This is the first time I've done a post like this, but had I done it in years past, this would easily be the toughest job I had at ranking each player on the team. Even the deep 2010 team had guys like Mario Little and Tyrel Reed, good players but not top 50 recruits like Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp. The best high school wing since Kevin Durant will be on the team, and I still wasn't sure if I should rank him #1 or not. This isn't to suggest Kansas is the best team in the country, or the title favorite, but they have as much talent as they've ever had under Bill Self, and they have all of the advantages they usually have going into the year (namely, the best coach in America) and I think that combo will prove to be very fruitful.
10. Andrew White
I wanted to avoid shiny new toy syndrome and rank White ahead of the similar Brannen Greene, but each time I looked at it, the latter ended up looking just....better. It's the only way to say it really. Recruiting rankings are notoriously a crapshoot, but Greene was higher rated in his class than White in his, and the 2014 high school class is pretty loaded, especially compared to last year's crop. Meanwhile, White played just 5 minutes per game last year and, billed as a three point specialist, shot under 30% from deep. Clearly it was some sort of sample size issue or a situation where he was looking great in practice, because even late into the season HCBS was inserting him into the game on the final possession of the first half so that he could either stretch the defense or attempt a three at the buzzer. There are also reports that he's looked great in the summer, and had a very good bootcamp, but I'll need to see more in game exploits from him before he ranks any higher.
9. Frank Mason
Mason has kind of been the poster boy for fans who don't like Naadir Tharpe, and it's not really fair to either guy. Mason ended up ranked 74th in the class of 2013 according to Rivals, but I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of that was due to him committing to KU. Before, he was committed to Towson but had to do a year of prep school thanks to academics. The other schools to offer him after his decommitment were Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Providence, Seton Hall and Rutgers. Not exactly a murderer's row. Tharpe was even lower rated than Mason and Kansas has turned him into an above average player, but it didn't happen right away (and, it should be noted, his offer list was much better, including programs such as Marquette, Iowa State and NC State).
Mason stands under 6 feet, and while you can get away with that in college, the list of guys who contribute as Freshmen and are that small has to be pretty short. His ball handling abilities are very good, so that is one thing that could help him out quite a bit. I doubt he will be called upon to shoot much with the talent on the team, and he could end up being effective at getting into the lane and getting his teammates good looks. I'm certainly willing to admit I could be wrong on Mason, I just haven't seen anything to sway me from saying he's the third point guard on the team to start.
8. Brannen Greene
Georgia's Mr. Basketball seems very similar to Andrew White upon a first reading of their abilities. As I mentioned in White's blurb, his ranking comes down to the fact that he is rated a better player in a better recruiting class. He also could be the best pure shooter on the team. Draft Express notes that he may be a bit one dimensional, and he might be this year due to guys like Selden and Wiggins and Tharpe figuring to be doing most of the ball handling, but watching tape of him he looks pretty underrated at putting the ball on the floor and he could develop into a go to guy later in his career.
One thing that could point to me being wrong about this ranking is there have been some questions about his defense, and we all know Bill Self won't play a guy who doesn't defend unless he absolutely has to. If it's just an effort issue
(Greene is from a very small school in Georgia and likely didn't have to try too often on defense) Self will get that fixed in a hurry, but if it's an ability issue he could find himself lacking in playing time.
Edit: I got an e-mail that Greene's school, Tift County High, is actually quite large and it appears I mistook it for the city of Tifton, Georgia, which has just under 17,000 people. Greene's hometown is Juliette, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. My apologies for the mistake.
7. Conner Frankamp
Frankamp was once the player in this class I was most excited about. That obviously changed after Andrew Wiggins committed and Joel Embiid blew up, but the fact remains he has the potential to be a special player. Frankamp is obviously most known for his outside shooting, winning the high school three point contest at the Final Four last year, but he's a complete player as well. He owns the Wichita City League career scoring record. He led the 2012 United States Under 17 team in scoring en route to a gold medal. And, despite coveted 2014 recruit Tyus Jones also being on that team, the team put the ball in Frankamp's hands when they needed a basket. That says more to me than any AAU event or recruiting ranking ever could. I don't know how well he will handle the ball or defend right away, but if he gets an inch to shoot he'll be able to score, and he could be half of the biggest Sophie's Choice in basketball this year: do you leave Conner Frankamp wide open to double team Andrew Wiggins, or try to have someone stop him one on one?
6. Tarik Black
Black is the wily veteran on this Kansas team, having spent the previous three seasons at Memphis. He's eligible thanks to graduating from Memphis, and he might be the most underrated player on the team. He's never been a very high usage player (and he won't have to be here either) but his efficiency stats have always been great: he shot 53% from two as a Freshman, 69% from two as a Sophomore and 59% from two last year. While he (curiously) didn't play much last year, in his Sophomore year he was 2nd in the nation in eFG, he's always been a good offensive rebounder, and he was also a good shot blocker in his first two college seasons. The biggest drawbacks are his inability to score from the free throw line and his penchant for committing fouls. If he can stay out of foul trouble, Kansas will get a big boost in terms of interior defense and offensive rebounding, and all that from a guy who shoots roughly 60% from two.
