While TV talking heads and sports scribes fixated on Coach K and UNC, it took until the second half of the national title game for most fans to notice that Kansas was in the Final Four. College basketball’s 2022 National Champion hid under the radar all season. Not only because the Jayhawks are a vanilla, efficient machine team, which is exactly how Bill Self seems to like it, but because they lack obvious future NBA talent to root for. The G-League Ignite showcase team composed of future lottery picks is probably the only other team with NBA-caliber hoops virtuosos that have garnered less national attention than the Jayhawks did. The Ignite went 9-21 in games that few fans got to see, but won six of their final nine games.
Every year, NBA fans ask themselves if the best team in college basketball could defeat the worst team in the NBA. Every year, the answer is no. The G-League Ignite, however, would pose a more interesting question. Can the 2022 national champion Jayhawks run with the G-League Ignite? A matchup against Kansas would be a step down in competition for the Ignite, who’ve acclimated to playing fringe NBA veterans for the last few months. However, the Jayhawks boast a surplus of four-stars who’ve maxed out their potential while the Ignite are just beginning to tap into their unique, individual possibilities.
The Ignite compares favorably to Coach K’s final Duke team in terms of the sheer depth of one-and-done talent. After all, one-and-done is a primary allure of the Ignite. While they don’t possess a rare shot swatting windmill of Mark Williams’ ilk, their backcourt is stacked beyond belief with impetuous, young alpha guards and forwards. However, that also hinders them as well. Many of these national champion Jayhawks have been together since the pre-COVID season pursuing a coveted national title. They’ve spent years learning the offense, patenting the defense and perfecting their roles.
At first glance, the Ignite roster might not seem to possess enough size to deal with Kansas’ David McCormack. Even against a sturdy low post denizen like Armando Bacot, McCormack was college hoops’ David Robinson incarnate, scoring 15 and snagging 10 boards during the national title game. McCormack deserved Final Four MOP over Ochai Agbaji, but he could wipe away his disappointment by mopping the floor with any of the young prospects the Ignite threw at him.
Six-foot-nine big Michael Foster is this 2022 Ignite team’s Jonathan Kumingas. Foster will be giving up almost 30 pounds to McCormack down low, but his natural ability is hard to miss. In his last matchup against Paulo Banchero at the MADE Hoops Cactus League last summer, Foster logged 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a win over Banchero’s squad. If he could give Banchero fits, Foster might be the key to neutralizing McCormack on offense.
If the Ignite needs another body to throw at McCormack, former Georgetown center Jessie Govan, is one of the few veteran exceptions to have played college basketball on this Ignite team. The 23-year-old, 6-foot-10 big averaged 17 and 10 while he was at Georgetown three years ago. Govan averages only 16.8 minutes with the Ignite, but has been efficient in those minutes.
Junior Christian Braun is a former Mr. Kansas Basketball on the wing for Kansas, who shot 50 percent from the field. Braun shot over 40 percent from 3-point range and helped launch his own stock in the tournament by hounding Caleb Love all night. Braun was assigned to trace Caleb Love all over the floor and his efforts led to Braun shooting 20 percent from the field in the title game. There’s a real possibility Braun may even be taken ahead of Hardy, whose draft stock dropped while he starred on the Ignite.
Dyson Daniels, an Australian point forward tapped from the same Academy as Josh Giddey, plays a bit like him too. Daniels is the youngest draft-eligible prospect, their best defender and would make Ochai Agbaji have to work for his shot.
Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson and Dajuan Harris are lead guards on the opposite end of the spectrum. Harris is a floor general on the smaller side of things whose season-high in points was the 14 he scored against Iowa State and Nevada. Harris was Kansas’ game manager all season and he had his team running with the efficiency of an Amazon warehouse. Henderson’s basketball IQ needs refinement and his jumper is shaky, but Kansas might struggle to defend a 6-2,195-pound 17-year-old who can probe the paint and bounce above the rim. Collapse on a driving Henderson and he’ll kick out to one of several threats like MarJon Beauchamp, Jaden Hardy, or Michael Foster under the rim. Bill Self saw this type of prospect before in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat Memphis to win his first national title.
Ochai Agbaji is Kansas’ primary scoring threat and their most coveted NBA talent. Agbaji is a space creator with the frame to punish Hardy in on drives and the craftiness to create enough separation to rain triples on the Ignite. Simply put, he’s the player most likely to have the Ignite defense scrambling. Jaden Hardy excels at getting to the cup, but his shot is unrefined. For those reasons, Hardy has slipped from the No. 3 player in his class to the late first round for those reasons. In a few years, Hardy’s upside might catch up to Ogbaji’s subtle game, but in 2022, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four would take Hardy to school.
Ignite coach Jason Hart might stick fellow 21-year-old MarJon Beauchamp on Ogbaji. Beauchamp is one of the lesser-known prospects, but the 6-foot-7 forward with a 7-foot wingspan overcame complex personal challenges and a circuitous route through junior college to reach the Ignite. Beauchamp was the Ignite’s second-leading scorer behind Hardy, averaging 15.1 points per game, 7.3 rebounds and 57 percent shooting from the field, but projects as a possible first-rounder in 2022 due to his innate ability to collect steals and alter or blot our shots on the defensive end.
Off the Kansas bench, Remy Martin is a microwave scorer who transferred from Arizona State where he led the Pac-12 in scoring. Jaden Hardy’s brother, Amauri, joined the Ignite team after a four-year college career as an All-Conference player at UNLV and a reserve at Oregon. Hardy averaged fewer than four points per game and only shot 24 percent from beyond the arc as a senior.
In a hypothetical matchup, the Ignite’s lack of size, cohesiveness and experience would put them in a mismatch against the Jayhawks.
The Ignite shot 31.8 percent from the NBA 3-point arc, and that 3-point shooting percentage was worse than 26 other G-League teams. To account for that lack of floor spacing from a poor shooting team, they’d have to play some sound defense, which isn’t a skill a team of blue-chip guards and forwards excel in. Kansas offense led the Big 12 in points per game and in field goal percentage. When they want to, they can ratchet it up offensively as they did against Providence when the Jayhawks blocked 11 shots in a 66-61 win.
The Ignite winning would depend on whether or not Braun and Agjabi can stretch the Ignite defense, but it would be a close Jayhawks win. The talent disparity isn’t vast enough to account for Kansas’ rhythmic offense, the Ignite’s one-dimensional raw scorers, and the Ignite’s youth. The champs may not be as attractive as past champions, but they should be able to affirm their status as deserving national champs if this matchup took place.