Kansas built a juggernaut that’s totally different from last year’s Final Four team
The Jayhawks showed a new look at the Champions Classic. INDIANAPOLIS — Most college basketball teams that lose three starters from a team that made the Final Four the season prior don’t come back deeper and stronger the next year. This year’s Kansas team isn’t like other college basketball teams. Despite losing Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, Bill Self has one of his deepest rosters to date. The Jayhawks’ depth was on full display at the Champions Classic Tuesday night in a 92-87 over Michigan State. Despite being ranked No. 1 in both the preseason AP and Coaches Poll, Kansas doesn’t rely on just one type of player. It’s an interesting embarrassment of riches that Bill Self has at his disposal, and it’s a unique roster composition that hasn’t been the norm under his watch. Returning starters, impact transfers and highly touted freshman were all on display for KU on college basketball’s opening night. It was our first look at all of the pieces in a Jayhawk uniform, and they showed why their depth is going to make them so hard to beat. Udoka Azubuike still owns the paint Along with Legerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike returned from last year’s Final Four squad to be the Jayhawks’ anchor inside. He battled foul trouble for most of the night, but when he was on the floor, he was dominant. In just 20 minutes of action, he poured in 17 points while also blocking four shots. When he was on the floor, the Jayhawks were getting him a post touch on almost every trip down, which is something Bill Self emphasized following the game. As basketball continues to shift towards the perimeter, Kansas can still impose its will down low when Azubuike is on the floor. The freshmen are worth the hype McDonald’s All-Americans are no stranger to Lawrence, and this year’s rendition of the Jayhawks has three of them in Quentin Grimes, Devin Dotson and David McCormack. The backcourt duo of Grimes and Dotson got the starting nod and did not waste their moment in the spotlight. Grimes pour in a game-high 21 points, including a 6-10 performance from distance, by displaying the sweet shooting stroke that has him projected as a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Dotson drew comparisons to Frank Mason with his speed in transition en route to 16 points. McCormack saw just five minutes of game time, but Self praised him postgame for his energy off the bench in limited time. The trio will have its ups and downs throughout the season as all freshmen do. If Monday night was any indicator, there will be plenty of ups. Talented transfers made an immediate impact Azubuike is probably the most familiar Jayhawk to the general college basketball crowd, but Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson might be their best overall talent. The forward impacted the game from all over the floor on Tuesday night, putting up a final stat line of 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and pair of steals and blocks each. On top of that, he iced the game from the free throw line down the stretch as Michigan State made one final push. Lawson’s brother KJ didn’t have quite the impact, but still knocked in a three and hauled in six rebounds in his 10 minute stint. Charlie Moore, a Cal transfer that was a double figures scorer in his lone season out west, only took one shot. That’s not an indictment on Moore. Kansas is just that deep and has so many options on offense that he can play an ancillary role. He’ll have his moments. Role players allow them to go 10 players deep Legerald Vick is the other starter to return from last year’s team, but there was uncertainty for most of the summer over whether he would even be on the roster. Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett provided solid minutes off the bench last year and will be counted on to do so again this year. Those three won’t be called upon do any heavy lifting, but they each bring something to the table that will help Kansas win a lot of games. Ten players saw the floor for the Jayhawks and all 10 got into the scoring column. That won’t be the case on every night. But to do it against a top 10 team on opening night? That should put the rest of the country on notice if they aren’t already. This Kansas team is deep. They have multiple ways to beat you. That’s why they’re the top team in the country.