KU reloads for next season

Jordan Wolf, Sports Editor

The University of Kansas men’s basketball team’s season ended in heartbreak this past March, as the team fell to in-state foe Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In order to make sure such a loss doesn’t happen again, the Jayhawks have reloaded for next season.

On April 28, No. 7 overall and 5-star (ESPN) recruit Cheick Diallo announced he would play for the Jayhawks next season. Diallo comes as the 4th top-ten recruit landed by Bill Self’s staff in the past three years. He joins 4-star (ESPN) Carlton Bragg in KU’s 2015 freshman class, continuing the trend of stockpiling young freshman talent year after year.

Diallo and Bragg will slide into an already stacked frontcourt, joining returning starters Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, along with upperclassmen Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson.

In Self’s inside-out offense, strong bigs are crucial. They facilitate ball movement across the court and are called upon for a majority of looks at the basket. The Jayhawks’ postseason demise the past two years can actually be at least partially linked to the absence of star big men (current Philadelphia 76er Joel Embiid in 2014, and future NBA draftee Cliff Alexander this past year). Next year’s group seems capable of doing a serviceable job in this area.

However, despite the reliance on big men in KU’s offensive system, no team is complete without strong play on the perimeter. On the surface, the Jayhawks look strong in this area as well.

The point guard position is the strongest it’s been in years. Junior Frank Mason III, the team’s de facto leader last season, seems to have the starting spot held down, but sophomore Devonte’ Graham provides a spark off the bench as a tremendous backup option.

Junior Wayne Selden wasn’t expected by most to still be in Lawrence this late in his career. Once seen as a top-ten pick, he has shown flashes, but ultimately has disappointed most. However, he has shown significant improvement in both shooting the ball and in playmaking ability. This, coupled with his role as one of the older players of the team, sets him up for success as the team’s 2-guard in 2015.

Things begin to get a little shaky once we get to the final wing position. Junior Brannen Greene can shoot the lights out of the gym, but is known to lack on the defensive end of the floor. Ukrainian sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is more of a combo 1/2 guard, but is 6’8”, which would make him one of the biggest wings in the nation, let alone the Big XII. There’s also the possibility Self lands a late-period signee or transfer to shore up the position.

So what does Self do? Personally, I believe a lineup of Mason III/Selden/Greene/Ellis/Traylor is best to start the season, as it is a competitive lineup that also thrives off of experience. The early non-conference games will serve as a stage for the younger players to get reps and experience. This will be key, as the late non-conference schedule is when things begin to heat up.

Ideally, by the beginning of conference play, Mykhailiuk and one of Diallo or Bragg will blossom into a starting role. Mykhailiuk’s size and defensive prowess will serve as a valuable weapon against athletic teams such as Iowa State and West Virginia, and the two freshman bigs will be needed to battle in the post with the likes of Texas’ Cameron Ridley and Baylor’s Rico Gathers. Greene and Traylor will still serve as key members of the team, just off the bench after the younger guys adapt.

This fall, I will make the trip to Lawrence and begin my collegiate career at the University of Kansas. Although I haven’t actually yet stepped on campus as a student, i already know I will be spending a lot of time in Allen Fieldhouse watching KU in their quest for their 12th straight Big XII championship. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem like such a tall tale for the Jayhawks.