Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Perry Ellis a key in Kansas vs. Kentucky

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when I say that Perry Ellis is going to be a big key and a huge advantage for Kansas this season.

With so many young and inexperienced players lurking in college basketball, especially at the big-name schools, Ellis’ experience is uncommon. His talent is, too.

The 6-foot-8 Ellis is primed for a big junior season. Big, big, big. And look for him to be a force tonight, when the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks meet top-ranked Kentucky at the United Center in Chicago.

Kentucky oozes talent. But even though several key players from last season’s national-runner-up team return, the Wildcats are still young. Extremely young.

Four of their top 10 players are freshmen. Another four are sophomores. Only center Willie Cauley-Stein and forward Alex Poythress are juniors and neither can match Ellis’ experience.

Kentucky is a force, no doubt about it. And the Wildcats are probably worthy of their ranking; I’m picking Kentucky to win the national championship.

But there are a lot of good teams around the country this season and Kansas is definitely one of them. KU is trying to mix in a lot of young players, too, including a bunch of freshmen. That’s what makes Ellis such a big factor. He’s been around for a couple of years. He was vastly improved last season from his freshman season. And I think it’s reasonable to expect he’ll make the same kind of leap as a junior.

Ellis might not be the most-talented player on the floor tonight; but he’ll be the most experienced. And experience means something. I think Ellis has a bright NBA future because he’s stuck around Kansas for a while to learn under Bill Self and his coaches. Ellis wants to play in the NBA and he could have made the jump after last season.

But by staying for his junior season, Ellis will continue to improve. He’ll get bigger and stronger and will be able to refine his many skills.

Ellis opened the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds last week against UC Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse. While his younger teammates mostly struggled, Ellis played like the seasoned veteran he is. As those young Jayhawks develop, they’ll be able to feed of Ellis’ experience and wily ways.

Ellis is a refined offensive player who improved in all facets last season. His footwork is exemplary and he has touch with both his right and left hands. He’s become more physical at Kansas, as his six offensive rebounds against UCSB attests. It has to be soothing to Self to have a player with Ellis’ savvy and skills while he works to make the younger Jayhawks better.

Experience can be gained in a single college season, of course. These players are practicing and playing more than ever. We saw a young Kentucky team win a national championship in 2012 with young players like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Wildcats were young last season and managed just a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament before going on a run that got them to the national championship game before losing to Connecticut.

By February and March, this Kentucky team is going to be a beast.

But because of a player like Ellis, a wily veteran with tremendous skill, I think the Wildcats can be had tonight by Kansas.

It should be a fun game to watch.