Jayhawks ranked from 1st to 11th in national, "Way-Too-Early" Top 25's for 2017-18 season

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks a pass to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike for a dunk in the Jayhawks win against UNC Asheville Friday night, Nov. 25, in Allen Fieldhouse. Graham lead KU players with 11 assists.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks a pass to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike for a dunk in the Jayhawks win against UNC Asheville Friday night, Nov. 25, in Allen Fieldhouse. Graham lead KU players with 11 assists. by Mike Yoder

Having your team knocked out of the NCAA Tournament stinks for any fan of any team no matter when or how it happens.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for Kansas fans who are used to seeing their team among the top teams in the country year after year as Bill Self’s squad seeks to bring back another national title trophy to Lawrence.

That light shines brightest in the moments immediately after the national title game, on the final Monday of the college basketball season, when national publications across the country start to pump out their “Way-Too-Early Top 25” lists for the following season.

While the start of that season is still more than six months away — haven’t heard a date for Late Night yet, but we’ll get it to you as soon as we hear — following the Jayhawks is a 365-days-a-year type of thing around here and that’s what makes these early Top 25s worth tracking.

Here are a few that I came across Monday night, all of which provided Kansas with plenty of respect entering the 2017-18 season.

Not surprisingly, senior-to-be Devonte' Graham, who may test the waters of leaving early, and 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike were popular players mentioned in these early exercises.

• CBS Sports •
KU’s ranking: No. 1
Noteworthy: Baylor, which is barely ranked in many of the others, comes in at No. 9 on this one.
They said it: "KU is losing Frank Mason and (almost certainly) Josh Jackson. But five of the top eight scorers should be back — and the Jayhawks will also add five-star transfer Malik Newman and five-star freshman Billy Preston. So Bill Self will likely win a 14th straight Big 12 title -- and then some.

• ESPN.com •
KU’s ranking: No. 9
Noteworthy: The Jayhawks were the second-highest ranked Big 12 team, behind No. 8 West Virginia.
They said it: "Once Kansas fans get over another heartbreaking Elite Eight loss, they can take stock of the fact that their Jayhawks just tied pre-modern-era UCLA for the most consecutive conference titles (13!) in college basketball history. Life is good in the Sunflower State. (In the meantime, everyone, please stop talking about what it "means" that Bill Self being 2-7 in the Elite Eight at Kansas. He has been to nine Elite Eights! The answer is in the prompt!) Will 2017-2018 Kansas add to that streak? Why not? Sure, the Jayhawks lose a ton -- including player of the year Frank Mason III, lottery pick Josh Jackson and senior leader/low-post anchor Landen Lucas -- but they could feature Devonte' Graham in a lead role alongside Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (one of the top point guards in his class two years ago), in addition to top prospect Billy Preston and sophomore center Udoka Azubuike. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk's return at the wing -- not to mention whoever else Self hunts down on the recruiting trail -- could prove crucial. Either way, Kansas will be good. Kansas is always good. The end."

• SI.com •
KU’s ranking: No. 11
Noteworthy: Wichita State is ranked two spots ahead of Kansas.
They said it: "Frank Mason and Josh Jackson aren’t coming back, but there is plenty of perimeter talent remaining in Lawrence, especially with the addition of Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. Bill Self really needs a big win in the spring signing period."

• USA Today •
KU’s ranking: No. 5
Noteworthy: This one included grades for each team’s incoming recruiting class and the Jayhawks received a C.
They said it: "Devonte’ Graham is pondering the NBA, national player of the year Frank Mason III is graduating and high-flying freshman Josh Jackson is NBA-bound. LaGerald Vick (7.4 ppg) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (9.8 ppg) will see bigger roles, but the key guy is Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. The 6-4 guard averaged 11.3 points a game for the Bulldogs, but will undoubtedly be better after practicing with Kansas’s nation-leading backcourt this season. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe will be eligible in midseason, too. Udoka Azubuike, a 7-0 sophomore who had a season-ending wrist injury, could be a force in 2017-18. Self’s recruiting class is so-so right now, with top-20 forward Billy Preston the top name. But the Jayhawks are known to make a late splash with recruits."

• The Sporting News •
KU’s ranking: No. 4
Noteworthy: The Sporting News crew actually published theirs a day earlier than everyone else, on Sunday.
They said it: "(Josh) Jackson’s almost certainly gone, but (Devonte’) Graham’s decision is huge because having a veteran ball-handler will be so very important for this squad. KU’s biggest weakness this season was scoring in the post, but with the arrival of five-star big man Billy Preston, that should be shored up next season."

