By Kansas standards, it was an off year in 2020-21 – 2021-22 looks like anything but before the ball has tipped. The Jayhawks are loaded with talent, including returners and a bevy of transfers who have helped turn this into one of the best teams in the country on paper.
So, let’s preview what to expect from this upcoming edition of Kansas men’s basketball.
Kansas Men’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
Kansas Men’s Basketball Preview: Departures
Most of the rotation from 2020-21 is back for 2021-22, so this won’t be a long section. But there are a couple faces misses, and Marcus Garrett is the biggest one.
Garrett was one of the main guards for the Jayhawks last season and put up a respectable stat line – 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. But his offensive game did have shortcomings, and he wasn’t fully able to snatch that role of main offensive creator.
What Garrett may have lacked when his team had the ball was not true for when it was with the opponent. He would regularly lock it down on the perimeter and served as the primary defender for Kansas in that part of the floor. Garrett finished the 2020-21 campaign with a fantastic 96.3 defensive rating and a 1.8 defensive win share, both indicative of a player who made a serious difference on that side of the ball.
Bryce Thompson is the other piece of the puzzle who won’t be around for 2021-22 after transferring to Oklahoma State. He played a much smaller role than Garrett, and his departure won’t have as large of an impact. Head coach Bill Self replaced Thompson him more than adequately in the offseason.
Kansas Men’s Basketball Preview: Additions
Bill Self hit the transfer portal HARD in the offseason.
Remy Martin, one of the most explosive players in college basketball, came over from Arizona State to finish out his college career. He averaged 19.1 points and 3.7 assists per game for the Sun Devils in 2020-21, showcasing his outstanding ability to get the ball in the bucket.
I suspect his scoring numbers will be slightly down in Lawrence, because he shouldn’t have a 29.1 usage percentage again with the amount of other talent around him, but that won’t mean his effectiveness will be less. Martin had 2.1 offensive win shares in 2020-21, can genuinely score from anywhere on the floor, and is a constant threat with the ball in his hands. Whether he has the rock or not, he will change how defenses will approach Kansas when he’s in the game.
Joseph Yesufu is the next-biggest add to the squad. He was instrumental to Drake’s run to the NCAA Tournament last season, and like Martin, he offers Self something he didn’t have last season: a guard who can command the floor and lead the breaking down of opposing defenses.
There is a reasonable concern that Martin and Yesufu – two dynamic guards capable of running the offense who demand the ball be in their hands – won’t be able to coexist, but if they can find a comfortable split in their duties, Kansas will be an absolute force nationally, let alone in the Big 12.
Other incoming transfers include journeyman Jalen Coleman-Lands, who is now at his fourth school since beginning his college career in the 2015-16 season, and Cam Martin, a three-time Division II All-American at Missouri Southern State. Coleman-Lands offers perimeter shooting (though he’s been streaky from deep at various points of his college career), and Martin scored 25 points per game while shooting 44.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2020-21, but that was against a different caliber of competition.
Four four-star freshmen are entering the program – Bobby Pettiford, KJ Adams, Kyle Cuffe Jr., and Zach Clemence – providing additional depth to the roster. None of these players will crack the starting lineup, but some of them could find sizable roles within the rotation.
In all, Kansas has one of the best incoming group of players in the nation, and the new talent is the biggest reason why the Jayhawks are viewed as a serious threat for the national championship.
Kansas Men’s Basketball Preview: Returners
The returners are big reason for KU’s preseason hype, too.
Ochai Agbaji, who was the team’s top scorer from a year ago, is back for his senior season. With Martin and Yesufu in the mix and capable of drawing plenty of defensive attention to them, it will open up more space for Agbaji to shoot from deep and slash to the basket, increasing his effectiveness. Agbaji was one of the players most relied upon for scoring in 2020-21 – having Martin and Yesufu there to absorb more of that pressure will really help Agbaji.
It will also be helpful to Christian Braun, who’s likely to now be one of the first players off the bench with the incoming players. With Martin and Yesufu driving hard to the tin, more perimeter opportunities for Braun will open, allowing him to catch-and-shoot or fake and drive himself after one of his guards has already moved the defense.
David McCormack and Jalen Wilson are the returning big men who will find themselves in the starting lineup. McCormack came on in a big way in the later portion of last season, enough to win the Big 12’s Most Improved Player award, and is primed for an outstanding 2021-22. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him average a double-double, or at least close to it, and his rim protection should be even better than before.
Wilson started stronger than he finished 2020-21, but he still proved his overall value to Self. He’s still a young player, now entering his redshirt sophomore campaign, and should have grown tremendously with the experience of last season.
The other returners are Dajuan Harris and Mitch Lightfoot. Harris is a glue guard who will serve as relief for the Martin-Yesufu-Agbaji trio when one of the them needs a break. Lightfoot is McCormack’s backup and will offer Self a handful of minutes per night to fill in for his premier big man.
Kansas Men’s Basketball Preview: Verdict
Kansas has every chance to win the Big 12, reach the Final Four, and win a national championship. The guard tandem it corralled in Martin and Yesufu is immediately one of the best backcourts in the country, especially with Agbaji and other depth pieces in the mix, and if McCormack picks up where he left off in the later portion of 2020-21, Kansas will also have one of the most dominant bigs in the nation on its side.
Jayhawks fans have very good reason to be excited about this year’s team, and it very well could end in the program’s first national championship since 2008.