All the pieces are there for Kansas to make a serious national title run. Experience? Check. Kansas returns eight players that averaged double-digit minutes a season ago, including its leading scorer and top assist man. Talent? You got it. The roster is filled with former McDonald's All-Americans, including two elite big men from this year's incoming class.
Size? Yes, as there are seven Jayhawks that stand at least 6-foot-8. The length and size of this Kansas team is seemingly unequaled in college basketball this season.
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Coach Bill Self has all the tools in place to get Kansas to its first Final Four since 2012 and possibly a first national championship since 2008. The key will be getting all this talent to play with cohesion, which is something that hasn't always been the case the past two seasons in Lawrence.
The core of the Jayhawks the past three seasons has been big man Perry Ellis and backcourt mates Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr., each of whom returns for their junior seasons. All three were prized recruits out of high school, but the trio has been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Round of 32 each of the past two seasons. Ellis has largely lived up to the billing on the offensive end as he was the Jayhawks leading scorer last season at 13.8 points per game. But Selden Jr. has been plagued by inconsistency to this point. He averaged a respectable 9.4 points per game a season ago, but that came on 38.2 percent shooting from the field. Additionally, Selden simply failed to show up in some of the Jayhawks biggest games last season, including its Round of 32 loss to Wichita State.
Selden will have to be better this season if Kansas is to compete for a national title. The good news is Self said Selden was the best player for the Jayhawks this summer at the World University Games. Perhaps this is the season he puts things all together. If so, look out, the Jayhawks will be tough beat.
2015 Kansas Key Losses and Additions
The Jayhawks lost two contributors from a season ago: forward Cliff Alexander, who averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game; and guard Kelly Oubre, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
While Alexander was a solid player, he should be easily replaced by the addition of incoming freshman big men Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, each of whom stands 6-foot-9 and helped propel Kansas to a top-five recruiting class this year. Diallo is a rugged, physical player down low that brings an intimidating presence to the proceedings; while Bragg is a versatile offensive weapon and an elite athlete.
However, Diallo is not yet eligible to play as Kansas still awaits a decision by the NCAA. Self has expressed optimism that Diallo will be cleared to play during the early part of the season.
Kansas' other incoming freshman is shooting guard Lagerald Vick. The 6-foot-5 native of Memphis has good size for his position and is a good shooter with the ability to slash to the basket. He will likely play a reserve role behind Seldon this season.
2015 Kansas Frontcourt
Ellis is a versatile scorer that can put the ball in the bucket from anywhere on the floor. The 6-foot-8 senior shot 45.7 percent from the floor last season and led the Jayhawks in rebounding with 6.9 boards per game. The concern with Ellis is on the defensive side of the floor. Self has been frustrated at times by Ellis' lack of energy and effort on the defensive side of the ball.
Ellis will be complemented on the inside by the two highly-touted incoming freshman as well as returnees Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson, both 6-foot-10 seniors. Traylor is a high-energy "intangibles" player who averaged 20.4 minutes per game last season and averaged 4.8 points with 3.7 rebounds per game. Mickelson, who saw his first action for Kansas last season after transferring from Arkansas, could be poised for an improved season.
2015 Kansas Backcourt
Mason III and Selden Jr. make up a formidable starting backcourt duo for the Jayhawks. Mason III started all 36 games last season and averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. The junior has long been a favorite of Self's for his hard-nosed play. As noted, it has been a bit of an up-and-down career to this point for Selden Jr., but his performance overseas this summer in the World University Games gives reason for optimism.
Mason III and Selden Jr. will often be joined in a three-guard lineup by Devonte' Graham. The sophomore averaged 5.7 points and 2.1 assists in 17.8 minutes per game a season ago. Self and the Jayhawks are expecting big step forward from Graham this season.
Completing the deep backcourt for the Jayhawks is sharpshooting junior Brannen Greene, who converted 42.5 percent of 3-point attempts last season; and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a savvy sophomore who can play all three guard spots.
2015 Kansas Future Odds
Kansas enters the season ranked No. 4 in the AP poll but is the sixth-choice in futures betting to win the national championship. Vegas oddsmakers have the Jayhawks installed at 14/1 to win it all.
2015 Kansas Jayhawks Predictions and NCAA Basketball Picks
Kansas has all the tools to make a run at a national championship this season. But the same could have been said a season ago as well. Perhaps another year of experience will prove the difference for Ellis, Selden, Mason and company, but the concern is that the elite teams this season, such as Maryland and North Carolina for example, can match the Jayhawks in both experience and talent. Many years, this Jayhawks team would be a prohibitive favorite to win it all given the roster. But the competition runs deep this season, especially at the top of the sport. Expect another Big 12 crown and deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but look elsewhere to for the national champion.
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