Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self was quick to accept the truth following Saturday’s 64-59 Elite Eight loss to Villanova.
“We only start one senior,” Self said, “but the reality is, we’re not going to have our entire group back.”
Although there is uncertainty with KU’s roster, the Jayhawks appear to be in a strong position entering 2016-17 even if multiple players decide to leave early.
Here’s how the math looks for now: KU loses scholarship players Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson while adding freshmen big men Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot. That leaves KU with one scholarship available even without any other movement.
The new NCAA rules regarding the NBA Draft should leave KU’s roster in doubt over the next few months. Under the new rules, players can declare for the draft without penalty to see if they are one of the 60 or so players invited to the NBA combine. Underclassmen then have until May 25 — 10 days after the combine — to decide if they are remaining in the draft pool or returning to college.
Although KU doesn’t appear to have any first-round locks, a historically weak draft class could leave many of the team’s players with decisions to make.
Forward Cheick Diallo and guard Wayne Selden seem the most likely to turn pro. Diallo, who was buried on KU’s bench in the second half of the season, still could be viewed as an intriguing prospect because of his physical attributes and late start to the game. Selden, meanwhile, is coming off his best year and is considered a likely second-round pick.
The rest could be interesting. Forward Carlton Bragg would have a huge role on next year’s team while stepping into Ellis’ starting spot, and he has given every indication that he will be coming back to Lawrence for a sophomore season. If he declares, though — there’s no penalty to do so — could he be lured away if he was invited to the combine?
Guards Svi Mykhailiuk and Brannen Greene also would seem likely candidates to gauge NBA interest. Mykhailiuk is finally eligible — he was too young last year at 18 — and he’s gained some buzz previously in scouting circles. Greene, meanwhile, has the height and shooting ability to impress a team with his offensive skill set.
“I don’t know how many guys will return,” Self said. “I don’t know.”
The good news for Self is that a solid base shouldn’t be going anywhere.
Starting guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham should be back for their senior and junior seasons respectively, while forward Landen Lucas will be in Lawrence a fifth year after redshirting in 2012-13.
If Bragg does return, that’s four players who should earn significant minutes. And KU doesn’t appear to be finished on the recruiting trail.
The biggest prize is still available. Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard and the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to Rivals.com, has KU as one of three finalists, and rumors spread Thursday that he was thinking about committing to the Jayhawks that night. Jackson’s decision could come as early as this week.
KU also remains heavily involved with 7-foot center Thon Maker, a five-star recruit who was born in Sudan. Although he has been linked to Arizona State for a while, KU appears to be gaining momentum in the past few weeks.
If both committed, KU likely would have a more talented roster than it did as the overall No. 1 seed this NCAA Tournament, though that doesn’t guarantee success. Landing Jackson by himself would at least put KU in the conversation of having the nation’s best backcourt.
It’s difficult to see a scenario where KU won’t be favored to win a 13th straight league title. The Big 12, which was ranked as the top conference by most metrics this season, should take a step back next year with teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas losing talented players to graduation.
West Virginia, on paper, should be KU’s biggest threat. The Mountaineers finished second in the Big 12, and if center Devin Williams decides to return, the team will bring back nine of its top 11 players from a 26-9 season.
Whichever names end up on KU’s roster, expect the 2016-17 Jayhawks to once again have the highest of expectations.
“The one thing that I really believe that will carry on is culture,” Self said. “But, I mean, I have no idea what next year’s going to look like.”