Hold up, it's really basketball season? I'm not emotionally prepared for this.
1) Looks like Kansas only played one true frosh (Carlton Bragg) in their first game, and it appears Cheick Diallo and Lagerald Vick probably both won't play tonight. How does that loss affect this KU squad? How much will they be missed?
Andy Mitts: It's hard to say how much they will be missed because we really haven't seen them make any sort of impact yet. Vick is going to be a role player on this squad, and him being out with an eye injury doesn't really cause too much concern. What we are missing is the ability to see what this team could potentially be at full strength. We've seen Kansas down a big man in each of the last two seasons, and the difference has been night and day. There is enough talent on this team to still be pretty good without those guys, and if not having them now somehow translates into having the full complement at the end of the season, I'll gladly make that trade.
2) Given the dearth of true freshmen and the exit of a few freshmen (but relatively little else) from last year, how has this Kansas team changed from the squad that beat MSU in a close game last season? How is it that Perry Ellis still has eligibility?
AM: Honestly, it hasn't changed a lot. At that point last season, Cliff Alexander hadn't really started to establish himself yet, so the frontcourt looks pretty much the same. The big difference this year should be in Wayne Selden and Sviatoslav Mykhialiuk (aka Svi). Selden seems to have found his confidence playing in the World University Games over the summer, and Svi has found his stroke from long range. If both those players can keep up their impressive starts, this team could be really dangerous even without the addition of the freshman.
Little known fact: Perry Ellis will ALWAYS have eligibility. Or was it that he will always have weird faces? Yeah, that's it. (http://perryellisfaces.tumblr.com/)
3) What are the expectations in Lawrence this year? Obviously you guys expect to win the Big 12, since that happens every year but will the fanbase be upset if you guys don't make the Final Four and/or win a title?
AM: Yeah, the Big 12 title runs through Lawrence until someone comes in and takes it. And while it doesn't seem like it all the time, The Big 12 has actually been a really good conference year in and year out. The issue has been the national perception of the conference, because Kansas has won it every year and no other team has had the staying power to be at the top of the standings for an extended period of time. If Duke or UNC had won the ACC every year for the last 11 years, people would be declaring their coach the best of all time, right? Well, Kansas has been playing in a conference that is on average just as strong as the ACC over the course of the streak, but the lack of a clear #2 program gives the perception that the conference as a whole is bad.
As for expectations of the fan base, I think that a deep run is expected this year, but we also know that all it takes is one injury/suspension to derail postseason hopes. That's happened to us in each of the last two years, and there wasn't really anything that could be done about it. But having the conference title streak is what has assured us that these teams were actually really good. It's also been a source of frustration though, given how the national media pays lip service to the streak, but doesn't really seem to consider it that important.
4) Will your football team ever be relevant again? Asking since we're a #FootballSchool.
AM: By relevant, you just mean fighting for a bowl every now and then, right? With Michigan State being a football school and all, I'm surprised you guys were even willing to do this Q&A, since I thought you would all be worried about who you would be playing in that other college sport that some people sometimes care about. I mean, football is ok and all, but some people go crazy when they should be worrying about basketball.
In all seriousness though, Mark Mangino showed it was possible to win at Kansas, but it's never going to be easy. David Beaty is going to have time to try and turn this thing around, and finding himself a quarterback in the young Ryan Willis is an important first step. The next step is to heavily recruit the line this offseason, and that process has already started. It will probably take 4 or 5 years, but I could see Kansas fighting to be in the top half of the conference and going to bowl games more years than not after that if Beaty is able to lay the foundation for his team.
5) Your prediction for the game?
AM: Denzel Valentine has me a worried, and Eron Harris is probably going to be on fire after his dismal opening night performance, but the Jayhawks have too many weapons that have been playing together for too long. Michigan State is too talented to be blown out, but Kansas will show that they are the better team at this point in the season. I don't think I want to see the Spartans again later in the season, but I'm going to have to say the Jayhawks win tonight 74-68.
Thanks to Andy for his insights!