RCW: Faces change, expectations don't
Like a broken record, Kansas wins championships in men’s basketball and for the past 12 seasons, it’s seemed like Groundhog Day for the Jayhawks.
For 2016-17, Kansas returns three starters and eight letterwinners from last season’s 33-5 team which went 15-3 in Big 12 play, winning its unprecedented 12th-straight, 16th Big 12 and NCAA-leading 59th overall conference regular-season championships. KU also won the 2015 Maui Invitational and 2016 Big 12 Championship titles and was the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament where it advanced to the Elite Eight. Additionally, Kansas head coach Bill Self was named the national coach of the year for the third time in his career reaping Associated Press (AP) and National Association of Basketball Coaches accolades in 2016-17. Self was also the 2016 Big 12 Coach of the Year by the AP, earning the conference honor for the seventh time.
Senior Frank Mason III and junior Devonte’ Graham return in the backcourt as starters, as does senior forward Landen Lucas. All three earned All-Big 12 recognition last season with Mason garnering All-Big 12 Second Team for the second-straight season. Graham and Lucas were all-conference honorable mention in 2015-16 and Mason and Graham were also named to the five-person the Big 12 All-Defensive Team.
Mason is Kansas’ leading returning scorer at 12.9 points per game, which ranked 12th in the Big 12 and is the second-highest returning scorer in the league for 2016-17. He led KU in assists at 4.6, which was fourth in the conference. Graham averaged 11.3 points per game and was the team leader in steals with 1.4 per contest. Lucas, who scored 5.8 points per game, started 19 of KU’s final 20 games and led the Jayhawks in rebounds at 6.8 per outing, which was seventh in the conference and is the second leading returner in the league for this year.
Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr., should play more of a key role this upcoming season. Bragg, who averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, played in all 38 games for KU in 2015-16 in a backup role to Jayhawk All-American Perry Ellis. Other key returnees for Kansas in 2016-17 include junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (5.4 ppg, 37 3-pointers) and sophomore guard Lagerald Vick (2.1 ppg). Junior forward Dwight Coleby will also add depth to the inside. Coleby sat out last year after transferring from Ole Miss. He averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game his sophomore for the Rebels in 2014-15.
Frank Mason III
Led by No. 1 overall recruit Josh Jackson, Kansas’ newcomers rank as one of the highest recruiting classes in the nation entering 2016-17. Joining Jackson in the rookie class are center Udoka Azubuike and forward Mitch Lightfoot. Those three will be eligible this season. Two other newcomers – guard Malik Newman (Mississippi State) and center Evan Maxwell (Liberty) – will practice with KU but will sit out the upcoming season due to transfer rules.
Jackson is the third overall No. 1 recruit to play at Kansas since 2010-11, joining Josh Selby (2010-11) and Andrew Wiggins (2013-14). Jackson and Azubuike were McDonald’s All-Americans last season as Azubuike was ranked No. 22 in the final ESPN100 rankings. Look for both to contribute immediately, while Lightfoot, the 2016 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, will also be a spark in the big man rotation.
Under Self, Kansas has posted seven 30-win seasons, including five of the last seven years. The Jayhawks enter 2016-17 as the winningest team, by percentage, in the current decade, posting a 216-43 (83.4 percent) record since 2010. KU’s 12-straight league titles are second on the NCAA record book and one shy of UCLA’s 13 consecutive from 1967-79. The Jayhawks enter 2016-17 with the nation’s longest home court winning streak at 42 games, which includes 40-straight wins inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.
A recurring theme for Kansas men’s basketball is “Faces change, expectations don’t.” Under Self, that mantra remains the same for 2016-17 as the Jayhawks chase history in vying for their 13th-straight conference regular-season title and what would hopefully become the school’s 15th Final Four and sixth national championship.