5. Naadir Tharpe
I've made my case over and over for Tharpe, but just once more:
Player A; 43% eFG, 28.3% assist rate, 21.4% turnover rate
Player B: 45.5% eFG, 26.8% assist rate, 21.1% turnover rate
Player A is the much maligned and sure to torpedo the Jayhawks' season Naadir Tharpe. Player B is surefire top 10 pick and best player ever Marcus Smart. Sure Smart is a better defender than Tharpe (though Tharpe improved a lot last year) and has a higher usage rate (too high, I'd say) but I'm not sure how you can both say Smart is amazing while saying Tharpe has a lot to work on. Maybe you can say either statement, but not both. That is stretching logic to the point of not even trying anymore.
Back to Tharpe specifically, he's not a very good shooter. That much we know. He shot just 33% from three last year and, via Hoop Math, just 30% on two point jumpers. The good news is, with guys like Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins (as well as Frankamp, Greene and White) there will be a lot more shots taken up by other players, and I think the offense this year will be a lot less stagnant than last year, leaving it more to Tharpe to be a playmaker and less of him having to create and take tough shots. (I love Ben McLemore and Travis Releford, but there's no doubt they needed someone to get them the ball rather than them going out and creating for themselves). Tharpe won't win Big 12 player of the year, and, because of the gap in perception, probably won't make first team all league, but while people once thought there was a black hole in the Kansas lineup, hopefully they'll come to realize that Naadir Tharpe is a pretty damn good point guard.
4. Wayne Selden
3. Joel Embiid
Pretty weird putting a McDonalds All-American, and a guy projected to go in the 2014 lottery, fourth. I really like Selden, too. I think he could be the best on ball defender on the team, even with Wiggins, and he can score in a lot of different ways. He can get to the basket, he can shoot jumpers, and I think he might even emerge as a candidate for the backup point guard gig. That's how complete of a player he is.
But in the end I was seduced by the potential of Embiid (fun fact, in the earliest draft of this list, I had Embiid ranked 1st. That's how much I love him). While Embiid might end up getting left behind by some of these other guys because of how new to the game he is, I couldn't help look at how good he could be and rank him third. I try not to take YouTube clips of guys seriously but.......man. The size. The athleticism. The ability to shoot over both shoulders. (He has a repertoire of post moves already!) He can handle the ball. He can shoot from outside. (I should put a NSFW tag on those videos). And none of that even mentions his defensive chops. Embiid has the potential to be one of the better rim protectors in college basketball, and with how important that is (if you need further proof, just look at KU's defense with Withey the last two years) it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Embiid #1 on a postseason version of this list.
2. Perry Ellis
1. Andrew Wiggins
I love Perry Ellis. His biggest problem last year, to me, was that he had a hard time adjusting to the speed of college basketball. He isn't an elite athlete, so of course it was going to take some time. But, while it took awhile to click, once it did, look out. In the postseason (Big 12 tournament + NCAA tournament) Ellis shot 65% from two and averaged 5.5 rebounds per game (an average severely depressed by the UNC game). Ellis was, despite his lack of athleticism, a good rebounder (11.4% and 19.9% offensively and defensively) and drew a lot of fouls (5 per 40 minutes), suggesting a good understanding of the game. He also ended up the team's best shooter on two point jumpers, 43%, so if he can get his rim scoring up, Ellis could have a monster season. He also improved a lot as a post defender throughout the year, as he has the size to matchup with bigger post players (and will have some added bulk thanks to Hudy) and has the footspeed to guard wing players on the perimeter.
I don't have Ellis ranked first though, for two reasons. First, while I do think his end of season stretch is a good sign and is pretty close to who he will be as a player going forward, it is a little concerning that the entire case for optimism about Ellis is based around three weeks of a season. Again, not that I expect him to be who he was at the beginning of last year, but he might not waltz into his Sophomore season as a superstar. And secondly...
Like I'm going to be the guy to not have Wiggins first. Cmon. He's not a complete player yet, to be sure, but he has the ability to be the best perimeter defender not just on the team but in the whole country. He has improved his perimeter shooting, and good luck trying to stop him one on one if he decides he wants to get to the basket. Wiggins allows Bill Self to do whatever he wants offensively. He could have four shooters camped on the outside and let Wiggins go to the hole every time. He could go big and play Wiggins at the 2 and let Black, Ellis and Embiid all play and overwhelm teams inside. He could go small and let Wiggins play the 4. Wiggins can dominate games without scoring much, like he did at last year's Hoop Summit, and while there will definitely be games where he doesn't shoot or score a lot, keep an eye on the people who call him out for it or say he's overrated. Those will be the people who don't get it. He'll make multiple plays per game that will make the casual fan and hardcore fan alike gape in amazement, and he'll do many more things that will have NBA scouts and general managers (the smart ones, anyways) convinced he's the future of their franchise.