KU coach Bill Self on Final Four loss to Villanova: ‘They dominated the game’
It's been a few months, but we're back for another Kansas Q&A. Thanks for the questions, and please follow me on Facebook if you haven’t yet. (It’s one of the easiest and best ways to help get stories to you.)
This is probably the best place to start, though I'd also encourage you guys to read Gary Bedore's story about next year's outlook, too.
Let's quickly go player by player.
• I'd be shocked if Malik Newman returns. Both parties here — KU and Newman — came together with the initial belief that he would sit out a year, play a year and then go pro. Newman's late-season breakout surely boosted his NBA stock, so I can't see much reason for the original arrangement to change.
• I'd be surprised if Lagerald Vick is back. This one's less certain, but Vick should get an NBA look because of his athleticism. Remember, he was an enigma most of the year for the Jayhawks and coach Bill Self, and the team appears to have plenty of guard and wing options next year, even if he doesn't return.
• I think Udoka Azubuike is a toss-up. It seems almost certain that he'll declare for the NBA Draft without an agent, and the feedback he gets at the combine should help with his decision. Azubuike is a fascinating prospect given his size and leaping ability, but his inability to shoot from outside the lane could lead to one more year of fine-tuning in Lawrence.
• When it comes to top recruit Romeo Langford ... it depends. If Newman and Vick leave, I'd certainly think KU would have a decent chance of landing him, especially because the team would desperately need an outside shooter. Keep in mind that Self and staff also have historically had great success landing kids late in the spring, with Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson serving as two famous examples.
For the record, 247 Sports' Crystal Ball has Langford 42 percent to Indiana, 42 percent to Vanderbilt and 16 percent to KU.
I'll set it at 2 1/2. NBA people I've talked to like Svi Mykhailiuk, and he might even be able to sneak into the first round. Devonté Graham also appears to be a near-lock to be drafted thanks to his improved play this season.
From there, Newman, Vick, Azubuike and Billy Preston all potentially could have their names called, depending on what happens the next few months.
Here's the column Wesley's talking about.
And I don't disagree with his premise. KU's coaching staff came up with a scheme to try to slow down Villanova and trap in certain situations, and when it didn't work early, the players were left in an uncomfortable spot.
Self, in the postgame press conference, said the Jayhawks frequently were "caught in between." They were second-guessing themselves, and because of that, they weren't defending the interior or the perimeter particularly well.
"We didn't do what we were really supposed to do with the aggressiveness that we should have because we were worried about the results," Self said, "because they'd already picked on us some."
So, yes, the coaching staff wears some of the blame for the poor effort against Villanova. Self half-joked that what KU was trying to do worked well in practice, even if it was ineffective in the game.
Self deserves lots of credit for how he's adjusted to his personnel the last two seasons. He's created an entirely new offense, altered his own thoughts on threes and this year has won big at KU with a different style typically reserved for other Big 12 teams.
But, to answer your question, I think KU will transition back to a two-big lineup next year that is more interior focused — something I wrote about here.
And honestly ... that's smart. KU's strength will be in the frontcourt, as Dedric and K.J. Lawson (I'll consider him a small 4 for now because of his rebounding ability, though he might play the 3) will be eligible, Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot will be back (will Lightfoot redshirt?), David McCormack will join the roster as a McDonald's All-American and Azubuike could potentially return.
Add to that the reality that KU is likely to lose all its best outside shooters from this season, and transitioning back to "old school" KU offense would seem to be the logical play.
The three was definitely freed this year, so don't rule out a return to a four-guard look in future years when KU has the personnel to do it. Heck, maybe KU will even scheme creative ways to get Dedric Lawson some additional three-point shots from the 4 position.
But the highest ceiling for KU, at this point, appears to be as a team that will play to easy baskets while significantly improving its two-point defense and rebounding on the other end.
In theory. I know my colleague Sam Mellinger agrees with you, and Ken Pomeroy having KU preseason No. 1 at this point has only added to fans' excitement (though it's worth noting Pomeroy's numbers assume that Newman, Vick and Azubuike will return, which won't happen).
I still think KU's offense could take a decent step back because of the lack of three-point shooting mentioned above. It's tough to create super-efficient offense in today's game without a few shooters (ask Kentucky and Texas), and though improved defense should help the Jayhawks, the net positive probably won't be that great.
It's worth nothing, of course, that it takes good play plus good luck to make the Final Four, and that's not a given any year. Next year's team could be "better" and still have a worse postseason result. That happens.
In short, KU fans should be excited for next season. The Jayhawks should be top five in the two main preseason polls.
But I think the staff would feel a lot better if Langford committed to help fill the team's biggest weakness.
Good one to end on. There are a lot of unknowns still, but here's my best guess:
G Devon Dotson
G Quentin Grimes
G Marcus Garrett
F Dedric Lawson
C Udoka Azubuike
It's crazy to think how, in one year, Self will once again go back to having an embarrassment of riches in the post. If Azubuike returns, and we assume the lineup above, it's possible that K.J. Lawson and Lightfoot will be battling for the fifth spot in big-man minutes.
Sure seems like the bench will once again be a strong motivator for Self when the 2018-19 season begins.