Basketball returns to Lawrence—and college campuses around the country—Tuesday and there’s a feeling of hope that the Kansas Jayhawks, which starts as the No. 3 team in the country, will look more like the 2020 team that was denied a chance at a title than the 2021 squad. Plenty of familiar faces and quite a few new ones are the reason for that optimism.
Since we are entering the 2021-2022 season, here are 21 questions to ask about this year’s Jayhawks. We begin with questions 1-9. Check out questions 10-21 tomorrow.
Question 1: Is this the first Champions Classic matchup against an unranked team?
The season opens against Michigan State in New York City for the Champions Classic, but while KU will hold a No. 3 next to its name, the Spartans enter the season unranked (it is worth noting they received the most votes of any team not in the top 25).
The Champions Classic has been played every year since 2011, and only one other time has one of the four teams involved not been ranked at the time, and that was Michigan State in 2011 against Duke. Every team KU has played in this event thus far has been ranked. So yes, this is the first against an unranked team. The Spartans are also the only team in which Kansas has a losing record against in this event (1-2) so this could be a good time to change this.
Question 2: How will Kansas fare from behind the 3-point line?
Last year, KU only shot 34.2% from behind the arc, and that number dropped to 32.7% in Big 12 play. It was a combination of several non-shooting threats—like Marcus Garrett and Bryce Thompson—with guys like Christian Braun regressing (from 44% two years ago to 34% last year) and not showing what they’re fully capable of.
Braun getting closer to that 40% mark and Ochai Agbaji taking a step up from his 37.7% a game will go a long way. But the new pieces around them should help. Joseph Yesufu shot 38.4% from 3 last year, Jalen Coleman-Lands flirted with 40% last season, and big man Cam Martin shot 44.5% from behind the arc. Even Remy Martin is serviceable at 34.6% last year on nearly six attempts a game.
If these guys play to their potential, success should come much easier from 3-point range.
Question 3: Which David McCormack will we get this year?
After an up-and-down start to the year, McCormack found his form midway through conference play and ended the year scoring 12 or more points in 12 of the final 14 games, while upping his rebounding numbers as well. He’s still the primary force in the paint, and he will get all of the attention down low. But if the Jayhawks can shoot better from outside and use the plethora of athletes on the wing, opponents will have to pick their poison. Which means, Big Dave will have plenty of opportunities to dominate.
Question 4: Which returning player will have the biggest jump from last year to this year?
There are a couple ways to look at this, and there’s no wrong answer. You can look at a minor role player who should see dramatic jumps in stats with more playing time and involvement this year. Dajuan Harris fits that mold. Even with Remy Martin and Yesufu, Harris should have an increased role and it would not be hard to imagine him increasing his 2.4 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists last year into 6-7 points and 4 assists per game this year, while being one of the top on-ball defenders in the league.
On the other hand, you can look at established guys who are poised to take the next step toward greatness. McCormack falls into this category. Jalen Wilson could also have a breakout year if he can get more consistent. But I’ll go with Ochai Agbaji as I think he has the chance to be KU’s best all-around player. If his 3-point shooting is maintained and he can get more creative off the dribble, he has the chance to be KU’s leading scorer on many nights. Add in his defensive ability and if he can grab a few more rebounds, he’s a likely All-American candidate should the Jayhawks as a team live up to their potential.
Question 5: Will Christian Braun be more assertive on offense this year?
It’s impossible to know for sure—like any of these answers—but the obvious answer is yes, given how much Self and others talked about his passiveness of turning down open shots last year. The only thing that may keep Braun hesitant is just the pure number of options on the roster this year. But KU is still better off with him taking good looks and having confidence to knock down shots. Let’s hope that gets through.
Question 6: Will anyone be able to win in Allen Fieldhouse this year?
Fans are back and there’s going to be a lot of pent-up emotion from the past two years. I don’t envy any opposing teams coming to Lawrence this year with the full atmosphere back to complement a stacked roster. However, it still won’t be easy for KU to make it through the home slate unbeaten. Kansas has to face Kentucky, Baylor, and Texas this year at home, with Texas being on Senior Night. I don’t foresee that one going against the Jayhawks. Odds say KU will drop a game at home, but I would bet it’s not more than one and would not be surprised if the Jayhawks ran the table in AFH.
Question 7: What is reasonable to expect from Remy Martin?
Expectations are high given that Remy was named the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. But I wouldn’t expect him to keep his 19 ppg average this year. Not that he can’t, but he won’t need to play hero ball like he has in the past. I’m more interested in the other aspects of his game. He should average 15 ppg without a problem, and if he can combine that with 4-5 rebounds (he averages 3 for his career) and 4-5 assists (he averages 3.9 for his career) and prove himself to be a true leader, Remy will meet expectations.
Just remember, it might take some time. So, withhold judgement until conference play.
Question 8: Who will be KU’s biggest competition in the Big 12 this year?
It’s strange to say it given that Baylor is the defending national champion, but the answer has to be Texas. Similar to Kansas, there are plenty of new faces on the Longhorns’ roster this year, and not to mention a new coach in Chris Beard. Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey are now joined in Austin by Marcus Carr (transfer from Penn State), Devin Askew (transfer from Kentucky), Christian Bishop (transfer from Creighton), Trey Mitchell (transfer from UMass), and Timmy Allen (transfer from Utah). The question is, can they all gel together?
Question 9: Which freshman will fans fall in love with this year?
There’s some good choices here, but I’m going with KJ Adams. He is a great athlete (not only did he average 25 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in high school, but he also won the dunk contest at the Final Four) that already made some smart decisions in his first exhibition game. He also should be able to stand out early against weaker competition just given his athletic ability. And with Jalen Wilson sitting the first three games, Adams could fill a bit of that small-four role and make a mark early.
And while I don’t think he’ll have enough minutes this year, I do like the potential of Bobby Pettiford moving forward. Just putting that here to look back fondly on if I turn out to be right. If I’m wrong, we can just move along.