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12/20/2013
 

Team Preview: 2014 Kansas Jayhawks

By: Dan Ilika

Coach: Bill Self, 300-59 at Kansas (nine straight Big 12 Conference championships, 2008 NCAA National championship)

2012-13 record: 31-6, 14-4 in the Big 12

The University of Kansas’ basketball past is almost as storied as the game itself. Launched in 1898, the program’s first coach was the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith, and its famed Allen Fieldhouse has been graced by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning and Paul Pierce, to name a few.

With only three championships over the years, KU may not be tops when it comes to tournament wins, but the team does hold the longest current streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with 24. There’s no reason to think the 2013-14 season will end any differently.

Strongside: The discussion about KU starts with Andrew Wiggins, but it doesn’t necessarily have to end there.

A native of Toronto, Ontario, the 6’8″ freshman wing will put the Jayhawks on his back and carry the team as far as he can. Early on, that looks to be all the way from Lawrence to Arlington, Texas, with the young Wiggins leading his squad by example on both ends of the floor. Should the projected number one overall pick in next year’s NBA draft falter, Kansas has plenty of quality players to pick up the slack.

Freshmen Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason and Joel Embiid, along with sophomore Perry Ellis, provide quality minutes for the Jayhawks and can cover for Wiggins should he struggle on the floor. Senior transfer Tarik Black, a stocky forward who is playing out one year of eligibility with Kansas after graduating from Memphis following his junior year, provides some quality experience and leadership to a team fielding six true freshmen and one redshirt.

The true leadership for Kansas, though, comes from head coach Bill Self. In his 10th season at the helm with Kansas, Self is known for his defensive prowess and ability to utilize mismatches down low.

Look for Kansas to take efficient shots and work the glass to control tempo.

Weakside: No matter how much talent this freshmen crop brings to Kansas, it’s still troubling to note the team lost all five starters from last year’s run to the Sweet 16.

The leading returning scorer from last season, Ellis, had a few rough patches during his first year with the Jayhawks. While there’s no doubt he has improved markedly since the 2012-13 campaign, it’s hard to completely ignore the poor performances Ellis put up that saw him removed from the starting lineup early and never returned.

What’s more, the point guard spot is a bit of a question mark for Self’s squad. Junior point Naadir Tharpe’s handling and passing skills have gotten better compared to last season, but KU will be forced to turn to freshman Mason should Tharpe revert to his old ways.

All Told: There’s plenty of youth in Lawrence this year. While not always a bad thing, the ticket to success will be dependent on whether Self can get consistent quality minutes from his young players on such a big stage.

Losing the core from last year’s team hurts; it will hurt even more if the latest version of the storied Jayhawks can’t string together an identity on the fly and prove that the Big 12 crown belongs in Lawrence for another year.

That plot only thickens with the Wiggins-Ellis dynamic. No clashes to report thus far, but one needs to emerge as the team’s true leader before an identity can be forged. Bounced in the Sweet 16 in a narrow loss to Michigan in last year’s tourney, KU is hoping Wiggins has what it takes to push the squad over the brink and return the program to the highs of 2008.

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Dan Ilika is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about business. He once had a beer with Jerry Rice. Follow him on Twitter at @ParkdaleDan if you want.

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