Last year Kansas finished the season as the best team in College Basketball. While they didn’t finish the season winning Bill Self’s second National Championship, they did finish the season ranked #1 in pretty much every postseason poll. The Jayhawks were led by big-man Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson who both were either First or Second Team All-Americans last season for the Jayhawks. It is going to be impossible to replace the amount of production that both of those players provided for Kansas a season ago, Kansas is still good enough to win the Big 12 and be one of the teams that have a chance to win the National Championship.
Looking back a season ago, Kansas ran everything through big man Udoka Azubuike, who became the Big 12 Player of the year. Azubuike averaged 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. His improved mobility made him a dominant shot-blocker, as well as a pretty easy target for lobs.
Devon Dotson wound up leading the team in scoring, averaging 18 points and 4 assists per game as well. Dotson had a level of speed that was hard to match, that mixed with a good finishing ability and good defensive instincts made him one of the best players in the sport. These two losses for Kansas will no doubt be big but don’t expect Kansas to go anywhere.
One of the reasons is the expected emergence of Senior Guard Marcus Garrett. Last year Garrett was awarded the Naismith Defensive Player of the year, he guarded 1-4 and locked down opponents, while often turning offense into defense. In addition to his great defense, he’s a great passer. Last year he averaged 4.6 assists per game and had a 2.7 Assist to turnover ratio. While Garrett isn’t a great shooter, he can get to the basket and finish in the paint. While Dotson will be missed for his scoring purposes, Garrett is more than capable of taking over the ball-handling duties.
On the wing, Ochai Agbaji has been a solid player thus far in his career but he’s not truly broken out just yet. He averaged 10 points per game on 42.8% shooting from the floor and 34% shooting from three. With Agbaji, he was not really asked to do a lot a year ago but that should change this year. Christian Braun will also start, he’s a long guard that showed himself to be a good floor-spacer, last year he shot 44.4% from three. Freshman Bryce Thompson should also start, he’s regarded as a combo guard who is regarded as a high-difficulty shot-maker. If he can step in and be a 10-12 point per game player, Kansas should be getting a really solid piece in Thompson.
At the guard spot, Kansas should be once again really good but what will make or break their season is how exactly they can replace the production from Udoka Azubuike. The starter will likely be David McCormack who averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game a season ago. McCormack is a really good post player that is capable of hitting from the mid-range. He’s not an overwhelming presence inside but he is a solid player. Mitch Lightfoot will be a solid option as a glue-guy four or five-man that plays hard and blocks shots.
What will make Kansas interesting is their abundance of combo forwards, a position that is extremely valuable in basketball. Tristan Enaruna played limited minutes a season ago but showed skills as a versatile forward. Jalen Wilson is a former Top-75 recruit who missed most of last season after breaking his ankle. Wilson projects as a small-ball four man that can make shots from deep while making plays offensively. The third of those combo forwards is JUCO recruit Tyon Grant-Foster, he’s 6’7” and can shoot while he’s both long and athletic. Having three players that can step in and provide versatility playing as a 3 or a 4 for the team is extremely valuable.
In addition to that, the Jayhawks will have two solid options at the backup point guard spot in DaJuan Harris and Latrell Jossell who will look to be great multi-year players.
With this Kansas team, the ceiling is definitely not as high as it was a season ago but the floor is still really high. This team has a lot of really talented players and while most haven’t proven to be stars yet, there are multiple players that are ready to step into a bigger role in order to help lead Kansas to another successful season.