Kings of the Wings? Kansas picked to have the best collection of hybrid playmakers in all of college basketball

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) roars after drawing a Creighton foul during the second half on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 79-72 win over the Bluejays.

The 247 Sports network recently ranked the top wings in college basketball entering the 2022-23 season, and Bill Self’s defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks landed in the top spot.

A case could probably be made for a couple of other schools to be there, but the Jayhawks are certainly worthy.

With experienced veterans Jalen Wilson and Kevin McCullar Jr. leading the charge, Kansas is at least four deep on the wing with versatile options who possess a variety of strengths.

Five-star freshmen Gradey Dick and MJ Rice join the two upperclassmen as KU’s top options at the position, and a case could be made that KU’s best lineup during the upcoming season will have all four of those players in it.

Time will tell whether that proves true or not, but all four are going to play big roles for Kansas and three of the four will likely be in the starting lineup on opening night.

A lot of this you probably knew. Much of it is probably what has you most excited about the 2022-23 season.

With that in mind, there was something about 247’s list of the 20 programs with the best wings in college basketball that stood out to me beyond KU’s place in the No. 1 spot.

Just two of the next 19 spots in Isaac Trotter’s rankings were occupied by Big 12 programs — Texas at No. 10 and Oklahoma State at No. 19.

As the game of basketball transitions further to positionless players in prominent roles and interchangeable parts dominating lineups at all levels, teams that are built like this 2022-23 Kansas squad could wind up having a significant advantage on their opponents because of the ability to create and handle matchup problems and fill the lineup with two-way players whose roles and impact remain fluid from possession to possession.

Consider Wilson for a minute and think about all of the things you’ve seen him do as a Jayhawk.

He’s had possessions where he played off the ball in a catch-and-shoot role. He’s had possessions where he initiated the offense much in the way a true point guard would and other possessions where he attacks off the dribble like a go-to scorer out of that same role. He’s had possessions where he defends the 4 on one end, crashes the glass like a power forward to get the rebound and then pushes it up the floor like a guard.

And he’s just one player. McCullar, Dick and Rice all play that same way — with varying strengths within it — and the fact that KU could have three or four of those types of players on the floor at all times certainly makes the Jayhawks a tough matchup. We saw that in 2021-22 with Wilson teaming with Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun for the majority of the minutes during KU’s run to the national title.

Having to account for that type of skill set puts pressure on opposing teams and coaches to match up. And unless they’re equipped with versatile wings in the same way, that can lead to mismatches. Self’s teams have always been sensational at exploiting those and he often coaches — and builds his rosters — to play to them.

If this truly is the direction the game is going, and if the rest of the Big 12 isn’t quite there yet — at least according to the 247 Sports rankings — that might be the best example yet of why Kansas should still be considered the team to beat in the conference during the 2022-23 season.

TCU and Oklahoma did make Trotter’s honorable mention list in the article, but that’s still not even half of the rest of the league.

Texas and Baylor, along with TCU, should be KU’s biggest challengers for the 2023 Big 12 title, but if they want to finish ahead of Kansas they might have to find somewhere to gain advantages that isn’t the wing.

Including the honorable mention picks, Trotter’s list includes teams that Kansas will face at least 10 times during the 2022-23 season.

photo by: Emma Pravecek/Journal-World Photo

Forward MJ Rice waits for play to resume during the team scrimmage at the annual Bill Self Basketball Camp on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 at Allen Fieldhouse.


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