It’s December 15 and there’s a chance that No. 1 Kansas has already beaten this year’s Big East, Big Ten and SEC champions. The Jayhawks held off No. 17 Villanova 74-71 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, giving them six wins over opponents ranked in the top 100 on kenpom.com and all nine of their wins have come against teams ranked in the top 150.
Most notably, Kansas has beaten Michigan State (a top contender in the Big Ten), Villanova and Marquette (two of the top three teams in the Big East) and Tennessee (the defending SEC co-champions) with three of those wins coming on a neutral court.
The top-ranked Jayhawks are far from perfect but their record is through the first nine games, in large part because of redshirt junior forward Dedric Lawson and senior guard Lagerald Vick.
The duo scored 57 of Kansas’ 74 points against Villanova on 19-of-30 shooting.
The rest of the team combined for 17 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Lawson, who redshirted last season after transferring from Memphis, is currently leading kenpom.com’s national player of the year race. He’s averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per games with six 20-point, 10-rebound double-doubles. Lawson’s role has become even more important after starting center Udoka Azubuike was sidelined indefinitely with an ankle sprain.
He’s taking nearly 30 percent of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor with a 117 offensive rating, he’s drawing six and a half fouls per 40 minutes, and his assist rate (16.1 percent) is five percent higher than his turnover rate (11.4 percent).
Vick wasn’t even supposed to be on this year’s Kansas team. He declared for the NBA draft in early April and he was expected to sign with an agent, which would have ended his college eligibility. Then in late June, Kansas announced Vick would return for his senior season.
He’s finally realizing his full potential in college after three years of playing behind — or at least a secondary option to — a combination of players including Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk.
Vick was Kansas’ 12th-leading scorer as a freshman at just 2.1 points per game, the team’s sixth man as a sophomore and a regular starter last season. Now he’s the second-leading (but most efficient) scorer, behind only Lawson, the nation’s No. 1 team. His 122.8 offensive rating is the best on the team and he ranks in the top 35 nationally in effective field goal percentage (68.9) and true shooting percentage (69.7).
While Vick has had games with zero, two and five points, he has also exploded for 33, 32, 29 and 27 points on 32-of-60 three-point shooting (53.3 percent) through nine games. Those are offensive numbers that will lead to Vick’s appearance on All-American teams if he can repeat them with some regularity.
He’s averaging 17.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Without Azubuike, who’s averaging 12.9 points per game that ranks third on the team, Kansas will go as far as Lawson and Vick can lead the Jayhawks.
Former top-10 recruit Quentin Grimes, who has started every game for Kansas, has scored six or fewer points in six of the last seven games while shooting 12-of-37 from the field (32.4 percent) during that stretch.
High-profile transfers Charlie Moore (California) and K.J. Lawson (Memphis) are averaging less than four points per game apiece.
Sophomore forward Silvio de Sousa is being withheld from competition.
But the uber-efficiency inside from Lawson, especially at the rim where he’s made 67.3 percent of his attempts prior to Saturday, and outside from Vick has provided a dangerous 1-2 punch that has allowed the Jayhawks to weather four games in the last three weeks that went to overtime or were decided by three points in regulation.