With a season that ended with a less-than-impressive short post-season run (embarrassingly ending at the hands of Wichita State), the Kansas Basketball team looks forward as two star freshmen forego their final years and depart for the NBA. The dimensions to which the performances of potential lottery pick Kelly Oubre and arguably disappointing Cliff Alexander contributed have garnered their fair share of criticism. Nonetheless, however, their exit leaves a vacancy that, if otherwise left unfilled, creates a team with a talent caliber that likely will be unable to compete with the likes of other powerhouse programs this coming season. Luckily, this is Kansas Jayhawks Men’s Basketball and there is no shortage of recruits willing to commit themselves to the program.
Students and fans alike all feverishly awaited any glimmer of news about the addition of new players and, most importantly, commitments from any of ESPN’s top 100. Their anxiousness was quelled when, on the 15th of April, 6’8” power forward Carlton Bragg, the 21st overall ranked player in the country, committed and signed with the Jayhawks. Not long after, on the 28th of April, 6’9” Cheick Diallo, ranked even higher than Bragg at 7th overall, committed and signed as well. Fans, imaginably so, were ecstatic at the news. But the question was, how will these two five-star recruits fit and contribute to Bill Self’s system?
On past teams Bill Self was well known for his concentration on post play. Recruit an animal of a center, give him the ball, and let the big dog eat. That was the formula in the days of Thomas Robinson and others alike. And it worked, too, allowing them two final four appearances, one of which ended with a title in 2008. But this year things were different. Any resemblance to a force of nature center was absent, and the Jayhawks felt it. Sure, Alexander seemed promising, but his short lived college career ended in controversy when his mother accepted money from an agent, resulting in his suspension from the later half of the season. Consequently, the Jayhawks this year relied heavily on outside shots, from beyond the arc, and at first it seemed to work. Brannen Greene provided the Jayhawks with some precision sharp shooting, but as the saying goes, live by the three, die by the three. And that is exactly what happened.
That’s why the addition of Bragg and Diallo might reveal a return to formula. Granted, they aren’t exactly typical centers, willing their way into the paint and dominating from underneath, but they give the Jayhawks more inside presence that can turn into rebounding and offensive opportunities. It will stir the pot a little, adding dimension of finesse with the nimbleness of these two power forwards, and knowing Bill Self a lot of inside presence that will create offensive opportunities all around the court.
But as the season approaches, we will be left to wonder if the Jayhawks will finally return to post-driven dominance, or if the recent run and gun strategy will hold.