Jamie Squire/Getty Images

College Hoops Contender Series: Does Kansas have the talent to overcome awkward roster construction?

1 Comment

Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

We took a look at Kentucky yesterday. Now let’s break down Kansas and what makes them a title contender.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Devonte’ Graham (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

They’re Kansas, and Kansas does not lose Big 12 races.

I don’t expect that that will change this year, and there are four reasons why:

  1. Phog Allen Fieldhouse: Kansas does not lose there. It just doesn’t happen, which means that you can pencil in nine Big 12 wins for them off the bat. Then, consider that …
  2. … the rest of the Big 12 is down: Outside of West Virginia, is there anyone in the league that should scare Kansas? Baylor could be a top 25 team, but losing Jonathan Motley will keep them out of the Big 12 title discussion. Texas should be relevant again, but even with the addition of Mo Bamba and the return of Andrew Jones, I think they’re more ‘top 25 good’ than ‘challenge Kansas’ good. Oklahoma is still rebuilding. Texas Tech and TCU look like they could be NCAA tournament teams, but not much more. Iowa State lost what feels like everyone. Oklahoma State and Kansas State are … whatever.
  3. And Bill Self is still Bill Self: There’s a reason that he is already a Hall of Famer despite being just 54 years old. He’s one of the best in this business, and if the 13 straight regular season titles didn’t convince you yet, I’m not sure that anything will. At this point there is no reason to assume anything other than Self trotting out a team that is going to be in and around the top ten, in the mix for a No. 1 seed and, as such, a Final Four and title contender. It’s just what Kansas does.
  4. Most importantly, Kansas is still super-talented: It starts with Devonte’ Graham, who I think has a real shot at being an all-american this season. He’ll be playing his more natural point guard position, and he may actually be a better pure point guard than National Player of the Year Frank Mason was last season. Malik Newman, a former top ten recruit that redshirted last season, will be joining Graham in the back court. Svi Mykhailiuk is back, as is LaGerald Vick, while another transfer — Sam Cunliffe — will be eligible come December. Throw in Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston up front, and the Jayhawks have a nice blend of talent, youth and experience.

All that said, I don’t think this will be the best Kansas team we’ve seen in recent years.

 Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

Lagerald Vick (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

Everything about this Kansas team just feels kind of … weird.

Let’s start with the transfers. They have five of them on the roster this year. Three will be redshirting this season. One, Sam Cunliffe, won’t be eligible until December after transferring out of Arizona State just one semester into his Sun Devil career. Another, Malik Newman, will be eligible to play this season after redshirting last year, teaming up in the back court with Devonte’ Graham, who is in a weird position in his own right.

Graham was a point guard in high school. He was a point guard when he signed with Appalachian State and he was a point guard when he was forced to go to prep school for a year because the Mountaineers wouldn’t let him out of his Letter Of Intent. He was also a point guard when he arrived at Kansas, and he proceeded to spend the next three years playing off the ball as point guard Frank Mason went from being the other guy in a recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the National Player of the Year as a senior.

For the first time in his college career, Graham will be taking over the primary point guard duties in a back court that includes a player in Newman that wants the ball in his hands and likes to shoot as much as anyone in college hoops.

How that back court pairing gels will likely end up being the most influential part of the Jayhawk season.

But there’s more.

Let’s talk small-ball for a second.

Bill Self, for years, was a coach that wanted to do nothing more than he wanted to play two bigs. Sometimes, those bigs were the Perry Ellis-type, face-up fours whose ability to score in the mid-range was elite. Sometimes, like when he made it to the national title game in 2012, he had Thomas Robinson lining up next to Jeff Withey.

However it played out, the constant was two big men … until last season, when Josh Jackson showed up and suddenly Self had the ideal small-ball lineup: Two point guards, two tough and athletic wings that could make threes and a big body in the post that can block shots and get rebounds. With Jackson now gone, Kansas and Self now have something of a problem on their hands. As it stands, there are just nine eligible scholarship players on the Jayhawks roster. Only three of them can be considered big men — Udoka Azubuike, Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Udoka Azubuike (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In an ideal world, one where Self has a back court that includes a pair of ball-handlers that will be in his starting lineup and a shortage of big bodies, the Jayhawks would once again play small-ball.

The problem?

Jackson was the glue that held that lineup together. He was the prototype college four. He was tough as nails defensively, he could rebound like a power forward and he defended the rim when needed. He was also a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, a natural wing and skilled playmaker with three-point range and the ability to grab a rebound and immediately spark transition.

