Kansas a popular pick at No. 1 in Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings for 2018-19
For much of the recently-wrapped 2017-18 college basketball season, the Kansas men's basketball team spent its time ranked in the Top 5 or Top 10 and head coach Bill Self spent his time insisting his team probably wasn't quite deserving of such lofty rankings.
For much of the season, Self was right. Kansas, which opened the season in the Top 10 and climbed as high as No. 2 at one point, never really was a Top-5-type team throughout most of the regular season.
By the end of the year, however, that certainly changed, as the Jayhawks found the switch, flipped it to “on” with full force and left it there until the season ended with a tough loss to what proved to be easily the best team in college basketball this season. You don't win every NCAA Tournament game by double-digits, with an average margin of victory in those six wins of 17.6 points, the way Villanova did without getting that kind of title.
With the 2017-18 season now in the books and people already starting to look ahead to 2018-19, it appears that Self would do well to spend at least some of the offseason ahead preparing to see his squad ranked way up there again for most of the far-away-but-upcoming season.
Within 12 hours of Villanova's title-game victory over Michigan going final on Monday night, 10 major publications came out with their way-too-early Top 25 lists for the 2018-19 college basketball season.
Such an exercise has become almost as big of a tradition on the final Monday night of the season as the One Shining Moment video. And, let's face it, whether your team is on the list or not, it's always fun to at least scroll through and see who's ranked where and why.
Kansas fans who did that on Monday night probably ended the exercise beaming.
Nine of the 10 spots I found, including a Tweet from Ken Pomeroy about what the numbers would show provided all of those players projected to go in the Top 40 of this summer's NBA Draft actually leave, had Kansas ranked as the No. 1 team heading into the 2018-19 season.
"I think Kansas checks all the boxes you want," said CBS Sports analyst Gary Parrish during a Tuesday morning television spot. "They've got a Hall of Fame coach, they've got experienced talent and then they've got super-duper freshmen. ... You've got a team that is deep, talented, experienced and I think should be the favorite to win the national championship. When you've got experience mixed with five-star talent, that's when you can be special."
All of the analysts had slightly different takes and reasons for putting the Jayhawks on top. But the bottom line and common theme for each of them was this: Self's squad will be deep, talented and big and will have much more versatility and flexibility than either of his past two rosters, which just happened to combine for 62 victories and trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four. Poor Kansas, right?
For what it's worth, online sports book Bovada.LV on Tuesday released its odds to win the 2019 national title and Kansas came in as the No. 2 favorite in the country, at 7-1, just behind Duke at 6-1.
I'm in total agreement with nearly all of the takes below about why Kansas has a claim as the No. 1 team in college basketball heading into next season, even if I'm not in agreement about who will be back and who will leave. More on that a little later.
For now, though, here's a quick look at what each of those 10 sites is saying about the Jayhawks in their way-too-early Top 25 rankings for a college basketball season that, sadly, is still six months away.
• ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf likes the Jayhawks because of the addition of the Lawson brothers, who transferred to KU from Memphis last year right around this time.
Bill Self's squad should defend its Big 12 title streak and make another run in the NCAA tournament. He'll have more talent. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but Malik Newman -- if he returns -- will enter next season as a preseason All-American after his dominance of the NCAA tournament landscape. Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike should also return, joining a top-10 recruiting class that features a pair of five-star guards: Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Wait. There's more. Self will also add Memphis transfers K.J. Lawson (12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG in 2016-17) and Dedric Lawson (19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG) and Cal transfer Charlie Moore (12.2 PPG, 1.1 SPG), who are all eligible to play next season. Oh, and Romeo Langford, a top-five recruit who is unsigned, could still pick the Jayhawks, too. That's a helluva talent pool for Self.
• Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg likes Kansas because he envisions Self going back to the traditional high-low offense with a mammoth front line in 2018-19.
Pencil Kansas in as the class of the Big 12 next season despite the departure of All-American Graham and potentially two other members of the Jayhawks’ starting backcourt. Bill Self will reload thanks largely to a strong crop of newcomers highlighted by a trio of incoming transfers. Lawson averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds at Memphis during the 2016-17 season and performed like a potential All-American on the Kansas scout team this year. The opportunity to pair him and either Azubuike or De Sousa together could force Self to abandon his four-guard look and go back to Kansas’ traditional high-low system. The loss of Newman’s outside shooting and perimeter scoring would be a blow if he decides to turn pro after a brilliant March run, but Kansas has the perimeter firepower to absorb that loss. Look for Grimes and Moore to play alongside one another in the backcourt and K.J. Lawson and Vick to both see time at wing.
• NBC Sports' Rob Dauster has Kansas at No. 1 but also has Malik Newman pencilled in as a projected starter. It's possible that Newman will be back, but the guess here is that he's gone. Who knows if that would change where Dauster would rank KU?
