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Scouting the Contenders 2020: Kansas Jayhawks

Isaiah Moss, Kansas
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, scouts their strengths and weaknesses, and takes a best guess on just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We continue with the nation's new No. 1 team, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Track Record

  • 25-3 overall, 14-1 in the Big 12 
  • In sole possession of first place in the conference
  • Notable Wins: 90-84 over Dayton, 71-56 over BYU, 72-58 over Colorado, 64-61 over Baylor
  • Notable Losses: 68-66 to Duke, 56-55 to Villanova, 67-55 to Baylor
  • 13 consecutive victories

Scouting Report
After taking down Baylor this past weekend, 64-61, Kansas was rewarded with the No. 1 overall ranking in the latest AP Poll. With that ranking combined with their impressive resume top to bottom, the Jayhawks are likely to go into the month of March as the prohibitive NCAA Tournament favorite. It isn't a completely unique position for the KU program, but one that hasn't always been kind. While they made the Final Four in 2018 and the Elite Eight the two years prior, the Jayhawks have not hoisted the National Title since the 2008 campaign. Is this the year they finally get back on top?
Strengths: Bill Self teams are always at their best when they have a steady, level-headed point guard leading the way and a physical, dominating big man on the low block. Just look at their last two teams to play in the National Championship; the 2011-12 edition had an All-American down low in Thomas Robinson, and a veteran guard keeping things running. In 2008, the Jayhawks were led by Mario Chalmers at point guard and down low, they had a number of future NBA guys, namely Darrell Arthur. This 2019 team seems to fit the mold, with an intelligent point guard running the show in Devon Dotson, and an imposing force down low in Udoka Azubuike. Dotson in particular is a player I think is highly underrated on the national level. He really does it all for this Jayhawks team, averaging 18 points per game, 4.1 APG and 4.0 RPG, despite standing just 6'2". Is he ready for a breakout NCAA Tournament appearance, as we've seen from past veteran point guards? It wouldn't surprise me... One of the things that jumps out at you right away about this KU team is their impressive depth. Once Silvio de Sousa returns from his suspension, this is a team that could legitimately go 9-10 players deep, a luxury that not a lot of teams in modern college basketball have. And, the players coming off the bench are far from scrubs either. Sophomore David McCormack is one of the Jayhawks that tends to come off the bench, and he's proven himself as an efficient scorer underneath and shown potential as a rim runner. Swingman Christian Braun is another guy that doesn't start who has caught my attention. He was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, and you can understand why. He can guard multiple positions at 6'6", and incredibly versatile. Braun can help down in the low post, but is also a prolific shooter, averaging 46 percent from deep on the season. Having these types of guys ready to come in and play a role is a major strength for Kansas, particularly the deeper we get in the season. In a hard fought, physical basketball game during March Madness, it might mean the difference between a win and a loss... College basketball, and particularly March Madness, is nearly impossible to predict. I mean, it is right in the name that this time of year has some unbelievable upsets, and loads of chaos. With that being said, blue bloods of the sport still tend to be the ones taking home the important hardware at the end of the day. Since 2010, the National Champions of the sport have all generally been blue blood programs who are regularly at the top of the college basketball universe, albeit with some exceptions. So, it stands to reason that such a successful program like Kansas, who hasn't won a National Championship in over a decade, is due one soon enough. Is that really a strength? I argue it is, because Bill Self is too good of a coach to only have one National Title on his resume. He has consistently fielded winning teams full of future NBA stars. At some point, Kansas is coming to bring another one back to National Title and with the cyclical nature of sports, 2020 seems like a decent bet. 

Weaknesses: One of the major concerns I have about the Kansas offense is their three-point shooting. Their numbers aren't absolutely dreadful, but they are tied for 81st nationally in three-point percentage at 35.2%. The Jayhawk offense rarely relies on using the three-point line as much as others in the collegiate ranks, but the game has changed. More and more teams are living by the three-ball, and KU has often struggled to keep up. Outside of Braun, there is not a single Jayhawk that shots the ball over a 40 percent clip who shoots the three-point shot regularly. Not even Dotson or Ochai Agbaji, their top two guards, really shot the ball well from downtown. What happens when they get to the NCAA Tournament appearance and face off against a team that leans heavily on the three? Will their offense be able to keep up over the course of 40 minutes? It's a valid question... Another valid offensive concern surrounding the Jayhawks centers on their free throw shooting. They get to the line at a solid rate, but they shoot under 70 percent as a team, a number that seems fairly low for a bonafide National Title contender. Azubuike in particular really struggles at the line, which is somewhat understandable considering the type of player he is. However, you'd like to see him shot better than 43 percent at the stripe, considering how much contact he takes in the low post. It isn't just the big men on this team that could improve in this area; Agbaji, Marcus Garrett and Braun all hover at roughly 70 percent or lower. This lack of strong shooting at the line has already impacted Kansas on the season. In their two close losses during the non-conference slate, to Duke & Villanova, they went a combined 20-36 at the stripe. That is just 56 percent, numbers that simply can't continue into March if this team wants to make a deep run... As mentioned previously, Bill Self's teams have not hoisted a National Title since 2008, and while they have made two National Championship Game appearances in that span, they've also had a bad habit of "choking" games away in March. You need only look at their 2009 or 2015 teams for confirmation that March hasn't been kind to the Jayhawks in the past. The 2009 squad was an overwhelming favorite before they were stunned by Northern Iowa, while the 2015 edition had two future Top 3 Draft picks in Andrew Wiggins & Joel Embiid, but couldn't get past a 10th-seeded Stanford in the second round. Even the teams that have gone farther in the Tournament have been susceptible to close or unfortunate losses on the big stage. Now to be fair, any college basketball program is going to have periods where they can't get it done in March, and I'm not claiming that KU is an annual "choker". However, it is fair to question whether this team has it in them to win six straight at the right time, when everybody is looking to take them down. If they hold on to the No. 1 overall seed heading into March, the pressure on them is at a different magnitude.

Bottom Line: With their current resume, Kansas is nearly a lock to cement a No. 1 seed when Selection Sunday rolls around. They've had a mixed history as top seed, but it's rare for the Jayhawks to have this amount of depth, especially in a wide-open NCAA Tournament field. Of the three teams that I've talked about in my "Scouting the Contenders", I feel the most confident about the Jayhawks but this March also looks like it will be especially chaotic. If this team is the one that will go all the way, they'll have to find a way to either overcome or fix their free throw shooting woes. 

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