Using our off-season Power Rankings as a guide, SI.com is asking three questions for each top-10 team in the country. After looking at No. 10 Xavier, No. 9 Arizona, No. 8 Virginia, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 5 Kentucky, No. 4 Oregon and No. 3 Villanova, here’s No. 2 Kansas.
How good is Josh Jackson?
Well, he was the top prep guard in his class and is one of the favorites to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, so it’s safe to say he’s pretty good. But how will that translate to what most everyone expects will be his lone season in Lawrence? Jackson, a 6' 7" wing who will likely start at small forward for the Jayhawks, is already drawing comparisons to Andrew Wiggins, who starred in one year at Kansas before going on to be the top pick in the 2014 draft. Like Wiggins, the only weakness in Jackson’s game, at least for an elite player making the high school to college transition, is his perimeter jumper. Scouts rated him highly in every other facet of the game. He gets to the rim with ease, has excellent court vision, and is respected as both an on-ball and help-side defender. Jackson is also thought to be one of the most lethal transition players entering the college ranks this season. If he’s as good as advertised, it’s going to be hard for any team to keep the Jayhawks from their 13th straight Big 12 regular season championship.
Is Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham the better point guard?
There’s no wrong answer for Bill Self, who has the luxury of two experienced starters in his backcourt, both of whom can handle the ball and initiate offense. That instantly gives the Jayhawks something that no other championship contender has and ensures there will almost always be a steady hand on the floor.
The key for Self won’t be deciding which one is the better point, but how best to use Mason and Graham in tandem. That they can interchangeably run the one and two will give the Jayhawks some of the greatest in-game flexibility in the country. Mason and Graham can ping-pong possessions back and forth, or one could take a backseat if the other gets into a rhythm. Jackson can also slide down to the two when Mason or Graham needs a breather or is in foul trouble, giving the Jayhawks seemingly countless options on the perimeter.
There’s a reason why they’ve dominated one of the best conferences in the country for so long, and the ability to reload while retaining elite talent for three or four years is toward the top of the list.
Who makes up for the loss of Perry Ellis?
Ellis put a bow on a remarkable four-year career with the Jayhawks last season, averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while finishing sixth in kenpom.com’s Player of the Year standings and being named a second-team All-America. His absence leaves a big hole in the middle of the floor for the Jayhawks, one that won’t be easy to fill.
A lot of the scoring responsibility will fall to the freshman Jackson, but he won’t do it in the same way Ellis did. Junior guard Svi Mykhailiuk and sophomore forward Carlton Bragg will be asked to shoulder more of the scoring load, as well, though the former is a far greater threat on the outside. Up front, it will be up to senior Landen Lucas and freshmen Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to recreating Ellis’s presence.