University of Kansas

Jesse Newell breaks down the Jayhawks

Svi Mykhailiuk improved as last season went on and gives KU backcourt depth in his third season.
Svi Mykhailiuk improved as last season went on and gives KU backcourt depth in his third season. The Wichita Eagle

If Bill Self were building a perfect college basketball roster, it would look something like this.

For years, the Kansas coach has talked about his preference to have teams led by a foundation of older players while having young guys who could be considered the most talented.

This was the formula when KU won the national championship in 2008. So is it possible the same type of blend could potentially lead to a deep postseason run in 2016-17?

“Last year the pieces fit as well as they could fit in my opinion, and we still came up short, but the pieces fit great,” Self said. “This year, if the pieces fit as well, then I think you may have a little bit more talented group that may give you a chance maybe to play better when it counts the most.

“But certainly it remains to be seen if the pieces can get there.”

It’s hard to not like KU’s roster if one simply goes person by person.

That starts with guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham, who provide the Jayhawks with experience and production from the 1 and 2 positions. Mason was one of KU’s most steady scoring options as a junior, providing outside shooting and also efficiency at the free-throw line while continuing to get there at a well-above-average rate.

Graham, meanwhile, thrived late in the season after Self urged him to become more of a vocal leader. He led the team with 44-percent three-point shooting and also was solid on the other end, joining Mason on the Big 12’s six-person all-defensive team.

Center Landen Lucas also returns as a starter, and he perhaps was the biggest key to the Jayhawks’ 17-game win streak late last season. The role player emerged as an elite rebounder on both ends, and his ability to do the little things — screen well, play good scouting report defense — helped KU reach a higher ceiling.

KU’s two other projected starters provide immense upside. That includes Josh Jackson, the nation’s No. 1 recruit who should play Andrew Wiggins-like minutes on the wing. Jackson’s strength comes in transition, where he’s a talented finisher and gifted passer, though he’ll need to show a more consistent outside shot for defenses to respect him in the half court.

Sophomore Carlton Bragg, a former McDonald’s All-American, also returns after deciding against the NBA Draft in the offseason. The 6-foot-10 forward is a good offensive rebounder with a refined mid-range jumper, though questions remain about his ability to be successful in the paint, whether that means scoring over bigger players or muscling up against them defensively.

KU’s top depth is in the backcourt. Svi Mykhailiuk returns for this third year with the program, though he’s still young (in fact, he was born four months after Jackson). Lagerald Vick has been the most improved player from KU’s offseason workouts, with Self hinting that the coaching staff might tinker with a four-guard look to open up additional minutes for the Jayhawks' reserve guards.

One unknown for KU is 7-foot freshman Udoka Azubuike. While Self has lauded his quick progression, it’s been difficult for similar talented big men like Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo to earn early playing time in past seasons.

Mississippi transfer Dwight Coleby and freshman Mitch Lightfoot — the only other eligible scholarship players — should battle for backup minutes at the four.

The main two objectives for the season are clear. For one, KU has a chance to win a 13th straight Big 12 title, an accomplishment that would tie UCLA for the longest conference streak.

After that, the Jayhawks will look to go further in the NCAA Tournament after falling to Villanova in the Elite Eight last year.

There are reasons to be optimistic. The Jayhawks have reliable upperclassmen. They have exciting young players.

And they also have a blueprint their coach just happens to love.

Jesse Newell: @jessenewell

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