Who Stays and Who Goes? 2015-16 Big 12 Season Lookahead (Part 4 – Kansas Jayhawks)

Fans of the Kansas Jayhawks love Big 12 championships, and fresh after winning an 11th straight crown, people are already looking ahead to the 2015-16 season. The Big 12 was one of the best conferences in college basketball this year. Loaded from top to bottom, the league was rewarded with an astounding 70% NCAA tournament rate, and it figures to be very competitive again next season.

Using information put together from user nallen34 on the Iowa State fan site Cyclone Fanatics, let’s take an expanded look at the impending personnel changes for each of Big 12 schools. Today, we’ll conclude the series with an extended breakdown of the 11-time defending league champions, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Kansas Jayhawks
2015 finish: 27-9 overall, 13-5 conference (1st)

Players Leaving:
Kelly Oubre, freshman, 6’7″ SF – NBA Draft (#13 overall on DraftExpress.com, #11 overall on NBADraft.net)
9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 21.0 minutes per game

Cliff Alexander, freshman, 6’8″ PF – NBA Draft (#31 overall on DraftExpress.com, #34 overall on NBADraft.net)
7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 17.6 minutes per game

Adding:
Carlton Bragg, 6’9″ PF – #15 overall on Rivals, #21 overall on ESPN, #18 overall on 247 Sports

Analysis:
First off, we can address the two one-and-dones: Kelly Oubre is gone. He’s projected to be a lottery pick on nearly every NBA mock draft website, going as high as #9 overall in a couple of them. Oubre’s statline isn’t one you’d expect from a lottery pick (9 points, 5 rebounds, 21 minutes), but his ceiling is incredibly high. His draft position isn’t because of what he’s already accomplished; it’s based on what his tools could potentially allow him to become.

Cliff Alexander is also leaving Lawrence after one season. An NCAA investigation ended the 2014 Naismith high school player of the year’s season in late February, causing him to miss Kansas’ last eight games. He showed bursts of brilliance but was underplayed and underdeveloped, drawing criticisms as harsh as “the worst freshman in the Bill Self era.” His draft value has slid all the way to the beginning of the second round, but he’s still expected to leave school because of his situation with the NCAA. No reports ever indicated that the NCAA were ever close to a resolution to the investigation, and Alexander and the Jayhawks decided to part ways.

As for the returnees, the Jayhawks should bring back all other contributing players from their 27-win 2015 team. Junior Frank Mason and sophomore Devonte Graham will lead one of the nation’s strongest backcourts. Mason broke out with 12.6 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game last season, and Graham had a solid campaign as well, averaging 5.7 points and 2.1 assists. The duo will quarterback the Jayhawks for the next two seasons, and the point guard situation for Kansas hasn’t been brighter since the Sherron Collins era. Mason could very well become an All-American candidate in 2016. Kansas is going to win a lot of games the next two seasons, and the point guard position is arguably the biggest reason why.

Wayne Selden Jr. figures to return for his junior season to keep his spot as starting shooting guard. A former McDonald’s All-American in 2013, Selden’s first two seasons have been underwhelming; he posted nearly the exact same stat line (9.7 to 9.4 points, 2.6 to 2.5 assists, 2.6 to 2.8 rebounds) in his sophomore year as he did as a freshman. Selden’s 38% shooting mark from the floor was underwhelming, but he developed as a more consistent three-point shooter (37%) in 2015, and his perimeter defense helped Kansas shut down an assortment of three-point specialists. He’s a guy who always has the potential to break out and become the best player on the team, and expectations for Selden should be very high for 2016.

At small forward, Oubre’s likely departure leaves a gaping hole in the starting rotation. 6’7″ junior Brannen Greene led the team with a 40% three-point rate, but off-the-court issues and a lack of defensive consistency have kept him from playing more than about 15 minutes per game. Sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is as talented as any player on the Jayhawks roster, but he is inexperienced and played little in 2015. In two years, he could very possibly be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Self’s best option with the position may be to allow Greene and Mykhailiuk to develop with more playing time, but Kansas is still in the running for a handful of wing recruits. Three different players have played this position in the last three years – Travis Releford, Andrew Wiggins, and Kelly Oubre, so there’s little doubt that Self will aim to fill it with a guy that can make a significant impact.

In the frontcourt, Perry Ellis will likely return for his senior year, and he should be considered the preseason favorite for 2016 Big 12 player of the year. Ellis averaged nearly 14 points and 7 rebounds despite frequent double-teams due to the lack of a center to complement him down low. If Kansas can land a big man by transfer or recruit to lock down the position, Ellis could be among the national leaders in scoring. He figures to end his career as a top-10 scorer in Kansas history, and the improvement that he made on the defensive side of the ball last year was substantial. He’s been the Jayhawks’ most consistent player and go-to guy for two consecutive seasons, and that’s not likely to change in 2016.

Kansas’ only recruit to this point is five-star power forward and McDonald’s All-American Carlton Bragg. The 6’9″ Bragg is extremely powerful and a superb rebounder; his game appears to be similar what Cliff Alexander looked like in high school. He’s not as good of a shot blocker as Alexander was, but he’s more polished and should play a significant amount of minutes immediately. If he develops more quickly than expected, he could form a nasty scoring tandem down low with Perry Ellis. Bragg has the tools to turn into the next great Kansas big man, but the Jayhawks must surround him with support.

The center position is the biggest question mark on the team. Senior Jamari Traylor (4 points, 3 rebounds per game) and junior Landen Lucas (3 points, 4 rebounds per game) are the only two centers on the roster with Alexander’s departure, and Lucas would likely start at the beginning of the season. However, Self is obviously looking to upgrade this position, as Kansas is in the running for a trio of five-star center recruits (Thon Maker, Stephen Zimmerman, and Cheick Diallo). Of the two returning players, Lucas is the superior rebounder and scorer, and Traylor proved more valuable when coming off the bench as a “hustle” player used to bring a spark into the game. Hunter Mickelson enters his senior season with the ability to contribute as well; he was arguably Kansas’ best big man in the wake of the Alexander ineligibility problem. Should Kansas land a top-tier recruit, one of the three centers currently on the roster could transfer due to an impending lack of playing time.

Cheick Diallo appears to be most likely big man that could wind up in Lawrence next season, and Jayhawk fans should be very excited about that possibility. Ranked #6 overall in 247 Sports’ recruiting rankings, Diallo is a 6’9″, 225 lbs. center who possesses ultra-rare athleticism. His ability to run the length of the floor makes him a valuable weapon for any team looking to run in transition, and should Kansas land him, the Jayhawks will be a very fast-paced team next year. His stock has been on the rise recently; he won MVP of the McDonald’s All American Game after posting 18 points and 10 rebounds. Zimmernan or Maker could very well wind up being Jayhawks as well, but several recruiting experts and websites are expecting Diallo to wind up playing for KU next year.

The Jayhawks will have at least three McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster for 2015-16, and that’s not even including Frank Mason, who’s arguably KU’s best player. Kansas’ offseason is far from complete; expect Self to land at least one more big-name recruit before the signing period ends. Even with Oubre and Alexander both leaving, the Jayhawks return the core of a team that won 27 games. They should be deep, talented, and experienced – all five projected starters at this point are upperclassmen. Pairing KU’s already-present experience with an influx of young talent, the Jayhawks will continue to have high expectations as they go into the new season.

Updated with new information on April 9, 2015.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.