• Yahoo! Sports •
KU’s ranking: No. 3
Noteworthy: Sophomore-to-be Mitch Lightfoot is not listed on the key returners list.
They said it: "Not many teams can lose the national player of the year, a top-five NBA draft pick and a starting center and return to the top five the following year. But, by the same token, not many teams — or rather, no other team — can win 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, claim a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament eight years in a row, and claim a top-four seed 17 years in a row. Kansas is in a league of its own. And despite the losses of Mason and Jackson, the 2017-18 Jayhawks will be outstanding. Graham is ready to be a lead guard. Mykhailiuk and Vick are already above average Big 12 wings, and should be even better next year. Azubuike showed a lot of promise before his injury. Add in transfers Newman and Cunliffe (who isn’t eligible until the second semester), two talented freshmen and possibly one or two more recruits, and a 14th-straight Big 12 title, plus another top-two seed, seem very probable."

• 247 Sports •
KU’s ranking: No. 5
Noteworthy: Arizona is ranked No. 1 here and the Wildcats seemed to get the most love for the top spot in the polls that I saw.
They said it: "Kansas won its 13th straight Big 12 title by a whopping four games and clinched another No. 1 seed. And the Jayhawks should be strong once again in 2017-18, though massively different. Four of the Jayhawks’ five starters could be gone — Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is the only one expected back at this point, though Devonté Graham has a decision to make. The new players are intriguing: center Udoka Azubuike started multiple games this year as a freshman before suffering a season-ending injury. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman was the No. 8 overall player in the 2015 247Sports Composite and provides scoring punch. Billy Preston, the No. 16 player in the 247Sports Composite could replace Josh Jackson at the four while returnees Lagerald Vick, Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby and Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe — eligible at semester — means the Jayhawks are two-deep at almost every position. So why isn’t Kansas higher? Point guard. If Graham returns, Kansas looks a pretty complete team. If not, and should the Jayhawks miss out on top target Trevon Duval, Kansas could be scraping to try and find an answer at the position. Fear not Kansas fans, coach Bill Self typically figures those things out."

• FanRagSports.com •
KU’s ranking: No. 5
Noteworthy: This entry, by Jon Rothstein, listed a projected starting lineup and it included both Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk but no Malik Newman.
They said it: No comments given.

If any others pop up, we’ll add to this log throughout the day, so be sure to check back.

One final thing worth noting, came from the Twitter account of Las Vegas veteran RJ Bell (@RJinVegas), who released the LV Superbook odds to win the 2018 national title shortly after the final horn sounded on Monday's game.

The Jayhawks, at 12-1, are tied with three other teams for the second best odds to win it all next season in San Antonio.

by RJ Bell

Comments

Robin Smith

Yahoo Sports got it right. It's going to be another really good season next year. It's tough life being a Jayhawk fan.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Phil Leister

You missed CBS Sports. Number 1.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Matt Tait

Yeah, I did it before I went to bed and there's wasn't out yet. Adding 'em in now.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Matt Tait

Thanks. Just added it to the list!

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Craig Alexander

So Roy just grabbed his 3rd NCAA championship last night. I'm happy for him and know Self usually does extremely well in head to head matchups with Roy. However, what is the big difference between the two in results? Does Roy get that much better players in terms of the talent pool? Is he that much better of a coach despite Self beating him in head to head? I would love to hear some folk's perspectives on this.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Phil Leister

Is it just dumb luck? Bill's track record year in and year out equals or surpasses Roy's, but obviously the postseason success is a stark difference. The reason I call it dumb luck is the fact that Roy spent 15 years at KU and couldn't win the big one. In roughly the same time span, he's won 3 big ones at UNC. Did he become that much better of a coach once he left KU? I don't believe he's coaching any better talent at UNC than he did at KU.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Herb Derpson

The 1st one Roy won at UNC was not with his recruits. That team was pretty much on auto pilot and it didnt matter who the coach was

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Eliott Reeder

Or does it have something to do with UNC vs KU? If Roy hasn't changed, which he hasn't, why has he managed to win at UNC what he could not at KU (multiple times over)? Is it the type of recruits that are drawn to UNC, or the ACC? Is it the competition in the ACC being tougher in the top half than in the Big 12, therefore making his teams more battle-tested? Is it NCAA tournament officiating favoring ACC schools or the east coast? Lots of interesting questions on this matter.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Robin Smith

It's experience.

Took Wooden 14 seasons before he won his first title. Took Roy 17 seasons before he won his first title. Took Coach K 11 seasons before he won his first title.