Kansas does not have that guy anymore. LaGerald Vick is an excellent spot-up three-point shooter and the kind of athlete that will be a plus-wing defender, but he’s all of 6-foot-4 and he’s nowhere near the playmaker that Jackson was. Cunliffe, when he finally gets eligible, is a little bit bigger than Vick but not all that different of a player. Svi Mykhailiuk is a skilled player on the offensive end of the floor that has, shall we say, question marks defensively.

In theory, the answer to this problem would be for the Jayhawks to play Azubuike, a former five-star recruit, and Preston, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2017, together. Frankly, they actually fit fairly well together. The problem is that this would mean that the only front court depth that Self would have is Lightfoot, who looked out of his element in the 102 minutes he played as a freshman.

There isn’t an easy answer to this issue.

It’s one of the pitfalls of taking three sit-out transfers the same year.

Which is why this Kansas team has such a weird feel to it.


Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Overall, Kansas is going to be fine.

Outside of West Virginia, the rest of the Big 12 is not all that intimidating. The Jayhawks should win their 14th straight Big 12 title.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about what this team is going to be able to accomplish against the best teams in the country. Last year, they were the team that created the mismatches, that forced teams to play their way or take the loss.

I just don’t see how that happens this season. I’m not sure Kansas going small would force the best teams to match them because I don’t think it’s all that worrisome having a college four guard the likes of Vick, Cunliffe or Svi. I also don’t think their two-big lineup will be all that effective unless Preston has a bigger impact — i.e. all-Big 12ish — than I expect and Lightfoot proves to be a better bench presence than I realized.

The combination of Bill Self, the amount of talent on the roster and Phog Allen Fieldhouse will keep the Jayhawks in and around the top five throughout the year.

But I think they will be more matchup-dependent in the NCAA tournament than you would think a potential No. 1 seed would be.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett dunk from free throw line

Screengrab via The Score
Leave a comment

By now, every should know that Zion Williamson, Duke’s resident freak of nature, is listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds.

That might mean he’s actually, what, 6-foot-5.5 and 295?

Whatever the case may be, Zion is capable of doing insane things with a basketball in his hands, and he gave us another example of that today, dunking from the free throw line with ease during a practice on Duke’s team trip to Canada:

Here’s another look at that:

If you were wondering, yes, Zion took off from behind the free throw line:

That screenshot came from the video below, where for good measure, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Duke’s Canadian R.J. Barrett, did the same:

VIDEO: Mixtape for Rivals’ No. 1 recruit in 2019, Vernon Carey

Leave a comment

Here is a mixtape for Vernon Carey Jr., the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019, according to Rivals, and the player that I called the best prospect in the class after seeing him play at Peach Jam.

Carey is the son of a former offensive lineman — Vernon Carey Sr., shockingly enough — and looks like he will eventually head to either Duke or Michigan State, although Miami, where his father played, is still heavily in the mix, as is Kentucky and North Carolina.

VIDEO: Former Maryland star Terrell Stoglin punts ball, flips off crowd in Venezuelan league game

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Remember Terrell Stoglin?

He led the ACC in scoring as a sophomore, putting up 21.6 points per game for Maryland in the 2011-12 season. His junior season, however, was slated to be lost to suspension, so the 6-foot-1 guard bolted for the pros.

After an NBA summer league stint, Stoglin has spent the intervening years bouncing around leagues overseas without much in the way of stateside fanfare. He’s been in Lebanon, Turkey, Ukraine, France, Greece and a few other places, though he’s still probably best remembered either for that gaudy scoring number or the inelegant departure from Maryland.

He just added another memorable moment to that resume, though.

In a game in the Venezuelan LPB, Stoglin took the ball from an official, punted it into the stands and then proceeded to give the fans in attendance the single-finger salute on his way out the door.

Some people know how to make an entrance, but Stoglin seems to have the making an exit thing down.

West Virginia freshman cleared after “medical conditions” addressed

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Leave a comment

After spending the summer being limited, West Virginia freshman Brandon Knapper is getting back on the floor.

Knapper has “been cleared to fully participate in all basketball activities this season” after “some medical conditions were addressed,” the school announced Monday.

The school did not disclose the health concern, but WV MetroNews previously reported that Knapper had a blood clot that kept him off the floor but still allowed him to take part in offseason conditioning.

Health issues have been no stranger to Knapper, a 6-foot guard. He missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury that required surgery. This season, he’s expected to be a significant contributor to the Mountaineers as Bob Huggins lost point guard to Jevon Carter to graduation.

Knapper will compete for minutes at the one with freshman Jordan McCabe, a top-150 recruiting 2018, as well as Jermaine Haley, a 6-foot-7 junior college transfer that is expected to play both guard positions.

Re-ranking the 2011 recruiting class

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, but scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being.

