We have hoops to talk about! And not just previewing teams for games far far away, but actual basketball. Mizzou will face a real opponent this weekend and one we are all innately familiar with. Namely the Kansas Jayhawks.
Familiarity is relative of course. Mizzou and Kansas haven’t played an actual basketball game since 2012, the leading scorers in that game were Marcus Denmon and Thomas Robinson. Denmon currently plays for Panathinaikos B.C. in Greece, and Thomas Robinson is playing for B.C. Khimki in Russia. Far removed from the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena and Allen Fieldhouse. So things have changed. Let’s cover the changes.
Meet your former permanent rival, the Kansas Jayhawks
Since Missouri left the Big 12, not much has changed for Kansas. They still haven’t lost a conference title, tying in 2013 the year after Mizzou left. They’ve averaged 29.4 wins per season and are currently projected to be a top 5 team in the country. Since it’s been five years, there are no existing players on either roster who played against the other school. So we’re going to dive in on who the Jayhawks are today.
If you watched the Jayhawks play last year, you saw a unique Bill Self team, one that often played with a smaller lineup. Part of that was the disappointing show from former 5-star recruit Carlton Bragg, who has since left Lawrence as a transfer. Landon Lucas was a solid role guy on the inside, and Udoka Azubuike got hurt after playing in only 11 games. So Self put Josh Jackson as a small-ball four, and went with a 4 guard lineup.
So what happens this year?
JAYHAWKS RETURNING PLAYERS
Who Kansas brings back starts with Devonte Graham. Graham has star ability but has always seemed to come up just shy of completely being the guy. The question is was that due to Frank Mason and Mason’s bulldog mentality. Graham has all the ability, and he’ll saddle up with former 5-star combo guard Malik Newman. Newman struggled to fit in with the rigored style of play under Ben Howland. He was supposed to be elite and was merely okay as a freshman. So he left and went to Lawrence, so he should have an opportunity to break out.
Svi Mykhailiuk (from now on will only be called #SviTraveled) flirted long with the NBA before deciding to return. He’s apparently lost weight because being 6’8 and 200 lbs was too much. But #SviTraveled is skilled and can shoot it. LaGerald Vick is a big time athlete who is slowly putting things together and will play a big role this year. But the big returner for me is Azubuike. Udoke is a massive man-child at 7’0 and 280 lbs, which seems like a shy estimate. If the Jayhawks get production from Udoke they’ll be a tough matchup for anyone.
The big score for the season was Billy Preston. Preston is a big, athletic traditional four-man who should slide in and start right away for Bill Self. Or, maybe he won't because Self likes to bring his prize recruits along slowly. But he’s easily one of the 2-3 most talented players on the roster. Preston is really really good and will be a pro. Marcus Garrett is a big physical combo guard who’ll play quite a bit. The rest are guys who will be very good for Kansas next season. Charlie Moore, a former Cuonzo Martin player at Cal, and the Lawson brothers.
Now here’s a gif of Blake Harris dunking all over KU signee Billy Preston pic.twitter.com/mzy5lsy1B6— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) September 10, 2017
- PG: Devonte Graham v Terrence Philips
- CG: Malik Newman v Kassius Robertson
- WING: #SviTraveled v Michael Porter Jr
- CF: Billy Preston v Kevin Puryear
- POST: Udoke Azubuike v Jeremiah Tilmon
I would probably matchup Porter on Preston on defense and let KP guard #SviTraveled. I’d expect to see a lot of Blake Harris and Marcus Garrett in the backcourt. And Jordan Barnett’s size and length could give Malik Newman fits.
Devonte Graham is a problem though. If he’s hitting his outside jumper with his quickness and talent around him he could easily give Missouri 25.
With all that said, Michael Porter Jr is by far the best player on the floor this weekend and it’s not particularly close. Kansas is probably going to have to try a multitude of players to defend him. I would go with a combo of Newman and Preston. Preston is beg and strong enough to push him away from the post and Newman is athletic enough to make him uncomfortable outside. MPJ still has the ability to shoot over the top but it’s enough to bother him.
I’m intrigued by the matchup of Azubuike and Tilmon. Jeremiah is more lean and athletic, but I imagine both players may have trouble guard the other. Udoke isn’t particularly mobile in the same way Tilmon is, but Tilmon doesn’t have the sheer size of nearly 300 lbs. Should be fun.
Overall Missouri actually has better depth by being able to bring Harris, Roberts, Geist, Jontay Porter, Reed Nikko. Kansas’ depth is anything but at this point. The only guy we haven’t mentioned is Mitch Lightfoot, an active and athletic big who’s a little soft around the basket but has a good level of skill. Sam Cunliffe will help a bunch once he’s eligible at semester.
The results of this game don’t matter. It’s an exhibition, and it’s for a very good cause. But you put these two teams on a playground in the middle of nowhere and they’re going to play hard. Anyone who tells you this is going to be some sort of all-star game doesn’t understand how this game works. Missouri will want to win, Kansas will want to win. The players on each side are going to play to win.
Now the coaches may make odd substitutions and play weird defenses and run plays they might not normally in the season. That’s why you play exhibitions, to see how your players react.
But his is very much going to be competitive and played at a high level. It’s going to be fun, so let’s hope it’s fun. Let’s hope Mizzou wins. But if they don’t it’s ok. Kansas is supposed to be really good right now. Mizzou is building towards being good.