ellis, who could very well end up being the leading scorer for the Jayhawks this season.

There’s depth, too. Even after the transfer of Connor Frankamp, Kansas can legitimately go two-deep at every position. It’s not at the same level as Kentucky — the drop-off from Kelly Oubre to Svi Mykhailiuk is noticeable — but Bill Self has plenty to work with on this team.

And that’s the third part of this equation. Bill Self. It’s been more than a decade since he finished a season as anything other than the Big 12 regular season champ, and that’s not an accident. A team with this much talent, coaching and program pedigree is always going to be in the conversation as one of the best teams in the country. That’s just the way it works.

source:
Wayne Selden, Jr. (AP Photo)

But they might disappoint because … : There are three concerns that I have with the Jayhawks, however, and the biggest issue is one that has plagued them since Sherron Collins graduated: Point guard play. From Josh Selby to Tyshawn Taylor to Elijah Johnson to Naadir Tharpe, Self has had talent come through his program, but reliability and consistency hasn’t come with it. Enter Devonte’ Graham, a top 50 recruit and former Appalachian State signee who is expected to take over the roll this season. As a freshman. It may be a while before those questions are answered this year.

Youth is another issue with this team. Three of the five guys expected to start are freshmen, while Selden is just a sophomore. Hunter Mickelson, who is a redshirt junior, is the only guy on the roster that has been on a college campus for three seasons, and while Self has sent a handful of one-and-done players to the NBA’s lottery — Ben McLemore, Xavier Henry, Wiggins, Embiid — he hasn’t turned those seasons into Final Four appearances. His best years at Kansas have been when he’s been loaded with veterans.

Lastly, the front line is not a lock to be great. I think Ellis is the best front court scorer in the Big 12, but he’s not a rim protector defensively. Alexander has a ton of talent, but he’s still learning the game; Self has stated publicly that Alexander is raw, and he’s still getting into shape after an ankle injury this summer. Landen Lucas is nothing more than a body at this point. Jamari Traylor is an energy guy but ideally a role player on a Final Four-caliber team. The x-factor is Mickelson, a big, strong center that played two seasons at Arkansas before sitting out last year in Lawrence.

Outlook: Once again, the Jayhawks are the safe-bet to win the Big 12 title. That’s just the way it works in the league these days. It doesn’t matter that Texas has top ten-caliber talent, or that Oklahoma and Iowa State are good enough to make the Final Four, or that Kansas State is has the pieces to give all four of those teams a run for their money.

That said, I do have some concerns about Kansas continuing their consecutive league titles, mainly due to the reasons I mentioned above. We don’t know if Graham is going to be ready to takeover the reins of this team, which makes to question marks with the Jayhawks youth and front line that much more concerning. The Jayhawks have a ton of potential, and the talent to win a national title, but their floor is much lower than the other teams that find themselves ranked in the top five.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.