University of Kansas

Five bold predictions and a record projection for the KU Jayhawks basketball season

This is the type of roster that Kansas coach Bill Self loves to have.

The Jayhawks — even with only 10 scholarship players following Mitch Lightfoot’s decision ro redshirt — are exceedingly deep. Self has the bodies to play with two bigs or go small ball; he can put in a dynamite defensive lineup with Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji and Tristan Enaruna or fill up with gifted offensive players if Jalen Wilson and Isaiah Moss are on the court together.

So how will all the pieces fit for No. 3 KU? That’s tough to answer now, but the encouraging part for Jayhawks fans has to be this: When given lots of different pieces to work with, Self has proven recently to be a master at adapting his coaching to the strengths of his team.

That’ll be needed this season, as KU will have plenty of options when it comes to lineups and style. The ceiling for these Jayhawks is national-title contender ... and it’ll be up to Self and coaching staff to figure out the best path toward reaching that potential.

Here are five bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Five bold predictions

Ochai Agbaji is KU’s second-leading scorer: This probably seems like a stretch considering both Udoka Azubuike and Dotson received preseason All-America mentions, but I’m buying stock on Agbaji following the improvements he made this offseason. Agbaji quickened his shot motion — here’s why that’s a big deal — and has potential to be a high-volume, accurate three-point shooter. He also seems to be an improved straight-line driver from last season, which will be especially beneficial if he can start knocking down threes with consistency. Stylistic changes could lead to point fluctuations for either Dotson or Azubuike here, but this is mainly a bet on Agbaji being better than his current projection.

Jalen Wilson will be a starter by Big 12 play: This one’s tough, because Wilson wasn’t overly impressive in KU’s two exhibition games and even was playing in the final minutes with the walk-ons in KU’s 102-42 victory over Pittsburg State. This is still a bet on the overall talent, though, and an early guess that Self will eventually want more versatility from his 4 position, who will need to complement Azubuike both offensively and defensively. Wilson does not lack self-confidence, and he has the potential to be a tough matchup on opposing 4s because of his diverse skillset. Maybe his development will take some time, but by conference play, I’m thinking folks will have forgotten about Wilson’s early struggles in October.

Marcus Garrett will be an above-average NCAA three-point shooter: To recap: Garrett made 27% of his threes his freshman year (12 of 45), then 25% of his threes last season (12 of 49). Much like Agbaji, though, he appears to have quickened up his shooting motion in the offseason, and though the sample size was small, it was encouraging that he made 5 of 9 outside shots in KU’s two exhibition games. Opponents, like last year, are going to make Garrett prove that he can consistently hit that long jumper by oftentimes leaving him alone on the perimeter. Last year’s NCAA average three-point accuracy was 34%, and that might slip back a percentage point with the line being moved back this year. Garrett shouldn’t have to force threes and can simply take the open ones, which makes me believe that 34% mark is attainable — even if it’d be a huge leap from last season.

KU will have its most non-conference losses since 2013: Self always loads up on his pre-conference schedule, but this season he might have even outdone himself. KU’s slate — statistically — is the toughest among Power Five schools and includes neutral matchups (or potential ones) against Duke, Michigan State and UCLA and road contests against Villanova and Stanford. KU hasn’t lost more than two non-conference games under Self in any season since 2013-14, but I see a path to three here with this particular gauntlet.

The Jayhawks will win the Big 12 title ... in a share: Even after KU’s 14-year Big 12 title streak was snapped last season, the Jayhawks were still nearly unanimously picked to win the conference by the league’s coaches. I think Self gets it done again this year (15 out of 16 ain’t bad, right?), though I see Baylor coach Scott Drew and his Bears also earning a piece of it as well. Upset special: Look for Drew to get his first win at Allen Fieldhouse ( in 13 tries!) on Jan. 11.

Regular-season projection: 23-8 overall, 13-5 Big 12.

The bottom of the Big 12 appears strong again, so most road games will put KU against a team that should only be a few-point underdog. Self has a history of winning more than his fair share of close ones, though, which means the Jayhawks should be able to navigate their way toward the top of the league standings again.

March projection: Final Four appearance

It’s a fool’s errand to predict how far a team will advance in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament, but this KU roster — like many in the past — appears to have the talent and depth to be in the running for a No. 1 seed. Get there, and KU would likely be one of the favorites to reach the sport’s ultimate destination in Atlanta.



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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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