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. There is still going to be some turbulence with this roster. Do they hold onto Malik Newman and Udoka Azubuike? Will they land Romeo Langford? Will anyone get run out of town? But the bottom line is that they are talented, they are old, they are well coached and they actually have a functional point guard on their roster.
• Jon Rothstein, of FanRagSports, also has KU at No. 1 but he's basing that on both Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick returning for another season. Rothstein did not include any blurbs, just a projected lineup, bench and lists of newcomers and departures.
• Gary Parrish, of CBS Sports' Top 25 (and one) slid Kansas into the top spot and predicted KU will stretch its conference title streak from 14 to 15.
Bill Self will once again have a roster loaded with talent and experience — the kind that makes the Jayhawks the clear favorite to win a 15th straight Big 12 title. Former Memphis star Dedric Lawson should be a double-double nightmare for opponents right from the jump. The arrival of five-star freshman Quentin Grimes makes the expected loss of Malik Newman less of a big deal.
• Ryan Fagan, of The Sporting News, puts KU first and explains why in five simple words: “It's all about the newbies.”
They’re adding two five-star guards, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dodson, and four-star big man David McCormack. The thing KU fans probably are most excited for, though, are the transfers. The Jayhawks have three established college players ready to hit the ground running after a year of pushing the starters on the scout team. Point guard Charlie Moore averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at Cal. Brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson starred at Memphis, though their experiences with the hometown team were certainly tumultuous at times. Dedric, a 6-9 forward, averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks for Memphis in 2016-17; K.J. checks in at 6-8 and averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
• Pomeroy did not include a write-up at this time, but did list his Top 11, based on the numbers and that disclaimer mentioned above.
Here's my computer's top 10 for 2019 assuming everyone in @DraftExpress top 40 leaves: 1) Kansas, 2) Duke, 3) Villanova, 4) Auburn, 5) Kentucky, 6) North Carolina, 7) Nevada, 8) West Virginia, 9) Gonzaga, 10) Virginia, 11) Maryland.
• Scott Gleeson, of USA Today, put the Jayhawks at No. 1 because he loves the idea of Kansas mixing fresh talent with experience.
The Jayhawks lose Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham and sharpshooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk but could get NCAA tournament breakout star Malik Newman and elite big man Udoka Azubuike back, along with a heavily-improved Silvio De Sousa. They also bring in a five-star guards in Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. However, coach Bill Self’s reinforcements come via the transfer route. Cal transfer point guard Charlie Moore (12.2 ppg in 2016-17) and Memphis transfer forwards Dedric Lawson (19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) and K.J. Lawson (12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will give Self the depth (and size) he lacked on this year’s Final Four team.
• And Molly Geary, of Sports Illustrated's SI.com, pegged KU as the early preseason favorite because of the suddenly deep roster awaiting Self.
Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are definite departures, but Bill Self is set to reload again via a mix of transfers and recruits. Former Memphis standouts Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Cal transfer Charlie Moore will all become eligible next season after sitting the year out, and the Jayhawks’ top-five recruiting class includes five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and four-star center David McCormack (and as mentioned above, they’re still in on top recruit Romeo Langford). Odds are that Kansas gets one of sharpshooter Malik Newman, whose future in Lawrence is less clear after his breakout March, or center Udoka Azubuike back—if not both. That would make Kansas a favorite to not just get back to the Final Four but win the whole thing.
• And then there's Sam Vecenie at The Athletic, who, at least on Monday night, was the lone analyst to pick Kansas somewhere other than first in this too-early exercise. Vecenie had the audacity to drop KU all the way down to No. 2 on his list.
Following a Final Four appearance in 2018, the Jayhawks should unquestionably have a more talented team in 2019. The reason for that comes with an elite recruiting class and terrific transfer group. Grimes has an argument to be the best guard in the 2018 recruiting class, a tremendously athletic scorer who can get into the paint at will. Dotson also should be able to immediately contribute at the point guard position along with Cal transfer Charlie Moore, who averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman at Cal. The key, though, is the appearance of the Lawson brothers. Dedric Lawson has potential to be an All-American in 2019, moving to Kansas after averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks at Memphis in 2017. His brother K.J. Lawson averaged 12.3 points, too. With Azubuike coming back and a high-level, energetic defender in David McCormack coming in to back him up.
For what it's worth, now that you've read all of that, my best guess, as of April 3, 2018, has Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both leaving and Udoka Azubuike returning after testing the water but not hiring an agent. If that's correct, the biggest mystery surrounding KU this offseason will be whether or not they'll be able to land Romeo Langford.
If they do pick up a commitment from the top-ranked remaining uncommitted player in the 2018 recruiting class, the Jayhawks are definitely worthy of a No. 1 ranking from a pure depth and talent standpoint. If not, they're probably still easily in the Top 5.
The moral of the story for you Kansas fans is simple: This year was fun and next year could even more fun... in a totally different way.