Ask Steph Curry.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2011, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

1. ANTHONY DAVIS (2)

Everyone knows the Anthony Davis story by now. He entered high school at 6-foot-2 and entered his junior year at 6-foot-6 before sprouting up to 6-foot-11 and becoming one of the most impressive basketball prospects that we’ve seen in the one-and-done era. Still just 25 years old, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the best all-around big man in the NBA given how well he is suited to the modern game. He averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 boards while leading the NBA in blocks-per-game and shooting 34 percent from three. Can someone swoop in and save him from toiling his career away in New Orleans?

How about this for a stat: Davis is one of three NCAA National Players of the Year that came from the Class of 2011.

2. BRADLEY BEAL (4)

Beal has developed into one of the best all-around shooting guards in the NBA, joining John Wall in a backcourt that has made the Washington Wizards relevant. Beal made his first all-star team this past season after averaging 22.6 points, 4.5 assists and 4.4 boards, and perhaps the most impressive part of his development as a pro is that he’s yet to have a season in the NBA where he shot worse than 37.5 percent from three; he shot 33.9 percent as a freshman at Florida.

3. ANDRE DRUMMOND (UR)

Drummond was unranked in the Class of 2011, but that’s because he reclassified so late in the calendar, announcing in late-August that he would be skipping prep school and heading to UConn. His one season with the Huskies was entirely forgettable — UConn was a preseason top three team that flamed out in the first round as a No. 9 seed — but he’s gone on to become one of the best rebounders in the NBA, averaging 15 points and 16 boards this past season.

4. OTTO PORTER  (37)

A relative unknown from the backwoods of Missouri, Porter spent two seasons at Georgetown before he was taken with the No. 3 pick in the forgettable 2013 NBA Draft. He’s gone on to become quite a valuable weapon in the modern NBA given his size, his versatility and his ability to make threes. He’s currently heading into the second year of a four-year contract that will pay him north of $100 million.

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

5. MALCOLM BROGDON (104)

Brogdon was something of a late-bloomer, redshirting at Virginia before finally emerging as an all-american during his senior season. He ended up getting picked in the second round by Milwaukee in the 2016 NBA Draft and was promptly named the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. He averaged 13 points and 3.2 assists this past season for the Bucks, and the $1.54 million he’s scheduled to make in 2018-19 makes him one of the best values in the NBA.

6. RODNEY HOOD (16)

The way that the 2017-18 season ended for Hood — getting buried on Cleveland’s bench as the Cavs struggled for another scoring option while getting swept by the Warriors — makes it easy to forget that he’s averaged 13 points in his five-year career, and that he was scoring 16.8 points for the Jazz this season before getting.

7. JOSH RICHARDSON (124)

One of the best second-round picks in recent memory, Richardson has averaged double-figures the past two seasons — including 12.9 points in his third-year in the NBA — as he gets ready to walk into a $42 million contract next year. He’s grown into the most reliable wing on Miami’s roster and is likely staring down the barrel of a long and lucrative NBA career.

8. KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE (12)

Caldwell-Pope has turned into a reliable NBA perimeter scorer — he’s averaged better than 12.7 points in each of the last four seasons — and, coming off of a career-high 38.3 percent shooting from distance last season, has been signed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Lakers to play alongside LeBron.

9. ELFRID PAYTON (UR)

Payton has some glaring flaws — notably, his inability to shoot — as a player that limits what he is and can be as a player, but that shouldn’t change the fact that the Louisiana-product has averaged 11.2 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of his four seasons in the NBA. He’s certainly a serviceable NBA point guard that is still just 24 years old .

10. TREY BURKE (142)

The 2013 National Player of the Year, Burke was a top ten pick that made the all-NBA rookie team with the Utah Jazz before he was traded for a second round to the Wizards, who promptly let him walk after one year. He signed with the G League team for the Knicks, but eventually worked his way into the lineup and thrived in the second half of last season. He averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 assists, which included a 42-point outburst. We’ll see if he’s finally figured it out.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

11. FRANK KAMINSKY (UR)

The 2015 National Player of the Year, Kaminsky reached two Final Fours (including one national title game, with Wisconsin before getting scooped up in the lottery by Charlotte. He’s been fine as an NBA player since then, averaging more than 11 points each of the last two seasons.

12. AUSTIN RIVERS (1)

Rivers was the No. 1 player in the class, according to Rivals, and while he put up a bunch of numbers in his one season at Duke, he was the No. 10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and struggled to find a role in the NBA. Last season, he did average career-highs of 15.1 points and 4.0 assists for the Clippers, but he was promptly traded to Washington to backup their backcourt.

