College basketball is finally back this week after eight months and a constant feeling of what if after not having closure to the 2019-20 season.
The Kansas Jayhawks are still a top-10 team, but not exactly in the same place they left off in March. Their best two players are gone, they also lost two other key pieces in Isaiah Moss and Silvio De Sousa, and they are coming in not even as the favorites in their conference.
National analysts don’t seem to know what to do with this team yet. That’s because there are still a handful of question marks surrounding this team. Here are five of those questions that will dictate the direction of this season for the Jayhawks.
1. Where will KU’s 3-point shooting come from?
The Jayhawks only shot 34% from 3 as a team last year, good for 117th in the country, but that’s easier to get away with when you have the most imposing and efficient big man in the country and a point guard quick enough to get to the basket at will.
One of the stories of the off-season has been Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji working on their jump shots, so it will be interesting to see how much they can improve on their 34% and 33% marks from a year ago. Christian Braun is the best 3-point shooter returning, having hit 44% but only taking a little over two per game last season. Outside of Braun, there are some unknowns on who will step up. Bryce Thompson hit just 30% of his 3s on the AAU circuit and Tyon Grant-Foster averaged 1.7 made 3s per game last year in junior college. Kansas will need several guys to improve in this area.
2. How quickly can Bryce Thompson adjust to the college game?
Speaking of Thompson, he is the most heralded newcomer on the roster as a five-star prospect and the No. 21 prospect in his class according to 24/7. Thompson is known for his scoring ability—he averaged 25 points a game as a senior—and has the length at 6-5.
But it’s tough to predict how freshmen will adjust to the pace and physical aspects of college competition. If he can be a reliable scorer and average 12-14 points per game from the start, Kansas should feel much better about its offensive promise.
3. Can David McCormack handle the load down low?
I wrote about this last week—shameless plug alert—but it’s worth bringing up again because it’s a big question. Udoka Azubuike was the most physically imposing player in the game, completely shifting the outcome of the game both on offense and defense.
McCormack is now tasked with being the go-to five man, and he has little help behind him outside of Mitch Lightfoot. He is able to stretch the floor out to 15 feet, which is a big advantage. But for him to take the next step, he has to limit fouls and turnovers and become a bigger presence on the defensive boards.
4. Who will step up as a key small four?
This Kansas team seems built to play with a slimmer, longer, and more athletic four man similar to how it used Josh Jackson (6-8, 207) a few years ago. Not only is there really only McCormack and Lightfoot to hold down the five spot, but the Jayhawks also have several guys that fit the body type of a Jackson.
Jalen Wilson (6-8, 215),Tristan Enaruna (6-8, 200), and Tyon Grant-Foster (6-7, 195) all fit that mold and should have a chance to prove themselves. Wilson is tough to judge coming back from his season-ending injury, Enaruna showed flashes but is by no means a finished product, and Grant-Foster scored 16.5 ppg in juco last year, but similar to Thompson, it’s difficult to know how quickly he can adjust to top competition. Having two of those three step into the role would help round out the offense.
5. What will be this team’s identity?
Last year’s team was a lockdown defensive team that dominated the paint on both ends. The last time the Jayhawks made the Final Four, they were a guard-oriented, 3-point juggernaut. McCormack is not likely to be the rim protector Azubuike was, and we’ve already mentioned how 3-point shooting is a potential concern.
What this team has going for it is size and athletic ability. Garrett, Agbaji, Thompson, and Braun are all 6-5 or taller at the guard position, and then you have Wilson, Enaruna, and Grant-Foster who could play the three or four. And the fact that the Jayhawks will be anchored by the reigning defensive player of the year, this team could cause a lot of issues for opponents on the defensive end.
And while there’s definite potential on offense if Agbaji and McCormack take the next step and Thomson proves to be the scorer he was in high school, it’s still unclear what the Jayhawks identity will be.
Thankfully for us, we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.