With the Indiana boys’ basketball set to open up their season tonight against Kansas, we took a moment to talk Rock Talk Chalk, KU’s SB Nation blog.
Kansas enters with the loss of some big contributors from last year’s team but welcome in one of the nation’s top prospects. In an effort to get a better sense of where the program is and what to expect early this season, we talked to Andy Mitts of Rock Chalk Talk.
TCQ: The Jayhawks’ lost quite a bit from last season’s team, namely in 15-year veteran Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. I would assume those are your biggest losses coming into the season? And who are you expecting to step up in their roles?
RCT: Yeah, we definitely had our biggest losses in those two. Unbelievably though, we are probably going to be a better team by the end of the season. Carlton Bragg Jr. looks to have developed magnificently under strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy this summer. Landen Lucas seemed to flip a switch in the middle of last season, and the improvement should continue this year. We have some freshmen that can make an impact down low as well, but they will likely need some experience before we can count on their play right now.
Josh Jackson is the main guy to look to on the wing, but pretty much everyone knows that he is going to be crazy on this team. The guy who is likely to be a bit under the radar is Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. He is still one of the young guys on the team even though he is a junior, but his experience playing for Ukraine this summer has helped him develop immensely.
TCQ: Frank Mason is one of the best point guards in the country entering this season. Where are Jayhawk fans setting the bar for him this year?
RCT: I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that he isn't even the best point guard on the team. Devonte' Graham showed last year that he was capable of putting up electrifying performances, and his defense is likely to rival that of Mason this year.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Mason isn’t any good, but I think the expectations for his stats are not nearly as high as you would think for a senior point guard. He still has a tendency to drive right into the teeth of the defense and let his shot be affected, but I think that overall level of talent on the team is both going to let him avoid those situations and also hold down his overall production. I’m not going to predict stats, but I do think he is probably going to be one of two go-to guys late in the season, and I would expect him to be in contention for the Big 12 Player of the Year.
TCQ: As one of the top recruits and prospects in the country, Josh Jackson will obviously steal lots of headlines this year. How much are you expecting out of him and do you expect lots of production early on in the year?
RCT: The expectations are hard to nail down, partly because he is such a good player with such a varied reputation as to his style on the basketball court. Talent-wise, he is compared often to Andrew Wiggins, and while he is usually considered to be slightly more gifted athletically, his shooting touch just isn’t comparable right now. Also, considering that he has a lot of upperclassmen around him, he probably won’t be asked to carry as much of the load that Wiggins had to when he was here. I’m expecting Josh Jackson to ultimately earn a spot on the Big 12 First team, and potentially be an All-American, but it’s hard to tell how long it will take him to get there.
TCQ: Kansas has one of the more unprecedented runs with like a bajillion consecutive Big 12 titles. Is that a run you guys are expecting to continue in Big 12 play this season?
RCT: Absolutely. To be perfectly honest, this conference isn’t the meat grinder this year that it was last year. Pretty much every team in the conference lost huge contributors, and Kansas is probably the only team that even came close to replacing that production. I think the conference is going to lose a lot more in the non-conference than others would like, which is going to lead people to believe that the conference is back to just Kansas and a bunch of also-rans (which it actually never really was). However, I expect a lot of those teams to find their footing early into the conference schedule, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a decisive Big 12 victory in the Big 12 SEC challenge in January. I expect the conference to get in 6 or 7 teams with a few upsets in the NCAA tournament going there way. But Kansas is the only legitimate Top 4 seed in the conference right now, and since they are a title contender, it’s hard to imagine that they don’t win number 13 this year.
TCQ: Under Self, Kansas has become essentially a perennial title contender. Is that the expectation for this season as well?
RCT: I think that is always the expectation at a blue-blood program, but especially since Kansas hasn’t seen the down years that seem to happen time to time for all those top teams. I mean, the Jayhawks have been in every tournament since they missed due to suspension back in 1989. Bill Self has yet to have a Kansas team with a seed lower than 4 in his time at Kansas, and except for a few years early of inexplicable upsets, the haven’t lost until the late rounds when they had a team at full strength going into the tournament.
TCQ: For the game itself, what match-up will you be keeping an eye on?
RCT: I’ll be keeping an eye on the matchup down low. Bragg is expected to develop quickly to fill the role that Ellis vacated, and Lucas is going to have to make sure he doesn’t get untracked. If these two can get going early and stay out of foul trouble, Kansas could use a big run early to keep this game from ever being that competitive.
TCQ: Lastly, what is your prediction for the game?
RCT: I think Kansas gets off to a good start, but hits a bit of a lull when the starters have to come out to take a break. The depth of Kansas is going to be amazing this year, but there will be bumps in the road as Bill Self tries early to figure out who is going to be in that rotation of 9 or so guys. Indiana isn’t a slouch by any means, but I do think there will be an element of trying to figure out what lineups work before we play Duke next week that will keep this one close until the very end. I’m going to say Kansas wins by 5, but missed free throws down the stretch by the Jayhawks make it more anxious than it should be. Kansas 87, Indiana 82.