13. MAURICE HARKLESS (41)

Harkless has developed into a solid NBA rotation player, starting 223 games in six seasons with career averaging of 7.3 points and 3.6 boards. He’s probably best known for the end of the 2016-17 season, where he did not shoot a three in the season finale in order to preserve a $500,000 bonus for shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc; he shot 35.1 percent.

14. MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST (3)

Kidd-Gilchrist never lived up to the hype that he had coming out of high school (or college) largely due to the fact that the 6-foot-7 wing has never figured out how to shoot. In his six-year NBA career, he’s shot 7-for-36 from beyond the arc while averaging 9.1 points and 5.9 boards.

15. MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS (29)

Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year in 2014 after averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 boards and 1.9 steals for the 76ers, but that was the start of Trusting The Process, and he’s yet to come close to matching that production in four years since then. He’s played with four teams during that stretch.

16. SPENCER DINWIDDIE (146)

After two ho-hum seasons with Detroit, Dinwiddie ended up with Brooklyn. He had a promising finish to the 2016-17 season before averaging 12.6 points and 6.6 assists this past season. He has the size and the skillset to be an interesting piece in the coming years.

17. NORMAN POWELL (69)

Powell had a terrific second season in the NBA and was somewhat stifled this past season, as his three-point shooting dropped below 30 percent and he saw his playing time and his scoring decrease. Still a serviceable NBA role player, Powell is heading into the second year of a $42 million contract.

18. CODY ZELLER (15)

A star for Indiana and the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Zeller has been a solid-if-limited piece for Charlotte the last five seasons. He averaged career-bests of 10.3 points and 6.5 boards in 2016-17.

19. ALEX LEN (UR)

Like Zeller — who was selected one spot in front of him in 2013 — Len has been a fine rotation piece for the Suns over the course of the last five seasons, averaging 7.2 points, 6.5 boards and 1.0 blocks during that stretch. Worth noting: He was known as an NBA prospect when Maryland recruited him, but he is Ukranian and thus did not make the rankings.

20. BEN MCLEMORE (34)

Another member of the utterly forgettable 2013 lottery, McLemore seemingly has all of the tools to be a good player in this day and age and yet Memphis fans think he stole money last season. He’s still just 25 years old, but McLemore seems to be on his last chance in the league.

(Kyle Terada – Pool/Getty Images)

21. LARRY NANCE JR. (UR)

The son of the other Larry Nance, Jr. ended up at Wyoming after a late-diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease turned him into a late-blooming star. He spent two-and-a-half productive seasons as a member of the Laker bench before getting traded to Cleveland last season.

22. QUINN COOK (38)

Cook had an underrated college career, and he was arguably the most important player on Duke’s 2015 national title team. It took him a while to carve out a role for himself in the NBA, but he can currently count himself as a ring-holding member of the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors.

23. RON BAKER (UR)

Baker is one of the best stories to come out of college basketball in recent years. From the middle of nowhere in Kansas to a walk-on spot on Wichita State’s roster to one of the most storied college basketball careers, Baker is now heading into his third season as a member of the New York Knicks.

24. RICHAUN HOLMES (UR)

Holmes is proof that if you can play, they will find you. An unranked JuCo product that ended up at Bowling Green, Holmes has turned into a role player with some staying power. He averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 boards in 2016-17 and was a part of the deal that brought Zhaire Smith and a 2021 pick in from Phoenix.

25. PAT CONNAUGHTON (128)

Connaughton, who may be a better baseball player than he is a basketball player, just signed with Milwaukee on a two-year deal after averaging 5.4 points this past season for the Trail Blazers.

(Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

AMIR GARRETT (68)

Once a top 100 recruit and a member of the St. John’s basketball program, Garrett is currently a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He has a 3.52 ERA in 53.2 inning thus far this season.

MARQUIS TEAGUE (5)

The starting point guard on Kentucky’s 2012 national title-winning team, Teague was a late-first round pick after going one-and-done, but he lasted just two years in the NBA before the G League and stints overseas awaited him. Last year, he played three games with the Grizzlies after toiling away with their G League team most of the year.

JAMES MICHAEL-MCADOO (8)

McAdoo had a chance to be a top five pick had he left school after a terrific run in the 2012 NCAA tournament as a freshman, but he ended up coming back, spending two more seasons at North Carolina before going undrafted. He’s spent time with Golden State and Philadelphia since then.

DERRICK GORDON (105)

Gordon has a handful of ‘firsts’ on his resume. He’s the first player to play in the NCAA tournament with three different teams — Western Kentucky, Umass and Seton Hall — and he was also the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player.

KEVIN WARE (70)

Ware is best known as the player whose suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg during the 2013 NCAA tournament. Louisville would go on to win the national title that season, but it would eventually be erased from the NCAA record books due to the scandal involving hookers in the dorm, which he allegedly took part in.