The Eighth Man

Will They or Won’t They: University of Kansas, #T-16

In addition to our preseason rankings, The Eighth Man staff will be releasing a series of articles focusing on the top 20 teams, counting down from 20 to one. Each article will be written by two members of the staff, one who believes the team will live up to or exceed expectations and one who thinks they will come up short. 


A TEAM IN NEED OF CHANGE
By Alex Wilson

The University of Kansas has taken a step back this year as far as overall skill, and they have some serious recruiting to do if they want to maintain their status as a top-tier team in the country. The losses of Hai Nyugen, Ronell Sharp and Connor Drake at the beginning of the year hurt them heavily, as they were the most talented and experienced players for Kansas, causing the Jayhawks to redefine their playing style.

Kansas struggled in chaser defense last year, having very limited options at point defender, which were further affected by Colby Soden’s departure from the team. It was their beaters that saved them during games, as their chasers were outmatched in size in almost every one played. Kansas as a team preferred a spread-out-and-pass-oriented offense last year, taking advantage of height and speed while playing a very conservative beater style, which put defensive pressure on the beaters.  Even assuming they bring up  Austin Pitts from the Warhawks, I see a lack of physicality on the team that could spell their downfall with the rise of bulkier chasers and offensive beating.

On that note, Kansas may need to update their beater style.  When they are playing a standard game and not stalling for the snitch, their beaters hang within five feet of the hoops to make up for the assumed blown coverage up top.  Offensive beating has been on the rise for years and I think this is the year it will catch up to them, allowing teams to drive in more consistently against the Jayhawks. I predict they will have many games out of snitch range this season, something they have not encountered for some time.  The beater position is hard to train outside of a live-game environment, and if Doug Whiston or Steven Levitt are not on the field, I expect points to rack up very quickly.

The other concern for Kansas is their location.  After dropping out of Lone Star Cup last year and opting to host a tournament again this year–only one other team attending made day two of World Cup–they will struggle to find quality competition. It does not seem as though they are seeking it either, deciding to travel twice as far to compete in the Midwest Regional Championship last year when Southwest Regional Championship would have given them more time to prepare and a better sense of where they would be when World Cup VII happened.  Looking back at last season, not a single signature win comes to mind that really showcased their strength.But there are several instances of a supposedly weaker “tier two” teams being up and losing on a snitch catch.  Losing to Bowling Green State University (BGSU) by 10 in the finals of the Midwest Regional Championship looks a lot better without the context of BGSU failing to get the University of Virginia out of snitch range twice and being in snitch range of the 41 seed at World Cup VII.

Expect Kansas to hang around third to sixth place in the Midwest but falter against out-of-region competition.


NOBODY’S FAVORITE
By Ethan Sturm

I have long sung the praises of system-based teams. From Baylor University’s zone to the Silicon Valley Skrewts’ methodical, beater-heavy offense, teams that play the sport their way can regularly dictate the style of play and determine the way a game will be played. These lead to an increased consistency in both results and year-to-year performance, the exact traits you want to see in a team you are selecting for a preseason top 20.

Without a doubt, University of Kansas is a system team. They go into every game with the goal of gaining bludger control and then proceeding to sit on it. Against teams that are worse than them, they use this numerical bludger advantage to amplify their athletic advantage, whether in size or strength. Against better teams, they use the bludger advantage to park the bus, hoping to drain the pace from the game and limit the total number of possessions and easy scoring opportunities. The latter strategy led to highly-competitive games against both Texas A&M University (50*-30) and Lone Star Quidditch Club (110-60* in overtime), the type of results that even runner-up Texas State University can’t boast.

And that brings us to this season. Sure Kansas bled talent to graduation, most notably Hai Nguyen, but they did the exact same thing last year and responded with a run to the Sweet 16. Nguyen may be gone as a leader of the Kansas chaser line, but captain Max Wallerstedt will be a solid replacement. Doug Whiston will be a big loss both with his beating play and strategy, but Samy Mousa will be ready and willing to replace him as the core of the team’s beaters. When it comes down to it, key parts are being replaced, but they are being replaced by experienced veterans that will flawlessly translate into their teammates’ prior roles in the system. As long as the system is in place, the Jayhawks are the same team they have always been.

All of that is before we even mention the team’s most talented, allegedly returning player, seeker Keir Rudolph. Simply put, Rudolph is the best seeker in the game, and when you have that, you can convert nearly every close game into a victory. A 6-2 SWIM record at the Midwest Regional Championship and World Cup VII contributed heavily to the Jayhawks’ deep runs in both tournaments. And in a physical, grind-it-out region like the Midwest, where many games end up low scoring, Rudolph alone makes Kansas a true Midwest Regional Championship contender.

Kansas also has one of the biggest advantages a team can ask for, one that teams have traveled thousands of miles to get: an opportunity to play Southwest opposition. This past season, the Jayhawks played University of Arkansas as early as October. The year before, they took on multiple elite Texas squads at the NCBA’s Collegiate Cup. It’s no coincidence that, because of this experience, Kansas has regularly been one of the biggest thorns in the Southwest Big Four’s side come World Cup time.

Even with all of the player turnover and the personnel questions, you know what to expect from Kansas. The Jayhawks will play some of the stingiest, defensive, slow-paced quidditch you will find in the country, and their 40-quaffle-points-per-game-against last season speaks loudly to that. If teams are only getting 40 points, it is impossible for them to be out of range of Rudolph’s lethal play. We know Kansas’ limit–they are never going to be world beaters that make a run to the World Cup final by being a step above everyone–but we also know their floor, and it is one of the highest in the country.

And that is exactly why they are the best bet for a fringe top 20 spot of all of the borderline squads that could be put there. Come regionals, they will not be anyone’s favorites, but no one will be surprised if they walk away with the Midwest title. And come World Cup time, they are not going to be title favorites, but when they make yet another Sweet 16 appearance, no one will blink twice.

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