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