Two years removed from a National Championship, the Kansas Jayhawks look to do it again, and is our pick to do so.
The date is April 4th 2022. The time is roughly 10:30 PM Kansas time. The Jayhawks have come back from down 15 at the half and are seconds away from a national championship. Caleb Love misses the three, and the Jayhawks do it for the first time since 2008. Now, they are hungry and looking to recapture that feeling and have the talent to do so.
The main reason why is the acquisition of Hunter Dickinson. The 7-2 center has been one of the best in the country since he stepped foot in college, averaging 17.2 PPG and 8.4 RPG in his three seasons at Michigan. Now, he joins the Jayhawks, where Bill Self has been known to maximize the talent of his big men and gives Dickinson the ability to become the best player in the country.
Along with Dickinson are Dajuan Harris, Kevin McCullar, and KJ Adams. Harris is one of the best guards in the country, finding the open man on offense and locking down any guard that tries to challenge Harris on defense. Harris is a champion and knows what it takes to get to the big game. Adams is also a champion, although his role now is much bigger than the one on that team. Adams broke out last year and is a high-energy player on both ends of the floor. Then, there’s McCullar, a solid 3 and D player who really perfects this lineup.
They did lose a lot to the draft and the portal, but they still have lots of other talented players on the roster, including Elmarko Jackson, a five-star freshman, Nick Timberlake, a sharpshooter from Towson, and Johnny Furphy, the Australian sensation with a ceiling that excites many.
As per usual, Kansas will have one of the toughest non-conference slates in the country. This includes games against #16 Kentucky, #6 UConn, and the Maui Invitational, which features five of the top 11 teams in the country. Oh, and they also play Missouri and Indiana. That’s just the non-conference too. They then have to play in the best conference in college basketball, which just welcomed Houston a consistent top-ten program, as well as several other teams.
With Bill Self leading the charge, Kansas is as dangerous as any team in the country, and they have a serious chance at winning it all. Don’t be surprised if they’re cutting down nets in April.
Head coach: Bill Self (31st season, 21st at Kansas)
2022-23 record: 28-8 (13-5)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Arkansas, 72-71, in second round of NCAA Tournament
Notable departures: Jalen Wilson (NBA Draft), Gradey Dick (NBA Draft), Joseph Yesufu (Transferred to Washington State), Ernest Udeh (Transferred to TCU), Bobby Pettiford (Transferred to Eastern Carolina), MJ Rice (Transferred to NC State)
Notable nonconference games: vs. Kentucky (Nov. 14, in Chicago), Maui Invitational (Nov. 20-22), vs. UConn (Dec. 1), vs. Missouri (Dec. 9), at Indiana (Dec. 16), vs. Wichita State (Dec. 30)
PG: Dajuan Harris (6-2, 170, Rs.-Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, 2.5 RPG, 2.2 SPG
SG: Nick Timberlake (6-4, 195, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 17.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG (Towson)
SF: Kevin McCullar Jr. (6-7, 212, Rs.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.0 SPG
PF: KJ Adams Jr. (6-7, 235, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG
C: Hunter Dickinson (7-2, 260, Sr.)
2022-2023 stats: 18.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.8 BPG (Michigan)
6: Elmarko Jackson (6-3, 195, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 20 rated recruit
7: Parker Braun (6-10, 235, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 BPG (Sant Clara)
8: Johnny Furphy (6-9, 202, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 35 rated recruit
9: Jamari McDowell (6-4, 180, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 88 rated recruit
Kansas Jayhawks MVP: Hunter Dickinson
This is a no-brainer. Dickinson is a top five player in the country, and you can argue even better. He’s the best player in the Big 12, and obviously the best on the Kansas Jayhawks. At 7-2, his pure size makes him difficult to guard, and unlike most 7+ footers, he can stretch the floor as well. What really makes him great is his soft touch around the rim. If he gets the ball in the post, might as well give him two.
Defensively, he’s solid as well thanks to his size. He can’t move his feet as well as a forward would, but he was still able to average just under 2 blocks a game due to his size. With Bill Self coaching him, expect all his numbers to go up even more. Self will put Dickinson in situations for easy buckets, like we’ve seen recently with David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike. Don’t be surprised if Kansas is a one-seed, and Hunter Dickinson is accepting his Wooden Award in March.
Kansas Jayhawks make-or-break player: Nick Timberlake
We already know what we’re going to get with the other four starters, making Timberlake the biggest X-Factor. The reason the Jayhawks got him was his three-point shooting. At Towson, he averaged over 40% shooting from behind the arc the past two seasons, an impressive total. They’ll need him to do it a third time. Dajuan Harris and KJ Adams aren’t three-point shooters. Dickinson can shoot threes, but they’d prefer to keep him in the post. McCullar shot 29.6% from three last season.
So, Timberlake will need to be the three-point specialist. Think of his role like Isaiah Moss’s on that team that finished the season #1 in the country. One of the biggest challenges will be the transition to the Big 12. Last year, he only played one Power 6 team, Clemson. He had 21 and 8, but he shot 2-7 from three. It may take some time, but if the three aren’t falling, he could see his spot in the lineup replaced by Elmarko Jackson. If he can be that knockdown shooter, there will be no weak spot in the starting lineup, which is dangerous to think about.
Key analytic: Defensive Efficiency
According to Kenpom, Kansas is 1st in defensive efficiency to start the season. This means they’re expected to allow the least amount of points per 100 possessions. So, if you’re playing the Jayhawks you’re either going to have to put on a defensive masterclass, or get lucky and hope your shots are falling. Dajuan Harris is an absolute pest on the ball. McCullar is arguably a top five defender in the country and Adams is so athletic that no jumper will be open when he’s guarding the opponent this season.
The last time Kansas finished the season #1 in defensive efficiency? 2008, when they won a national championship. Defense wins championships, and Kansas wants to do just that in 2023-24.
Kansas Jayhawks 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 1st in the Big 12
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament Champions