Self is now entering the back half of his career. These other HoF coaches won 95% of their titles in the latter half.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Waylon Cook

BIll is 54 and Roy is 66. You think in another 12 seasons Bill doesn't at least get one more? And probably doesn't play in the NIT in that time. I love how some KU fans don't remember some of the lackluster teams ol Roy gave us. K and Roy have shown it is possible to win after 60. I think Self is going to be able to sleep still.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Brian Steward

Why does everyone already say Josh Jackson is gone? Don't make that young man's decision for him. He hasn't said anything yet. Until such a time I will hold onto hope that he returns.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Herb Derpson

If you think for a second that Josh is staying, I have some ocean front property in Arizona that I would like to discuss selling to you if you're interested.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Brian Steward

Did I say I thought he was say staying? No. Not remotely. I simply said that he has yet to say what his decision is, and, until such a time, he is still on the KU roster for next season. I'm not being overly optimistic or dreaming; I'm simply stating the fact that he is still on the team.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Ryan Zimmerman

I can't imagine a scenario to where a kid that has always planned on one season and someone that has even gone at #1 in some mock drafts would stay. He has absolutely nothing to gain by staying. I'd love it, but even Self would probably feel like he needs to guide him to the NBA. The only thing that would happen if Jackson stays is that his draft stock drops.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Shannon Gustafson

I'm not saying there is a high probability of it happening (more like slim to none) but if I were to come up with a reason, it's that he's one of the most competitive kids in the country (and certainly the most competitive one and done prospect we've had) and he's pissed at the elite 8 loss and decides he'll be worst case a top 3 pick this year and next year so he says lets hold off a year, let the team ride his back (instead of Mason's) to a title in 2018, and lock up the #1 pick next year.

Again, not saying it will happen, 99% chance it won't, but we can always dream.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Creg Bohrer

He's going there's no doubt, crazy not to. But we can always dream though..

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Layne Pierce

If we don't recruit a single additional player, we will still have a damn good team.
I like starters: Azubuike 7.0, Preston 6'10, Svi 6'8, Newman 6'3, Graham 6'2

Or the same 4 plus Duval, if Graham does not come back.

Or no Duval, and say Tremont Waters and other 4

Or worst case scenario, Graham gone, no Duval, no Waters, and we simply sign somebody who can come off the bench as a point guard, and take a chance that Garrett 6'5 can play the point, even though he is a freshman.

Newman can play the point, if he has to, but I think Coach wants him to be the scoring guard, but still I look for him to be the option, say if Graham, or whoever gets in foul trouble.

Coming off the bench, we have the irrepressible Vick, who could start, but I love his energy, and athleticism to give us a regular boost. Bragg gets another chance to be the main man off the bench, but Coleby is ready, willing and able next year, another year beyond his injury.

And yes, I am big on Marcus Garrett, I think he is a very good 4-Star, who probably is borderline 5.

One last question? If Coach Self with Preston being young, and perhaps a Duval in the lineup would just focus on getting tournament ready, and let's say we get second in the Big 12 regular, but win the Big 12 Tournament, and get to the Final 4, and win it, would you be willing to make the trade?

The one difference I see between Roy and Bill is that Bill's teams are always very good, but not great at any one thing. The only exception was 2008 when we had an incredible defensive team, that had good offensive firepower. Last year we simply were not strong enough on the inside. A postman who was a threat to score would have pulled Oregon's shotblocker farther away from the basket and made it possible for KU to drive it to the basket.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Noel Backwards

Roy Williams at UNC consistently has veteran laden teams. He hasn't had a OAD player in 10 years! Say what you want about getting the absolute best talent out there, but I think the foundation for Roy's success is laid on the recruiting trail. UNC isn't always in the running for the top 5 guys (i.e. UNC was nowhere to be found on that Marvin Bagley video) but rather the guys a tier down that he can get to buy into the pride and tradition at UNC. He consistently brings in guys who are very talented, but aren't coming in with one foot out of the door because they know they have much to improve before they are ready for he next level. By doing this he can have them 100% focused on UNC basketball and winning titles instead of the NBA. No matter how good a player is, it's hard for them to focus 100% on winning for their college if the NBA is a few months away. For Roy's guys the NBA isn't a few months away and they know that from day 1. This allows them to fall in love with the tradition and pride of playing for the name on the front of the jersey and learn what it would mean to hang a banner in their building. On the other hand you get guys that are so focused on the NBA that they are oblivious to the name on the front and can start thinking about the NBA before they even take off their jerseys (Lonzo Ball). Since this OAD thing really got going we've only had 1 and a half that were actually here to play and win for Kansas. Those were Josh Jackson this year and Joel Embiid. Josh Jackson was a rare breed of freshman that we may never see again in that he was totally committed to winning a championship here and he really cared about Kansas. Embiid was a late bloomer and wasn't expected to be a OAD player initially, so all he had to play for was to win up front. That fueled the fire that we all fell in love with while he was here and unfortunately his KU career was cut short by injury. There's a reason why the teams that have gone the deepest under Coach Self have been the teams with mostly upperclassmen. Think about his two FF teams; 2012 team started 3 True Juniors (all but Tyshawn waited behind others to play), 1 RS JR, and Tyshawn as the lone senior. I'm sure we can name AT LEAST 5 more talented teams Self has had in his time, but this is the only other team to make the FF other than the '08 champs (who only had 2 underclassmen, both sophomores, in the rotation) and I don't think it's a coincidence that it was a veteran team without any young guys in the rotation.

