Kansas Basketball: The National Championship Favorite

Kansas basketball just keeps thundering along. The Jayhawks have won or shared the Big 12 title each of the last eight years and with a two-game lead in the conference, Kansas is well positioned to make it nine in a row. And they’re doing it with the kind of depth in their starting lineup that wins championships—and not just conference ones.

Andrew Wiggins was the most hyped of highly touted incoming class of freshmen throughout the country. The forward hasn’t disappointed, averaging 16 points/6 rebounds per game. But Wiggins has been displaced as the projected #1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft, and by a teammate no less. Joel Embiid, the seven-foot center, is averaging 11 points/8 rebounds and demonstrating defensive skills that NBA scouts love.

As if having one of your own steal the thunder of the hottest freshman in the country, you can make a good argument that Kansas has two more players who are even better, at least in terms of their production this year at the college level. Perry Ellis, a 6’8” sophomore, is averaging 13 points/7 rebounds. And guard Naadir Tharpe is one of the Big 12’s best playmakers.

Whomever you think is better, it’s an extraordinary group that head coach Bill Self has put together, and it’s no surprise that Kansas is now the betting line favorite to win the national championship, at 9-2.

The Jayhawks are 9-1 in what is a very good Big 12, with five more teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Here’s a few quick points on the rest of the league…

*Texas is in second place at 7-3 and relies on two solid forwards in Cameron Ridley (11 points/8 rebounds) and Jonathan Holmes (13 points/7 rebounds). But the weekend didn’t go well for the Longhorns—Holmes has a knee injury and we’re not sure how serious it is, and they got blown out by Kansas State.

*Oklahoma is an under-the-radar team to keep an eye on. The Sooners have a well-balanced team with two prolific scorers in Buddy Hield outside and Cameron Clark on the baseline. Ryan Spangler is one of the best rebounders in the league and Jordan Woodward is a top playmaker. OU has the pieces to make a nice run in March, and are currently projected for a #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

*Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim dropped 43 points on lowly TCU this weekend. He’s averaging 20 ppg, the best in the Big 12 and is the conference’s third-best rebounder. His team is 18-4, projected for #4 seed, and Ejim should be frontrunner for Big 12 MVP.

*Kansas State is slotted for a #9 seed by Lunardi, the lowest of the Big 12 teams. They’re at 16-7, and after they deal with Kansas on Monday. But after that, the Wildcats play Baylor twice, Texas Tech and TCU. If K-State just grabs three wins, they’re up to 19 and that probably gets them in. Not to mention the fact they don’t have to write off Iowa State at home, or road trips to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

*Oklahoma State is going to get an NCAA bid, currently projected for #6, with a 16-7 record. But the problems they’ve had with Marcus Smart’s outbursts are the most visible example of what is a disappointing team thus far.

*But no one spells disappointment better than Baylor. The Bears have the best shotblocker in the league in Isaiah Austin, a great three-point shooter in Brady Heslip and a quality forward in Cory Jefferson, and are sitting on 2-8 in the league. With a 14-9 record overall, Baylor can still make the NCAA Tournament, but they need to think about going 7-1 the rest of the way. With Kansas no longer on the schedule, it’s doable, but the defense needs to tighten up.