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Ranking The Rotation For 2017-18

A look at the guys expecting to see playing time for KU this year.

Baylor v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

If you're a veteran of reading this fancy website, you know I've ranked the KU rotation usually in a one post per day method, but given that I have 50 posts in 50 days (soon to be 51 because I forgot Jeff Withey like an idiot), all you're getting is one big post ranking each of the rotation guys this season.

The ground rules: everyone I think will play a part in the rotation is eligible, whether they are on scholarship or not, and the ranking is some nebulous combo of how good I think they are and how much I think they will play. (example: last season I ranked Carlton Bragg pretty high based on how good I think he was, but he never got the playing time to justify it despite having pretty good numbers).

9. Sam Cunliffe, sophomore wing

Cunliffe arrives via transfer from Arizona State, where he played in fewer than 20 percent of the team's minutes in just 10 games before leaving school. His best asset thus far has been a sweet shooting stroke, which he used to shoot over 40 percent from three (although in just 37 attempts). Cunliffe also was a decent passer and rebounder, which is something Kansas will need.

However, he was a horrible defender in the Jayhawks' preseason tour of Italy, and with how much Bill Self prizes defense plus him not being eligible until the second semester, Cunliffe will likely have to wait until next year to make any real impact. It's worth pointing out, however, Cunliffe may have unseated Lagerald Vick as the best athlete on the team.

8. Mitch Lightfoot, sophomore forward

In an ideal world, Mitch Lightfoot would have redshirted last year and put on about 15 pounds of muscle and gotten to sit and prepare for 4 years of Big 12 basketball. In a less than ideal but still just world, he would have gotten a redshirt this year to add that weight and get better. As it is, though, Lightfoot is a bit undersized big man for the Jayhawks, but one who I think has a lot of promise.

He had a 10.8 percent block rate last year, which hints at some defensive success, and he made over half his twos and was 2-3 from three. He struggled with the usual freshman issues, fouling (6.7 fouls per 40 minutes) and turnovers (25.1 percent turnover rate). He got overpowered in the post last season, but I like his defensive instincts and his effort on the offensive side of the ball. If he converts some of that effort into production, and continues his help defense, we could see the start of what could be an excellent career for Lightfoot.

7. Marcus Garrett, freshman guard

Standard PSA applies here, but I am not a recruiting guy. It's probably for the best that I'm not, though, because I can't see how Garrett ranked 54th in 247Sports' composite rankings. At 6-5, Garrett showed as much defensive versatility as anyone on the roster in Italy, guarding 1s through 4s, and he might have to bring that to this season as well. Garrett is tall and has a really nice wingspan. He seems like a smart player as well, consistently making the right pass in Italy.

The lone drawback to his game so far is a slow release on his jumper, which Kansas will probably rework a bit until he's a little more consistent with it. Normally I'd chime in and say the only thing keeping Garrett from a nice year is the fact that Bill Self makes his freshmen earn their playing time, but I think Garrett will earn it. Quickly.

6. Svi Mykhailiuk, senior wing

Svi has finally turned 20, and has a unique blend of youth and experience. He's still basically a stand still jump shooter, taking 176 threes last year compared to just 104 twos, but when you shoot 40 percent from deep you should take as many threes as you want. He's never been a good off-ball defender, but took a huge step back on-ball last year as well. If he can fix things on that side of the ball, though, he will have a really nice year and his shooting will make him very attractive to NBA teams.

5. Lagerald Vick, junior wing

Vick shot 37 percent from three last year, but also had a stretch where he was just 4-21 over the course of a month. Like Svi, he doesn't offer a ton other than scoring offensively, as Vick had a 17.3 percent turnover rate and an offensive rebound rate under 5 percent. He's shown a better ability to beat guys off the dribble, and Self has been talking up his defense all summer. Add in how well he played in Italy, and I'll give him the slight edge over Svi.

4. Billy Preston, freshman forward

A lot has been said about Preston, especially about whether he will get to play on the perimeter like he wants to, or will be mostly down low. It will probably be a mix of both. The book on Preston is he isn't a very good defender, but I watched a couple of his high school games with Oak Hill and he was actually pretty good on that side of the ball. Frankly I think it's mostly effort. We know he will have to put in effort if he wants to play, so I like his chances to be a good defender this year.

Offensively, Preston has shown the ability to handle the ball, has a nice jumper, and can score inside. He's been talked up as a guy who will have to stay multiple years, but I'm going to plan on him being gone until I'm convinced otherwise.

3. Malik Newman, sophomore guard

Newman was a top-10 guy in the class of 2015, and it's easy to see why after watching him play. He was the best guy in the Late Night scrimmage in his transfer year (which doesn't really mean anything I guess but it's notable he looked noticeably good right away), and had a couple of explosions in Italy this summer, scoring over 30 points in their finale.

At Mississippi State he was mostly a jump shooter (and a good one, shooting 38 percent from deep), but he showed his ability as a ball handler in Italy, and probably will be the de facto point guard when Devonte Graham has to sit. I'm not totally sold on his defense, but love his offense, and he should be in for a big season.

2. Udoka Azubuike, sophomore forward

I made this comparison on Twitter, but Azubuike is a mountain of a man (7 foot, listed at 280 but c’mon) who moves like a ballet dancer. He can get out and hedge on screens as well as any true big man Kansas has had, and can get back and defend the paint as well (12.8 block percentage last year). He didn't rebound great in Italy, which is concerning, but he was a menace on the glass last year (10.6 percent/26.2 percent), which assuages some concerns.

He's mostly a dunker offensively, but he clears space in the lane so well and can go up and get alley oops so well that it doesn't really matter. The only way to defend him at this point, really, is to foul him. He shot 38 percent from the line last year and it doesn't look like he's improved much, so get ready for a lot of complaining from fans who are too stupid to realize how valuable he is.

It seems weird to say this now, when the season hasn't even started yet, but Kansas's Final Four (and national championship) chances essentially come down to whether the refs in the Sweet 16 and beyond will call a lot of fouls, and thus limit Azubuike's playing time (8.7 fouls per 40 minutes last year) to say 15-20 minutes, or they let them play and allow Azubuike to play 25-30 minutes per game.

1. Devonte Graham, senior guard

If you liked "can you believe this guy was committed to Towson?" last year, you'll love "can you believe this guy was committed to Appalachian State?" this year. Graham is likely going to play more minutes than anyone ever has for Self this season, and for good reason.

Defensively he's been incredible all three years (see what he did against Buddy Hield two years ago), and he's shot over 40 percent on 447 career threes, which is unbelievable. He's been impressive on twos as well, but he's also probably the best 3-point shooter in Kansas history not named Jeff Boschee (although Graham should get some bonus points for the sheer number of off the dribble threes he's made).

Graham will handle and distribute the ball a bit more this year, which will cut into his shooting a bit, but after watching him in Italy, I think he's got a chance to lead the Big 12 in assists. Given that he hasn't really turned the ball over much during his career (15.8 percent last year as well), I think Graham, and the KU offense, is in for a big year. One of his KenPom comps as a Freshman was Frank Mason, and while I think they'll do it in different ways, I think their senior seasons will be comparable as well.