Wednesday November 2nd, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

During practice, Bill Self prefers to pit his starting guards against each other. But when he needs Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason III on the same team, he calls for “the two littles.” And Graham always responds, “Do you mean the two bigs?”

Graham, a 6' 2" junior, and Mason, a 5' 11" senior, are far from the Jayhawks’ tallest players, but they have the largest presence and will make up one of the nation’s best backcourts. Flanking them on the wings will be Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the sharpshooter who spent the summer competing for his native Ukraine at the FIBA Europe Under-20 championship; Lagerald Vick, whom Self calls the team’s most improved player “by far”; and Josh Jackson, the No. 1 player in the high school class of 2016. Projected as a top five pick in the ’17 NBA draft, Jackson has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle to his 207-pound frame since arriving in Lawrence in June.

Mason’s main focus for this season is filling the leadership void left behind by departed senior Perry Ellis. For the first official practice of the year, in September, Mason showed up 45 minutes early. The next day, half of the team joined him for the early start. Graham, for his part, sank 250 NBA-length three-pointers every day of the off-season.

“Sometimes we’ve had only one playmaking guard in the game, but this year we’ll go five deep on our perimeter with really, really good players,” Self says. “And with Frank and Devonte’, we’ll look incredibly crisp in everything we do. Those guys wake up thinking they’re 7-feet tall every day, and that’s how important they are to us.”

X-Factor: Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr.

Last year Carlton Bragg Jr. averaged just 8.9 minutes behind All–Big 12 forward Perry Ellis. Now the boisterous forward will be the focal point of KU’s frontcourt attack and increase his scoring by almost nine points per game.

College Basketball
Big 12 preview: Kansas looks like a lock for 13th straight title

Coach’s Take: Bill Self

“The thing about it is that all my very best teams, we played two point guards. You go back and look at it over time, whether it was last year with Frank and Devonte out there, or when we won the national championship in 2008 with Sherron [Collins] and Russell [Robinson] and Mario Chalmers all playing some point guard. At Illinois, we had Dee [Brown], Deron [Williams] and Luther [Head] on the court at the same time. Who’s your point guard? I think this team can be as good as those teams. I’m expecting this team to challenge nationally. I’m expecting this team to be in the game when March rolls around. I love our experience. I love our depth. And I think our young kids could be our most talented. There’s no reason not to be optimistic.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Josh Jackson Fr SF 15.7 6.8 1.7 119.0 23% 79%
Frank Mason Sr PG 14.0 3.6 4.8 120.1 21% 86%
Devonte' Graham Jr PG 12.4 3.3 3.9 123.2 18% 81%
Carlton Bragg So PF 12.3 6.9 1.3 113.8 22% 69%
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk Jr SG 8.8 2.8 1.5 114.7 20% 51%
Landen Lucas Sr C 7.4 7.5 0.8 121.5 17% 57%
Udoka Azubuike Fr C 5.1 2.8 0.4 109.5 18% 35%

Projected Big 12 Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Kansas 15–3 15–3
2 West Virginia 10–8 13–5
3 Baylor 10–8 10–8
4 Texas 10–8 11–7
5 Iowa State 9–9 10–8
6 Oklahoma 9–9 12–6
7 Texas Tech 9–9 9–9
8 Oklahoma State 6–12 3–15
9 Kansas State 6–12 5–13
10 TCU 6–12 2–16

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

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