My favorite quote about predictors and prognosticators comes from former Kansas City Star columnist, Bill Vaughan. He wrote: ”The groundhog is like most prophets; it delivers its prediction then disappears.” I generally have the same feeling about sports handicapping and preseason predictions.
They’re all made by groundhogs.
So let’s get this out of the way. I’m not a handicapper. I’m a fan. But I also hold my team to a higher standard than just about anyone else because I want what is best for them. In short, I like to think I can make impartial predictions, and I am happy to stand by them for the season and beyond.
This is the third iteration of the Jayhawk Talk season predictions blog post. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 predictions are linked. In 2011, I predicted KU to be a #2 seed in UNC’s bracket. Also predicted T-Rob to go from a 7 and 6 guy to a 17 and 10 guy. Nailed those. In 2012, I predicted KU’s non-conference and conference records accurately and said Withey wins defensive player of the year easily. Nailed those too.
I also predicted Big 12 championships for those two years, but that isn’t much of a prediction these days.
To be fair, I missed a bunch of stuff too. Namely that OSU would be #2 behind KU in 2011 (7th) and that Perry Ellis would lead us in scoring last year early in the season (lost his starting job). But the misses aren’t any fun to talk about. The same goes for this intro.
Let’s get into the 2013-14 Jayhawks, shall we?
(1) This Wiggins Fella. Forget talking about the Big 12 season or postseason. No Kansas blog post would be complete without spending an exorbitant amount of time on Andrew Wiggins. My prediction? He has a terrific season. Every reasonable college basketball fan will praise his athleticism and impact on the game. But to many, he’ll be a disappointment. That’s because I think he’ll average something like 15.5 points, 5.5 boards, 2 blocks, and 3 assists. He’ll potentially affect the game more on defense than offense (I think he’ll lead the team in blocks). And his presence on the court alone will open up the offense in other places. In short, I think he’ll be a difference maker. Even if his stats don’t bear it out.
(2) Non-Conference Record. There are 13 non-conference games with marquee matchups against Duke, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Georgetown. It is a ridiculously difficult schedule — one that will be nearly impossible to navigate without yielding a loss. My prediction is that KU ends up at 11-2, which I think most reasonable fans would take. Most likely losses include Duke and Florida. The good news is that the Big 12 season should be an easier slate than the non-conference season, leaving the possibility for a great tournament seed and very high ranking by the end of the year.
(3) Conference Record. KU has an enormous advantage over the Big 12 due to its ridiculous home court advantage. Barring injury, the Jayhawks will be favored in every game played at home. With a 9-0 head start on the league, the team only has to go 6-3 or better on the road to pretty much guarantee a share of the season title. I believe that will be the exact record at the end of the conference season, 15-3. Losses could occur @KSU, @ISU, @OSU, or @Baylor. I will say this… I don’t think TCU will be one of the losses for the second year in a row.
(4) Big 12 Champs. It’s impossible to predict any other team to win the Big 12 regular season title until it actually happens. And, well, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. It’s not that KU is overwhelmingly better than teams like OSU, Baylor, or ISU. There are some really good players in the league this year. The difference is KU’s incredible home court advantage, Bill Self’s in-season coaching, and the general pedigree of winning these things. The only remaining question is how long it takes to see a picture of Self wearing all ten rings.
(5) Rotation. The rotation seems to be the hot button topic among KU diehards. For the first time in a long time, there is a ridiculous amount of depth on this KU team. We know the starters are going to be Ellis, Tharpe, Black, Wiggins, and Selden. What we don’t know is how deep Self will go on the bench. I predict the main rotation to include Embiid, Traylor, White, and Mason. That’s 9 guys. Rarely has a Bill Self team gone beyond 8 or 9, much less 10. As a result, I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of Greene or Frankamp this season, except when the team needs a spark.
(6) Don’t forget about the veterans. This team has a great deal of hype, largely due to the best recruiting class Bill Self has ever brought to KU. Wiggins, Selden, and Embiid will all play a lot of minutes and will be a huge part of the success of the team. But even though KU returns no starters from the 2012-13 season, it does have legitimate veteran presence. Perry Ellis is a monster (more to come on that) and if the two exhibition games are any representation at all, Naadir Tharpe is a different player (15 assists, 0 turnovers). Jamari Traylor also has a role on this team (reports are that Self has been having him watch tape of Kevin Young to show him the type of energy he needs to bring to get minutes). In short, the vets will be just as important as the freshmen, especially early on when the lights are still bright.
(7) Perry Ellis. This is a bad, bad man. He may be quiet. He may not do anything flashy. But Perry is a true assassin with the basketball in his hands. The last third of the 2012-13 season was his coming out party, even if some fans expected to see it earlier. My prediction is that he will lead this team in scoring. Even over that Wiggins guy. Sure, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson have been named Preseason All-Big 12 first teamers and Ellis was not on the list. I predict Ellis will force voters to remove one of these guys at the end of the season.
(8) Offense. I believe the normal Bill Self offense will be on display most of the time. In fact if you aren’t watching closely, it may seem similar to past years. You’ll still see the high-low motion. You’ll still see the same ball movement and inside-out attack. There will be a few differences, though. Self will most certainly install a “Wiggins Package” of plays, designed to get Andrew one-on-one against a single defender. The same can be said for Selden, though his plays may revolve more around posting up his (much smaller) defender. These two players are too valuable on the offensive end not to feature them in NBA-type isolation sets. It will be interesting to see how often these plays occur and how they assimilate into the overall offense. It is also worth noting that because of the team’s depth, there are multiple opportunities for mismatches on the offensive end that could change game to game. We have the low block banger bigs (Black, Jamari), the skilled and quicker bigs (Perry, Embiid), the jet off the bench (Mason), and the 3-point assassins (Greene, Frankamp, White). Depending on the defense, the game plan could change from game to game when it comes to the rotation.
(9) Defense. It is impossible to replace Jeff Withey. His impact on the defensive side of the ball was immeasurable. He allowed our guards to gamble a bit because the guards knew Withey was behind them scaring penetration away from the paint. This team will need to be much more sound when it comes to on-ball defense because there isn’t a bonafide rim protector in the paint this year. Through two exhibition games, you have probably heard Self mention more than once that on-ball defense is the area where the team could use the most improvement. The good news is the starters should, in theory, be great on-ball defenders. Tharpe was a bit of a liability on the defensive end last year, but hopefully he has improved. Wiggins and Selden are both so long and athletic that they should, in theory, be able to learn to play great defense. Black also provides a new dynamic on defense that we did not have before he transferred to KU. Remember how Perry got knocked around the block by bigger guys last year? That won’t be the case with Black. He is the one who knocks.
(10) Overall Record. For those math majors out there, I have predicted 11-2 for the non-con schedule and 15-3 for the conference slate. That’s a lovely 26-5 record, good for a #2 seed in the tourney.
(11) Tourney. Last year I said the Jayhawks were an “Elite 8 caliber” team. This year is different. While college basketball as a whole has some great teams this year, it’s hard to argue with the sentiment that this team has the talent to compete at the very highest level. Success in the tournament has so many variables, including luck of the draw, so it is often difficult to predict. That said, I think most KU fans would be disappointed not to make it out of the second weekend this year. KU ran into a buzz saw with Michigan last year. I predict this team has a little bit of luck and the Jayhawks reach the Final Four in Dallas. Dallas…an enormous KU alumni city.
From there, you never know what could happen.