The Kansas Jayhawks are 6-0 after one month of the college basketball season. They have two wins over ranked opponents. Their other four wins have come against solid power-five programs or tough mid-major schools. Based on the results of the games, it would seem that Kansas should be ranked atop the polls. However, that is not the case.
The Jayhawks, who opened the season as the top team in America, have fallen to second in the rankings despite boasting an impressive resume. Duke took the top spot after demolishing Kentucky on the opening night of the season. A few weeks later, Gonzaga defeated Duke and leap-frogged KU to get the No. 1 ranking.
Collectively, the AP Poll’s voters have made a statement: The Kansas Jayhawks are not the best team in the country right now.
This statement is accurate. Kansas has not put together a complete game yet. There has been something missing in each game Kansas has played. The team could easily have two or three losses at this point. The main reason why they haven’t lost is that senior guard Lagerald Vick has bailed them out of multiple difficult situations. In three games at Allen Fieldhouse this season, Vick is averaging 30.7 points per game and has made a total of 22 three-pointers in the three games. On Saturday against Stanford, Vick hit a contested three in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime. In home games against Vermont and Louisiana, Vick scored over 30 points in each game and helped the Jayhawks pull away in the second half. Vick is a very good player, but KU cannot continue to rely on him to bail them out of tough situations. He is a talented player, but he will not be able to save the team in every game.
Kansas deserves credit for being able to win close games, but they cannot expect to win the Big 12 title if they continue to play the way they are playing. Their biggest problem is the team’s lack of on-court chemistry. Most of KU’s players had not played together before this season. The backcourt is almost entirely new, as the three primary ball-handlers (Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Charlie Moore) did not appear in any games for Kansas last year. Power forward Dedric Lawson, KU’s best all-around player, was forced to sit out last season as a transfer. The chemistry problem should not plague the Jayhawks in March, but it will continue to linger in the month of December.
Another problem Kansas has is that the team is not getting enough contributions from its bench. The team does not appear to have as much depth as they originally thought they had. Sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa is being held out of competition as KU waits for the NCAA to make a ruling on his eligibility. He may not play in another NCAA game. De Sousa was expected to be a major contributor off the bench as he was at the end of his freshman season. Additionally, backup big men Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack have not gotten major minutes. McCormack has not yet earned the full trust of head coach Bill Self, while Lightfoot is stuck on the bench behind Lawson. They are important players because starting center Udoka Azubuike is routinely plagued by foul trouble. One of them will need to step up if Azubuike fouls out of a game in March.
KU could also stand to get more out its guards. Moore has proven to be a good passer, as he has ten assists and two turnovers so far this season. However, he is only shooting 26 percent from the field and averages 19 minutes played per game. As a freshman at the University of California two years ago, he started and played 28 minutes per game. K.J. Lawson is in a similar situation to Moore. He was a major contributor for Memphis two years ago, but he has only played a grand total of 40 minutes in the six games. Grimes, a starter, had a great first game, as he scored 21 points in a win over Michigan State on opening night. However, he has struggled since then, as he is averaging just five points per game in the other five contests. Self has opted to go with Moore over Grimes in key late-game situations over the past few weeks. Grimes is a freshman, and Self’s freshmen have often struggled early in the season. He should improve as the season continues. Marcus Garrett has been the most reliable member of KU’s second unit, but he continues to struggle with his shot. He has connected on just one of his six three-point attempts.
Right now, the only players who Self seems to fully trust are Dotson, Vick, Dedric Lawson, and Azubuike. If the Jayhawks are going to get back to the Final Four, they are going to need to have a solid seven-man rotation that is made up of players who can get the job done at both ends of the floor. Kansas has three months to figure it out.