Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Kansas Preview, 2023-24

Kansas Jayhawks

November 21, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Bill Self (787-237, 580-132 at Kansas)

Three-Year NET Average: 9.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 13.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 2

Projected Starters: PG Dajuan Harris (6'2" RS Jr), SG Elmarko Jackson (6'3" Fr), SF Kevin McCullar (6'6" 5th), PF K.J. Adams (6'7" So), C Hunter Dickinson (7'1" Sr)

On paper, Hunter Dickinson is perfect for Bill Self and Kansas

Photo by Aiden Droge | Kansas Athletics

Kansas had a fairly typical year under Bill Self. They started the year 16-1 and climbed as high as #2 in the AP rankings. A 3-game losing streak had fans asking questions, but they rebounded to win the Big 12 regular season title outright and earn a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the second round. The Jayhawks then had one of the more interesting summers in college basketball. Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson were drafted to the NBA, though they were bolstered by the return of Kevin McCullar, whom many thought would also have been drafted. They added All-American Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson, but saw promising young bigs Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh transfer out. Their transfer haul also saw Parker Braun and Nick Timberlake join along with stud freshman guard Elmarko Jackson.

As indicated by the #2 T-Rank, Kansas is loaded. Harris has been a steady presence at point guard and only grown in confidence since running the show for the 2021 National Championship team. If anyone not named Tyler Kolek has a claim as being the best point guard in the country, he's probably that person. Timberlake joins from Towson and is an absolute sniper, averaging over 40% from three each of the past two years on more than 400 combined attempts. McCullar is a defensive ace and willing to do all the dirty work. Adams spent a lot of time in the middle last year but is probably better suited for the 4 than the 5. Dickinson put up monster numbers at Michigan and is perfect for Self's system. He's a gravitational force on offense, demanding attention, controlling the glass, and has developed into a reliable long-range shooter over his career. While Kansas had some losses to the portal, they still have a deep bench. Jackson is a projected first round pick with the potential to be the fifth starter if Timberlake isn't as effective at the high major level. Braun and Zack Clemence provide depth up front and give Self options.

With Dickinson in the fold, expect Self to return to his big man focused offense. He loves to run pin-downs, using players like Udoka Azubuike in the past to isolate in the lane and use their strength to score. Expect to see that with Dickinson as well. However in the past few years, with less traditional bigs, he has used a lot more dribble hand-off action. Kansas will cross their guards and wings constantly, dribbling around the top of the perimeter, until they can either get a back door cut or an open look. They run a lot, and the theory is if you just keep going, eventually something will open up. Defensively, Self is flexible and works well with his personnel. In recent years, he adopted some of Texas Tech's no-middle style, which aims to keep the ball on the sidelines and limit abilities to reverse the ball. They have also turned up their ball pressure. No matter how he tinkers, though, he has success. For 24 of the past 25 years from Tulsa to Illinois to Kansas, his teams have ranked in the top-25 in kenpom defense. They will be stalwart.

Kansas looks like an immediate national title threat as this is the kind of roster Self loves. He has a steadying hand in Harris, a dominant big in Dickinson, and a plethora of wings. This team will be the favorite to win the Big 12 and one of a handful of teams that gets early title buzz. As Self has never had worse than a 4-seed in Lawrence, expect this team to be elite and in the top-10 for the majority of the season. They will almost certainly defeat Chaminade and if Marquette beats UCLA, they are virtually guaranteed to see the Jayhawks in the second round. That said, Marquette will also deservedly open the season as a top-10 team. With so many transfers and newcomers, as well as so much pressure on Dickinson and Timberlake to fit in early, this could be an opportunity for Marquette to land a third top-10 November win in three seasons under Shaka Smart, having knocked off #10 Illinois and #6 Baylor in the past two seasons.

What We've Learned: As expected, the Jayhawks enter this game ranked #1 in the nation and Dickinson is playing like a National Player of the Year candidate. They are top-10 in 2PFG%, 3PFG%, and eFG% while playing at a blazing tempo. The problem is it's hard to assess how much of that is a product of only playing one quality opponent. They are currently #3 in offensive eFG% and #18 in defensive eFG%. They have a balanced offense with a strong front court and the best non-Tyler Kolek point guard in the country in Dajuan Harris. It's no surprise they are favored to win this game and are the current on-paper best team Marquette will face this year (though UConn and their Maui game 3 opponents may be on par).

So where can Marquette take advantage? Kansas only played one quality opponent and that was a Kentucky team that had them down double-digits in the second half before a Jayhawk rally. Kansas tied the game and then Kentucky went cold from three, missing their last 5 beyond the arc. If you can sustain a shooting contest with Kansas, they can be beat. They also allow plenty of chances from three so the looks will be there. They also are not a deep team. Their starting five are excellent, but Parker Braun, Nick Timberlake, and Johnny Furphy have yet to establish themselves as viable sixth man options. Even against Chaminade their big three combined for more minutes than Marquette's top three players. If this becomes an up-tempo affair, which it likely will be, and the teams need to rely on their depth late, Marquette has the advantage as we've seen Chase Ross, Ben Gold, and Sean CoJones all come up with big plays late in important games already this season.

Marquette Memory: The Warriors have only defeated Kansas once, and it was indeed Warriors when Al McGuire led Marquette to their first Final Four appearance in 1974. The first half advantage went to Kansas as they held a 24-23 halftime lead, but Marquette stormed out of the locker room with a 12-5 run that propelled them to a lead they would not relinquish. Maurice Lucas led the way for Marquette with a mammoth 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Kansas had no answers in the second half as Marquette ran away with a 64-51 victory and appearance in the 1974 title game.

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