Locked and Loaded [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 11/7/13]

With all the hype surrounding this year’s team in Lawrence, it sounds silly to say that the Jayhawks may fly under the radar. It even feels silly to even suggest that the Jayhawks are even slightly underrated. Or maybe I just think the Kentucky Wildcats are a little overrated. It seems like every major media outlet has pretty much guaranteed that Calipari’s squad will run unopposed through the rest of the NCAA. Maybe this is a good thing for Kansas. Maybe this will keep them focused and grounded. Maybe the more press Kentucky gets, the more less they will be inclined to over-analyze every jump shot Andrew Wiggins misses.

This is why the pre-season rankings and awards are silly to me. No one has played a single minute of ball and already people are saying this could be Kentucky’s greatest team ever. If history has shown us anything its that the best team usually does not win the NCAA tournament–it is usually the hottest team. Now I don’t know much about this Kentucky team that Calipari is fielding, but I have seen the Harrison twins play. I got the opportunity to watch Andrew and Aaron Harrison win the state title this year down in Texas.

Andrew was phenomenal and has a chance to be the best point guard to ever come out of Texas (T.J. Ford may hold that title for now) and the best in the country this year.

Aaron Harrison struck me as a knucklehead(There was speculation that a video posted by Aaron Harrison saying “F&*$ Andrew Wiggins, we don’t need him.” did not help them in the recruitment of the best hoops prospect since Lebron). His body language got sour when things went wrong. I remember watching him taking lots of bad shots and then hanging his head, sometimes forgetting to get back up court. During a time out, Andrew got onto him for his demeanor and told him to “get his head up and play.”

Enough about the Wildcats, because I’m all about these Jayhawks right now.

Some quick thoughts from the pre-season action:

This is easily the deepest team I’ve seen in the Bill Self era. It’s also easily the most athletic team. The closest thing to a stiff on this roster is Perry Ellis and his footwork has done nothing but improve since his first game as a freshman.

This will go down as one of the most entertaining teams to don the Blue and Crimson uniforms. The way people talk about the late 90’s squads, early 2000’s Hinrich-Collison-Gooden squads, and Wright-Rush-Chalmers teams, people will reflect in awe at this new era of Jayhawk.

People are expecting big things this year from Andrew Wiggins and they should be. I think he will live up to the hype. My prediction is that Jayhawks’ fans will only catch brief glimpse of Wiggins’ basketball brilliance.

Athletically he is off the charts and he can certainly get to the rim. I don’t foresee him having more than a couple 30 point games while he is here in Lawrence. For one, his 3 point game isn’t quite as developed yet (which kind of nixes the Kevin Durant comparison to me–he isn’t as good of a pure shooter. I think his game resembles Kobe Bryant’s if anybody’s. Kobe in his early days was more of a slasher then. People don’t remember how erratic his jumper was the first couple of years. Kobe worked tirelessly to get it as deadly as it is now).
The other reason is that they won’t need him to score that many points. As loaded as they are at the wings and in the front court, it won’t be necessary for Wiggins to have these scoring barrages.

I think the only time we’ll see Wiggins unleash the beast is during late game scenarios when KU needs a big bucket. The team has so many weapons down low on the block I do believe he can easily average 16-20 points per game.
Tarik Black will be a beast on the boards and down low. He reminds me of that kid who played at Florida Vernon Macklin. I think he can be a legitimate force. I heard someone say he was a bit like Darnell Jackson from the last championship team. I’ll take that.

Perry Ellis will be good for at least 16 points 10 boards a game. A real double double machine. I expect him to be a reliable option down the stretch of games whenever the team needs an easy bucket. Depending on how well he progresses, he could be a legit lottery prospect.

I think they will be able to count on Naadir Tharpe and Andrew White for clutch plays down the stretch. Tharpe will make his best Aaron Miles impression while White has the chance to be a better Michael Lee.

And I’m not even sure how high the ceiling is for Selden and Embiid. I think Selden will show flashes of brilliance and Embiid will be a work in progress. He will certainly make a few mistakes along with some outstanding plays. The learning curve for him may be the biggest for this incoming class.

Jamari Traylor has a chance to make an impact whenever he is in the game. He is big, runs the floor well and is an underrated passer. He could play himself into a lottery pick by season’s end.

I like Frankamp (the next Jeff Boschee in my opinion) and Brannon Greene coming off the bench and hitting timely 3 pointers. I think Frank Mason will give Naadir Tharpe a good run for his money by season’s end for starting point guard. At worst he will be a force to reckon with coming out with the second team. I can’t imagine the nightmare match up they will pose with both of them paired together.

I think the key to how far this team advances in the tourney depends on how well Tharpe and Mason can distribute the ball to the rest of the play makers. I’m curious how they will match up next Tuesday with the Blue Devils. I’m sure Coach K is excited to see how they will defend this Kansas squad. This KU squad looks pretty balanced. The front court is pretty physical but the perimeter players on this team will make it impossible to play zone.

I think for every Andrew Wiggins highlight that you will see on sportscenter, there will be 2 to 3 clutch basketball plays made by Andrew White III, Nadir Thaarpe, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black. Something about Selden’s demeanor tells me he is a gamer too.

Not only will this team be loaded this year, there’s a chance they will be an even more of a cohesive unit next year. This is still a super young team. Outside of Wiggins, Selden and Ellis and Traylor, I don’t see anyone else leaving for the NBA (maybe Mason goes but a lot would have to happen between now and April for me to be convinced he’s NBA ready).

This would mean that Greene, Frankamp, Thaarpe, Mason, and Embiid would return to a squad that is already prospectively landing more blue chip recruits. Thaarpe would be a senior next year and tourney history has also shown that veteran back courts can take a team far in the NCAA’s.

We are looking at what could be a mini KU dynasty for the next 3-4 years. Jimmy Johnson said that when he left Oklahoma State for the “U”, it was like trading in a BB gun for an uzi. Self has so many weapons at his disposal (outside of Wiggins) that I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit for a possible rematch with Calipari.

Kansas has the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, so we will know how well the rest of the teams match up with them.

I for one will not miss a single game of this year. I will probably watch more Kentucky basketball this year than I have in my whole life combined.

This Duke game on Tuesday will be like an AAU Nike camp game. I expect an uptempo, high intensity game that will rival anything played in the post season this year.

This is going to be the most fascinating NCAA hoops season in years. Bring on the Wildcats. Bring on the Blue Devils. It’s about to go down.

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