The Kansas Jayhawks are going off the deep end. It’s not what you think. Bill Self is not worried about any of his players going insane. However, if being compared with someone who needs to be admitted to a mental hospital keeps getting the Jayhawks results like they’ve seen early this season, Kansas players will probably have no problem being called crazy. Heck, this approach could even lead to sophomore Perry Ellis being named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year over Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State Cowboys‘ wunderkind. The deep end has nothing to do with a pool or a nuthouse. It has everything to do with the amount of quality players that Bill self has at his disposal this season in Lawrence.
Last season’s team had plenty of talent and leadership; the Jayhawks finished 31-6 and started four seniors plus a lottery pick in Ben McLemore. However, they basically went seven deep — eight depending on how you felt about Jamari Traylor‘s 9.6 minutes per game and 2.1 points per game — and while that rotation didn’t seem to affect the team’s win-loss record, it’s not too far-fetched to surmise that all of those minutes could have contributed to some of the issues that crept up in the early February three-game losing streak and again during the loss to the trick-shooting Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament. The mind and body do funny things when they’re tired. At times, last year’s Kansas team struggled with turnovers and a tendency to get too comfortable with leads.
Kansas has an absurdly talented freshman class, with three four-star recruits and three five-star recruits, headlined by Andrew Wiggins. The Jayhawks are playing five of the six freshmen heavy minutes so far, and the sixth, Brannen Greene, had five points in eight minutes against the Duke Blue Devils. Coach Self has used those six (is the ‘Splendid Six’ taken?) and Memphis Tigers transfer Tarik Black to make up for a dearth of upperclassmen in the lineup and sophomore Perry Ellis looks like the primary benefactor so far. After tonight’s game, he is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per game while displaying the qualities that voters look for in a CPOY: leadership, assertiveness and versatility. Ellis definitely made an entrance against Duke, as he defended phenom Jabari Parker in crunch time, poured in 24 points and snared nine rebounds for the Jayhawks in their 94-83 victory.
Four non-conference games are a very small sample size. In March, this article may look foolish, but right now Perry Ellis has every opportunity to compete with Marcus Smart for the Big 12’s highest individual honor. Last year, Trey Burke, a sophomore, played with a talented group of freshmen (not as good as this year’s Kansas freshmen) and was the National Player of the Year. Right now, Ellis is doing just what Burke did: working early to help the freshmen become acclimated to the game, letting his play do the talking, doing the dirty work and showing up in crunch time. Those freshmen may take the individual spotlight away from Ellis over the course of the season, but if they do that probably means that Kansas is on its way to another Big 12 championship. Winning games is a vital prerequisite to winning awards. If Ellis is the leading scorer and a top rebounder for a conference champion he will have to be a top candidate for the league Player of the Year.
It’s early, but this Kansas team seems to have more depth than it did last year. If Ellis can continue to recognize important situations and rise to the occasion in pivotal moments, he can propel himself from the six-point, four-rebound player of a year ago to a real candidate to win this season’s Big 12 Conference Player of the Year award.