After another disappointing tournament loss, Bill Self and company try to push the Jayhawks to bring home KU's fourth NCAA championship. Here's what has happened since their tough loss to eventual champions Villanova:
Notable Departures (in no particular order):
Wayne Selden Jr. (#1)
Wayne Selden Jr. is a huge loss for the Jayhawks. In high school, Selden was a phenom. He was ranked 14th overall by ESPNs Ranking Index in 2013. Regardless, Selden struggled in his first two years at KU. Self gave Selden plenty of opportunities but ultimately he couldn't continue his success from high school. By the time his junior year rolled around, Selden began to explode. His innate scoring ability and athleticism led him to average 13.8 points per game (second on the team). With his infamous uncle cheering him on, Selden threw down some of the most electrifying dunks in college basketball. It's no secret that KU will miss Selden.
Cheick Diallo (#13)
Like Selden, Diallo was supposed to play a lot of minutes for KU right away. However after a suspension, Self pushed for the size of veterans Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor over Diallo and freshman Carlton Bragg Jr. Whether Diallo's frustration with his time at KU led to his departure or not, he announced that he would be entering the draft on May 14th. Diallo's departure hurts KU. But with such a short time in a Jayhawk uniform, it's hard to say that Diallo's exit is season-altering.
Jamari Traylor (#31)
I'm sure that KU fans are sad to see Traylor depart; he represented the essence of KU basketball. Coming off the bench, Traylor provided KU with a big body to contest the boards and a man willing to lay his body on the line. Although the Jayhawks probably won't miss his presence on the court, they will miss his charismatic "Jayhawk man" personality.
Perry Ellis (#34)
Arguably one of the most beloved Jayhawks of all time and the leader of the 2015-2016 team, Ellis will be missed. Frankly, he could do it all. He led the team with 16.9 points per game and helped Lucas with boxing out down low. Last year, he shot above 50 percent showing how efficient he was for the number one ranked Jayhawks. Sadly, Ellis couldn't perform when it mattered most and left the team with unfinished business. The team will definitely miss Ellis both on the court and as a leader. Although he was quiet, his teammates admired his work ethic and nothing can replace his poise and knack for excellence.
Evan Manning (#5), Brannen Greene (#14), Hunter Mickelson (#42)
1. Josh Jackson (#11)
Yes I know, this guy is good. Often regarded as the top college freshman in the country, Jackson will be everything for the Jayhawks down the road. His tall but skinny frame resembles the likes of Kevin Durant. Although he won't overpower opponents like Lebron or pull up like Durant, Jackson has an extreme amount of athleticism leading him to make tough shots and find ways to score. Jackson is 6' 7'' and 185 lbs making him very similar to former high profile Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins (6' 8'', 199 lbs). Jackson can bring a fresh identity that the Jayhawks have been lacking ever since Wiggins left KU. It's unclear whether or not Jackson is here to stay, but everybody is happy to have him in Lawrence.
2. Udoka Azubuike (#35)
Azubuike brings some serious size to KU. Listed at 6' 11' and 270 lbs, Azubuike can replace Traylor and Mickelson's rebounding of last year. He isn't just a one trick pony though. Azubuike possesses altheticism to be a threat offensively as well. It's no surprise that he is ranked top ten among recruits for 2016 by ESPN. Azubuike could definitely post double-digits for the Jayhawks this winter.
3. Mitch Lightfoot (#44)
Comparing himself to the play style of former Jayhawk Kevin Young, Lightfoot looks to bring more athleticism to an improved recruiting class. Although Lightfoot probably won't see too much time as a freshman, he can definitely contribute offensively. I don't see him as a Kevin Young though. Lightfoot is more of a scorer rather than defender. He finds ways to score with his exceptional reach and fast feet. Lightfoot is a bit undersized to stay in the lineup so hopefully he can find a meaning to his freshman year at KU besides spending time in the weight room. Lightfoot could still be a big contributor down the road for the Jayhawks.
Evan Maxwell (#55)
The Way Too Early Predictions:
When the Jayhawks lost last tournament I was very sad. I knew that this team was the best since the Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey 2012-2013 Jayhawks. Perhaps knowing that one of my favorite Jayhawks, Perry Ellis, would also be leaving added insult to injury. Then, Selden and Diallo left. It looked very ugly for the heartbroken Jayhawks. I thought to myself, "I won't see a team of this caliber until 2020." But then I started to do some research.
I realized that the team isn't going through a "rebuilding" phase. The beauty of college basketball is that anything can happen; the best teams almost never win it all. With veterans like Devonte Graham and Frank Mason III and young talent like Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike, KU could make a deep run in the tournament.
I predict another Big 12 championship for the 13th straight year which I guess doesn't say much nowadays. With Oklahoma losing Hield and Iowa State losing Niang, Kansas should be able to win the conference with sheer talent and coaching. It's also nearly impossible to win in Lawrence with Self at the helm.
As for out of the conference, Kansas has a lot of tough games; they play Duke, Indiana and Kentucky all away from Lawrence. Kansas can definitely compete with all of these teams but it's going to be interesting to see whether or not KU's young talent can beat the top in the country. I predict that the Jayhawks struggle early as they try to find how to best combine talent and experience. Over time Self will put the pieces together to the best of his abilities.
Unfortunately as much as I'd love another championship in Lawrence, I think that the lack of an experienced leader crushes the Jayhawks. But of course there's always a chance that Josh Jackson can prove me wrong.
How will the Jayhawks do this year? How far will they go in the tournament? Will they win the Big 12 again?