So to answer your question I think Roy does it by finding the guys he can get to commit to a career at UNC and not a year there.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Suzi Marshall

Much can be learned by the teams Roy puts on the floor. Bill Self is not all that far off Roy's theory.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Craig Alexander

I was noticing all the Juniors on Roy's team this year for the experience standpoint and started wondering if it was just veterans or not. I'm leaning towards having the veterans provides a much more stable nucleus of a team to be consistent year in and year out. A year like this for us was a really good blend and I think with Azubuike we would have played even better. The balance with Self when you can get vets and one or two phenoms can produce great results when you have a phenom like Jackson who commits from day one.

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Noel Backwards

I totally agree that a mix of great young players and vets can produce a really good team, but I do think that with Roy having those veteran guys who have been to the tournament 2-3 times already and have seen all there is to see makes a difference.

Imagine if JJ was a Junior in that Oregon game after those two fouls? Could HCBS have sent him back on the floor earlier or could he have regained his aggressiveness sooner because he had experienced that situation more often? That was his first time experiencing foul trouble in a game that important and it probably affected his mindset the whole game because of it.

What if we had a Nate Britt type coming off of the bench that HCBS could have thrown out there for Graham when he was struggling?

I just think veteran teams with a lot of experience are always more equipped to succeed in March. You will see your outliers, but for the most part the upperclassmen led teams perform better.

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Noel Backwards

To go along with my last comment, I think this class as it stands right now is in a good position to be here for a few years and grow with the older guys to be a pretty good team. Hypothetically, if Vick, Newman, Preston, and Garrett stick around past next year, we could be looking at a starting 5 in a couple years of the following:

PG: Garrett, So.
SG: Newman, RS-Jr.
SG/SF: Vick, Sr.
PF: Preston, So.
C: Azubuike, Jr.

That would be supported by a bench of:

Senior: Bragg
Juniors: Azubuike, Lightfoot, Cunliffe
Freshman: Jacobs (2019 commit)

This would be a pretty solid team without any of the guys that will surely be added along the way. It could be time for Self to give this a go for a few years and go get those second tier guys he can develop for a few years and have another veteran team take him to the promise land. I don't see any problem with changing the strategy every 5 years or so and seeing which approach can get you there.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Eliott Reeder

Not sure we're going to see a junior Azubuike on the KU roster. He has the opportunity to be incredibly improved by next year and in amazing shape. If he takes advantage of that opportunity, with his size, he gone.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Noel Backwards

I believe that is a possibility, but unless he has been improving his endurance during his wrist rehab he should still look to play two full seasons. That is what he proposed before he arrived on campus and I think that will be needed to show NBA Scouts that he can not only physically play big minutes in a game, but mentally as well. His conditioning was a big issue for him coming into last season and he was still very raw. I could be wrong, but with his age I anticipate the NBA scouts encouraging him to come back and polish up some more after next season.

2 weeks, 6 days ago

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Dirk Medema

Neither Newman or Dok will be here in 2 years

2 weeks, 4 days ago

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Craig Alexander

Thanks for the replies folks. Trying to find a reason for Oregon game in my mind. Seems to me that perhaps Self is really tight prepping his team and trying not to get too intense and perhaps that influences the players. But it can influence only some though if their personality/mindset permits it. You look at Jackson and Mason to see that regardless of prep they came to play and lay it all out there. Lucas and Graham played a little tight as Lucas missed bunnies and Graham's 3s were just not falling. Sometimes it is just not your night while the other folks shoot lights out but 2-5 at Kansas in Elite Eight has to at least make you ask questions especially on a coach with >80% win record.

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Layne Pierce

Great points, Craig. I would just add that North Carolina did not shoot all that well, the last 2 games of tournament, and still found a way to win 2 close games. Coach Self said we were impatient on offense, and did not move the ball from side to side. Of course Oregon was making that difficult, and as I said, we only had one offensive weakness, and that was post scoring. Landon I love, but he is not a real offensive threat. If we move ball from side to side, and have a center who makes Oregon shot blocker play honest, then I believe we could well have won the game.

2 weeks, 5 days ago

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Craig Alexander

Completely agree Layne.

2 weeks, 3 days ago

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