Time for one of my favorite times of the year: way too early predictions! Yes, I’m one of those guys that likes to speak his mind on the team at the beginning of the season so that I can take credit (rare) for such brilliant foresight (or, you know, ignore that I wrote such a terrible prediction piece).
I wrote this piece on November 12, 2011 last year. In that piece, I predicted KU to be a #2 seed in North Carolina’s bracket. Nailed that one. Also predicted we win the league (shocker) and that we’d finally have some good luck in the tourney. In the interest of full disclosure, I also predicted Oklahoma State would be good and that we’d see a lot of Tharpe, so what the hell do I know.
I do think predictions will be much tougher this year. We had a pretty good idea what we had in last year’s group. We knew T-Rob was a beast. We knew Tyshawn had all the talent in the world if he could keep his head on straight. This year there are so many unknowns.
Can Withey function absent Thomas drawing all the defense’s attention? Can Elijah run the offense? How will the freshmen react to playing huge roles right away? There are a million questions.
That’s what makes the predictions for the season all the more fun. Here we go:
(1) Big 12 Champs. Listen, there are challengers once again. But there have been challengers each of the last 8 seasons. Baylor looks phenomenal on paper. K-State will actually be really good. Once again, I’m a fan of Oklahoma State’s team. Texas and West Virginia both look legitimate. But I’m not looking through crimson and blue glasses here. I will not bet against Bill Self. Make it nine straight.
(2) Freshmen will lead. I believe a freshman will lead the Jayhawks in scoring this year. I think it will likely be Perry Ellis early (non-conference) and Ben McLemore late (conference). Perry will be 2nd team Big 12 by the end of the year and Ben will be Newcomer of the Year. They’re two very different players though. Perry is so polished. Ben has the crazy high ceiling. They’re going to be a blast to watch.
(3) Withey. I think KU fans might be expecting a little too much from Jeff this year. I think he’ll have a great year, but he may not meet the expectations some appear to be setting for him. He is a preseason first team all Big 12 selection and probably deserves to be. He can average 12.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game and be the best player on this team. What he brings to the defensive end cannot be overlooked or replicated. He is a true rim protector and if he rebounds and plays efficiently on offense, he’ll be perfect for this team. And he will be defensive player of the year in the Big 12.
(4) Rotation. We know the starting 5, and I expect it to remain the same all season: Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Perry Ellis, and Jeff Withey. I believe Kevin Young will be the first man off the bench and will average the most minutes outside the starters. Naadir Tharpe will likely be the first guard off the bench. That makes 7 and generally Self doesn’t go beyond an 8 man rotation. Traylor will certainly get minutes, and I think that leaves Andrew White III and Rio Adams somewhat on the outside in terms of playing time. I think they’ll both play roles, though. Just not regular rotation guys.
(5) Non-Conference Schedule. KU has a 13 game non-conference schedule with marquee games against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Colorado. There are certainly some potential losses in that bunch, and we all saw through the exhibition season that this team will struggle at times. The good news is that this team will improve with every week of practice and should be primed for a great conference season run. I predict the Jayhawks will be 12-1 when Big 12 play opens against Iowa State.
(6) Big 12 Season. I predict we’ll have 4 losses in Big 12 play and will once again win the regular season championship. The Big 12 is strange this year in that there are quite a few teams that are “good” but I’m not sure there are any “great” teams. But here’s the deal. KU has 18 conference games, 9 at home and 9 on the road. At worst, KU wins 8 games at home, and will likely win all 9. That leaves 9 road conference games of which the Jayhawks will be favored in at least 7. I believe 4 losses sounds about right. And it should be enough to at least grab a share of the Big 12, if not win it outright.
(7) Postseason. For all the math people out there, I have thus far predicted 5 losses in 31 tries, which would give the Jayhawks a 26-5 record going into the Big 12 tourney. I believe that will be good enough for a #2 seed in the Midwest bracket. It ought to also be enough to give the Jayhawks a great chance to make a run in the tourney. This is an Elite 8 caliber team and anything above that will be absolutely house money. If McLemore ends up reaching anywhere close to his ceiling, it could be a very special year.
(8) Defense. They Jayhawks will have the best defense in the nation when Withey is on the court. It may not be all that close. The only weak link is Ellis, but with Withey on his other side, the paint will be covered against most teams. This particular team seems far more advanced on the defensive end early in the season than on the offensive end. They’re only going to improve from here. As I mentioned in my last post, we’ll struggle to score at times this year, but we’ll always be in the game because of defense.
(9) Offensive strategy. The key to Bill Self’s offense is ball movement. When the ball is swinging and the offensive is going inside-out, there will always be a wide open jump shot available. The difference between this team and last year’s team will be whether we settle for that jump shot or attempt to feed the post. We don’t have a replacement for Thomas Robinson. It will have to be a combination of multiple guys that will all need to step up. I said before that I believe Perry could lead us in scoring early and Ben could lead late. Elijah will also be a big factor in scoring. Beyond that, I believe Kevin Young, Withey, and Releford will all be around that 7-13 point range every game. I think the offensive breakdown will actually mirror the 2008 championship team relatively closely, where a different guy will lead in scoring each game.
(10) Overview. As far as expectations, I am somewhat lower on this team than I was last year’s team. I think we’ll struggle at the point guard position and will routinely rely on jump shots. I think we’ll go through periods in games where we just can’t score. The good news is our defense will always keep us in games and Self will have the guys on the same page after the Christmas break. This is definitely an Elite 8 caliber team with a whole lot of upside. It could be a fun run in 2013.
Enjoy the ride and rock chalk!
#kubball, 2012, 2013, Basketball, Ben McLemore, Bill Self, Jeff WIthey, Kansas, Kevin Young, Perry Ellis, predictions