It’s no secret that Kansas basketball is bringing in one of the most talented rosters in the nation this year. They return six players from last year’s Final Four team in Sam Cunliffe, Mitch Lightfoot, Lagerald Vick, Silvo De Sousa, Marcus Garrett and Udoka Azubuike. They also return three transfers that had to sit out last year in Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore. These nine players alone could compete for a National Title. But they won’t have to because Self also brought in two five star stud recruits in Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, and two four star stud recruits in David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji.
If this roster was a loaded baked potato it’d have a restaurant all to its own. That’s how tasty it would be.
But a loaded roster such as this does come with some concerns. How do you hand out all of that playing time? With 13 players that could all play for any team in the country, most of them potentially starters, it could get dicey. I trust in the man though. That man being Billy Eugene Self, Jr.
Matter of fact, I trust in him so much I think this team could potentially go undefeated. I know, I know, how dare I make such a presumptuous statement, especially when the season is still months away from starting. But that’s just how talented this roster is. If Self can get these guys to play together early, anything could be possible.
But now that I’ve opened my mouth and potentially cursed the team with my out-pour of confidence, let’s see just how realistic this could be.
Of the games Kansas plays, there are six teams they could potentially lose to. I’m not saying they won’t and can’t lose to the other teams, but they’re teams they’ll be heavily favored against and should beat.
The teams they could potentially lose to are Michigan State, Villanova, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kansas State.
To get a closer look, let’s break down each match-up.
Michigan State – This is a team that went 30-5 last year and for most of the season were favored to win the National Championship. Things didn’t quite go their way though and even at 30-5 they underachieved, especially with a 2nd round exit in the NCAA tourney. They also lost three of their big time players in Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson and Tum Tum Nairn. But even with those three leaving they still have some big time talent coming back in Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid. Izzo also had a nice recruiting class bringing in five four star players per 247 sports.
Prediction – Is there a chance they beat Kansas? Absolutely, as they have a lot of returning talent and one of the best bigs in the country in Nick Ward. But Kansas will have more bigs to throw in the game and tire him down, and I’m not sure Ward is better than Doke. I think Kansas wins this game but it’ll be a close match-up.
Villanova – What good is there to say about Jay Wright and Villanova that hasn’t already been said? As annoyed as I am with him beating Kansas in the tournament, I have to say I respect the guy and he’s easily one of the best coaches in the nation. Even after winning the National Title though Villanova did take a bit of a hit to its roster as they lost National Player of the year Jalen Brunson, and three big time contributing factors to their National Title run Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges. Although they do return two solid players in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, and even picked up a grad transfer from Albany in Joe Cremo. Villanova also has a solid recruiting class coming in with five star PG Jahvon Quinerly, along with three other four star forwards.
Prediction – Can Jay Wright continue his streak of dominating Kansas? It’s definitely possible but they’ll be seeing a totally different Villanova team than they have the last three years. They’ll still have solid guard play but it might be the bigs that ultimately give Kansas the big advantage in this one. I think Kansas wins this especially since it’s at home in AFH.
Kentucky – Of all the teams Kansas has faced the last five years or so it appears Kentucky has emerged as their biggest rivalry game. I keep praying to the basketball God’s every year to let them play each other again, and they keep coming through. This year will be as tough as ever though as Kentucky, once again, is loaded. They did lose five of their best players to the draft but Coach Cal once again closed in on a big time recruiting class landing four five star recruits and one four star. They also returned top contributors in P.J. Washington, E.J. Montgomery and Quade Green, among others, while even snagging a grad transfer in Stanford’s Reid Travis.
Prediction – Kentucky will be young, but they will be talented and they’ll have just enough veteran leadership to keep them grounded. Being that this game is at Kentucky this year, and last time Kansas played there they won, I’m guessing the team and fans will be as fired up as ever. And if there’s any game that could end the undefeated season this is the one. Having said that though, I feel by the time January rolls around Kansas will be playing its best basketball and will have worked out any kinks they came across during the first half of the season. I can see them winning this as well, but it will be close and down to the very last shot.
Tennessee – Rick Barnes has this Tennessee firing on all cylinders and they could potentially be a threat to Kentucky for SEC Champs this year. I’m sure Texas thought a change was needed when they forced Barnes out but after what they’re witnessing what he’s doing at Tennessee I’m sure they’d be happy to have him back. Either way, Tennessee was solid last year and they could be even better this year. They return five big time players in Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Jordan Bone. They’re experienced and they play great together.
Prediction – Even with Tennessee’s experience I don’t think they’ll be able to handle Kansas’ size. They do have some strong big guys but can they handle Doke, Lawson and McCormack? I don’t think so. I’m not saying this will be an easy win but I think Kansas can win by double digits if they keep going down low and get Tennessee in foul trouble early.
West Virginia – There won’t be a time while Bob Huggins is the West Virginia coach that they won’t have a chance at beating Kansas. They always play them tough and especially at home. This year won’t be any different even with the departures of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. They’ll be returning big time contributors in Sagaba Konate, James Bolden and Lamont West. And they even had a solid recruiting class with two four star players that could get some immediate playing time and four other solid three star recruits.
Prediction – This won’t be the same tough West Virginia team that Kansas has faced the last five years but they definitely won’t be a push over. You can bet after getting beat three times last year, Huggins will have his guys ready for revenge. I don’t see the game at AFH being the one I’m concerned about, it’ll be at West Virginia. They’ll once again be fired up and ready to crush Kansas’ dreams. But, it won’t be as easy this year. West Virginia won’t be as deep so foul trouble could be an issue and Kansas is simply too big and powerful. I have Kansas winning this game but not without a fight.
Kansas State – Bruce Weber may have his best team yet even after an Elite Eight run last year. They had an easier than usual path but they still played hard and even stunned a Kentucky team that thought a Final Four had landed in their pockets. They’ll be returning all their starters and then some, including Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Cartier Diarra, Makol Mawien, Mike McGuirl, Xavier Sneed and Kamau Stokes. If any team is going to end Kansas’ Big 12 streak this would be the one to do it.
Prediction – Kansas State has been so close to beating Kansas the last few years but just haven’t been able to get over that hump. This year could be that year though. With the talent and experience on their roster if they stay focused on Bruce Weber’s play hard chart they just might have a chance. The one area that might be a concern to them though is the raw power Kansas possesses on the inside. Kansas State does have some solid big men but they’re not as explosive as Doke, Lawson or even McCormack. That might just be their downfall and I think Kansas will escape a few more close ones, but this time on the backs of their big men instead of their guards.
I may be biased as I’m not only a Kansas basketball blogger but a Kansas fan as well, but it’s no joke when everyone around the nation is mesmerized by the strength and deepness of this year’s roster. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a Kansas team this deep, and the last time they were close they won the National Championship.
But can they actually go undefeated, a feat that hasn’t been done since 1976? It won’t be easy, but it won’t be impossible. And how fitting would it be for Self to join the greatest of the greats by having one of the most incredible seasons in the history of college basketball by going undefeated while winning another National Title and extending his conference title streak to 15? I can tell you one thing, those people questioning Self will become silent and his haters will become lovers.
Either way, this will be a fun season with a lot of expectations. Fasten your seat belts and stay in your seats, because this could be a season full of history.