1) How much turnover do we have? Probably the question that will be dealt with the quickest, but it’s hard to predict a lot without knowing the full roster for next season. How many transfers will there be? Does Andrew Wiggins surprise everyone and choose Kansas? Does Self jump on the inevitable bevy of players decommitting and transferring in the midst of the upcoming coaching carousel?
The Jayhawk Sports Report Prediction: At least 2 players transfer out of the Kansas program and at least 1 new face (outside of the current incoming recruits) makes its way to Lawrence.
2) How does Coach Bill Self handle the PG situation? As was evidenced all season long – PG play is at a premium in college basketball. Self has gone hard after PGs in recent recruiting classes, losing out on guys like Josiah Turner, Marcus Paige, J’Mychal Reese, Anthony Barber, Chris Jones, and Demetrius Jackson. With only one returning guard capable of running the position in Naadir Tharpe – who is a natural off-guard in his own right, similar to Elijah Johnson – the position appears to be up for grabs. Incoming freshman Conner Frankamp and Wayne Selden will be capable of taking over ballhandling duties from time to time, but both are being brought in for their shooting and playmaking, respectively, rather than for PG duties. Frank Mason will most likely start the season as the only “true PG” on the roster, something Self bemoaned not having throughout 2012-2013. With Mason, the Jayhawks get an excellent ballhandler and defender who is capable of playing the north\south attacking basketball that Self coveted in guys like Tyshawn Taylor, Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, and Russell Robinson.
The Jayhawk Sports Report Prediction: Coach Self will most likely start the season with Tharpe and one of the freshman guards on the floor (we’re guessing Frankamp, but it’s early) to alleviate the ballhandling duties for Tharpe, but that Mason will be turned to often to run the show. Each of the 4 – Tharpe, Frankamp, Selden, and Mason – will spend time at the position, but don’t be shocked if Mason gets the bulk of minutes as the lead guard.
3) Will Kansas’ run of defensive dominance come to an end? For the first time in quite a while, Kansas doesn’t appear setup to be a dominant defensive team. There is no shot-blocker and very little size in the ranks, with incoming freshman Joel Embiid being the only player over 6’8. Embiid is known for his shot-blocking and, at 7’0, has the tools to be effective from the start. How well he can adjust to the pace of Division 1 basketball is yet to be seen, as the young big man has only been playing organized basketball for a few years. The perimeter defense is even more up in the air, as there appear to be no defensive stoppers (a la Travis Relford, Brady Morningstar, and Brandon Rush) on the way. Wayne Selden will likely draw that role early on thanks to his length and strength, as well as his ability to guard any of the 3 perimeter positions. While Brannen Greene certainly has the size (6’7) and length, there is some question as to just how athletic he is and whether he’ll be able to effectively defend some of the smaller wings in the Big 12. Frank Mason will likely play a role on this end as well, as he’s the one recruit known for tenacious defense and the ability to really pressure opposing guards. Given how Kansas struggled with strong, athletic point guards like Trey Burke, Keith Appling, Travis Trice, Marcus Smart, and others - Mason’s pressure defense could be key in him seeing minutes ahead of the other PG candidates mentioned earlier.
The Jayhawk Sports Report Prediction: Coach Self always has his teams ready to defend, so only a fool would bet against the Jayhawks being one of the best defensive units in the Big 12. However, don’t be shocked if Kansas takes a small step backward from its run of locking down teams – with no legit shotblocker and a bunch of new faces, Coach Self has his work cut out for him.
4) Can Perry Ellis make “the leap”? Jayhawks followers will surely be pointing to previous big men making “leaps” forward from their freshman to sophomore years, meaning they’ll expect Perry Ellis to do the same. While the first 3/4 of his season was less than stellar, Ellis came on late in the season with a very strong Big 12 Tournament showing. The promise and talent that had him ranked highly in the 2012 class and invited to the McDonald’s All American Game finally showed through, as Ellis was able to use a strong first step and good fundamentals to score against his opponents throughout the tournament.
The Jayhawk Sports Report Prediction: It’s probably unfair to compare Perry Ellis to NBA players like Thomas Robinson, Markieff Morris, and Marcus Morris, but it is reasonable to expect Ellis to make a good step forward. He’s not the NBA talent that Robinson and the Morris twins were, but he’s going to push for All Conference honors of some kind, and should cement himself as one of the better forwards in the league. It will be interesting to see how Ellis fares as the focus of every team’s post defense, as he does have a tendency to struggle against bigger and longer defenders. Regardless, he will be the focal point of the offense early on and will be expected to be one of the top 2 scorers on the roster.