Going for 13 straight Big XII titles, this could potentially be KU’s best season since 2008, when the Jayhawks defeated Memphis for the national championship. With returning players like Frank Mason III, Landen Lucas, and Devonte’ Graham, coupled with newcomers like Josh Jackson and Dwight Coleby, the talent on the roster runs far deeper than any team we’ve seen in a very long time. Of course, when you lose six key players from the previous year, that gives new ones a chance to breakout.
This year, Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick, and Devonte’ Graham have the best shot at being those guys.
Last year, Carlton Bragg was the only freshman to appear in all 38 games that KU played, averaging just under nine minutes per game. Though he only had three 10-point games in the 2015-2016 season, with Jamari Traylor gone, Bragg should see his minutes skyrocket this year. Bragg is such a versatile player that he will be a valuable asset in both the size and speed departments. Bragg averaged 2.5 rebounds per game, with a season high of seven. He also proved that he has skills from the perimeter, as he drained 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. His basketball IQ, unlike Traylor’s, is remarkably high. Paired with his physicality, the 2016-2017 season should be the one that puts Carlton Bragg on the map.
Another sophomore poised for a breakout season is Lagerald Vick. Vick showed brief moments of what his career with KU could be like, but with such a deep roster at the guard position last season, it was tough to get him playing time. This year, with no Brannen Greene and no Wayne Selden, it shouldn’t be tough at all for Vick to get playing time alongside freshman McDonald’s All-American, Josh Jackson.
Last year, Vick’s resume wasn’t all that impressive, as he only played in 19 of KU’s 38 contests, and he averaged just 2.1 points per game. His best game last year came in the NCAA tournament against Austin Peay, where he put up seven points, two assists and a steal in his 10 minutes on the court. This year, he’ll most likely be splitting time with Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk is another big shooter who will have a solid year. Overall, the depth at guard for Kansas is tremendous, but with Vick, Jackson, Mykhailiuk, Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason, who will be getting starts for Bill Self, there’s no reason that KU couldn’t wind up being the team to beat this year in all of college basketball.
Maybe he’s not an obvious choice to have a breakout season, as last year was as solid as they come for Devonte’ Graham. But this year might be the one that earns him national attention. Graham started 36 of 38 games last season, and he averaged 11.3 PPG. He didn’t quite make the cut on an All-Big 12 Team, but he was an honorable mention and was named the most outstanding player in the Big 12 tournament. His performance in the championship game against West Virginia is when he exhibited what could make him go from good to great. If the team can have him as “the guy” to perform in pressure situations like that, it’s not crazy to think that Graham could potentially average over 15 points per game this year. The chances of him sticking around after his junior year are slim, so Graham has extra motivation to perform well in potentially his last season at KU.
With the depth that KU has, you could pick whoever you want to be a breakout player. Svi Mykhailiuk has competed for two years to earn a significant amount of playing time, so the drive and desire for himself to play well is there. Josh Jackson has the potential to be the top pick in the NBA Draft riding on this season, should he play to the standard that everyone is holding him to. Landen Lucas is looking to impress scouts during his last season at KU, though some question his ability to put up consistent offensive numbers as the starting center.
There are a few reasons that these players – Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick, and Devonte’ Graham – are most likely to breakout this season. They know Self’s system, and they fit the standard of most players that he loves to put on the court. Not only will the backcourt be a lot bigger this season, but speed is also on KU’s side. All around, this is the most solid team that KU has had in awhile. With five different guards that all have the ability to be major factors, this might be one of the highest scoring teams in the Bill Self era.
Leaving out the big men would also be an injustice. Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas will have size on their side, as well as the quickness of Carlton Bragg, who led the team in steals during three different games last season. Udoka Azubuike will also look to contribute from down low, but for whatever reason, freshman big men have a hard time earning minutes under Bill Self’s system. With nearly everyone contributing this season, being a “starter” may not mean as much like in years past. From a completely unbiased perspective, KU yet again appears to be the team to beat, not only in the Big 12, but in all of college basketball.