Mac Stevenson
It’s not too early to take a look at the 2018-19 season for the Kansas and Kansas State basketball programs. The outlook for both teams is bright indeed.
Kansas loses just two players of any note off the current team; Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk have been terrific for the Jayhawks, but they are the only seniors. Key players on the 2017-18 team that probably will return are guards Lagerald Vick, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe, and Malik Newman; center Dok Azubuike; and forwards Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa. And that’s not all by a long shot.
Coach Bill Self has three quality transfers waiting in the wings: forwards and brothers K. J. Lawson (6-7, 210) and Dedric Lawson (6-9, 236) from Memphis and point guard Charlie Moore (5-11, 160) from California.
Adding to this formidable list, Coach Bill Self has a superb recruiting class coming next fall: KU has signed three McDonald’s All-Americans—point guard Devon Dotson (6-2, 175), shooting guard Quentn Grimes (6-5, 195), and center David McCormack (6-10, 285). Dotson and Grimes have five-star ratings and McCormack has four stars.
Teams hoping to beat KU had better do it this season, because the Jayhawks are going to be talent-laden indeed next fall.
Kansas State recently played terrific basketball while losing 73-72 at KU and then walloping fourth-ranked Oklahoma (87-69). And last Saturday, K-State defeated TCU (73-68). What’s even more impressive is that the Wildcats return all five starters from those three games. In addition, the injured Kamau Stokes will also be back.
K-State doesn’t lose any key players from the present team. And Coach Bruce Weber has a promising recruit coming in point guard Shaun Williams (6-3, 185) from St. Louis.
This K-State team has improved significantly since the beginning of the season and the Wildcats are playing outstanding basketball. If Weber’s team keeps moving forward, they are going to be a handful for all comers for the rest of the season.
And next year Kansas State has a chance to be one of the special team in the nation, let alone the Big 12.
As the Big 12 race nears the midway point, one thing is becoming clearer with each game: There are 10 excellent teams in the league, but no great ballclubs. None of the Big 12 teams appear capable of winning the national championship.
KU had a tenuous grip on first place with a 6-1 record following another win in Allen Fieldhouse that could have gone either way; the Jayhawks edged Baylor 70-67. West Virginia was in second with a 5-2 record and K-State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech were tied for third with 4-3 records.
After the Baylor game, Self put things in perspective, saying, “We are more vulnerable . . . but we also know how to win and we also compete pretty hard. And we’ve got two unbelievable seniors and we’ve got a big guy down low that’s hard to deal with if he gets it close to the basket. There’s a lot of things about our team that a lot of teams would like to have. But our margin for error is, without question, the smallest it’s been since we’ve been here.”
Among the aforementioned five teams leading the conference, Kansas State is playing as well as any of them. Cartier Diarra has given the Wildcats a new weapon when he replaced the injured Kamau Stokes at point guard. Diarra didn’t have a great game in the 73-68 victory over Texas Tech last Saturday, but he’s made the offense much more potent with his overall play.
Many upsets will occur before race for the Big 12 championship is decided. Kansas has the focus of the national media because of their opportunity to become the first team in the history of college basketball to win outright or share 14 consecutive conference championships. This season’s race could easily end up in a two-, three-, or even a four-way tie for first place. The teams are that evenly matched.
The Big 12 will qualify a minimum of six teams for the NCAA Tournament and a maximum of seven or eight. The Big 12 coaches say that any team can beat any of the others in the Big 12; that’s a tired, tired cliché, but it’s true this time around. Last Saturday, Iowa State ripped Texas Tech (70-52) and Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma (83-81).
If you enjoy close college basketball games on TV, the Big 12 is the place to be every week. Very few of the league games have been one-sided and the favorite often comes out on the short end of the score.