The Kansas Jayhawks are 3-1. They own one of the most impressive wins in this budding season, a 77-75 victory over Duke thanks to Frank Mason III's kill shot.
But Monday night provided our latest and most revealing look at KU's most intriguing player, freshman freak Josh Jackson.
As I did Monday with a quick scouting report for each of Kentucky's freshman of note, I want to take a couple of minutes to clue readers into Jackson's game and growth, and identify exactly he's shown us so far.
Kansas is my pick to win the national title this year. That would not be the case without Jackson. He is the player that can lock everything into place to give Bill Self a second national championship.
Josh Jackson stat line
Through four games, Jackson's reputation has proved true in this regard: His competitive nature. He hates losing in every facet, be it a possession, a series, a battle for a ball, anything. This competitiveness also forms a certain aggressiveness, and because of that, the one issue plaguing Jackson early into his college career is foul trouble. In the Jayhawks' 83-63 victory vs. UAB in the CBE Classic on Monday, Jackson picked up his second whistle midway through the first half.
At the Champions Classic, I watched Jackson catalyze Kansas' run vs. Duke ... and then he fouled out with 5:08 remaining. He's averaging 3.8 fouls per game. Above anything else, getting that game average close to 3 is vital for him and the team, as Kansas just looks so much more dynamic whenever he's on the floor. Self has the depth to sit Jackson after getting his second foul in the first half, but it's something he'd obviously rather not do.
Jackson said on ESPN2 after the victory vs. UAB that "silly fouls" were his primary concern. To be fair, he didn't foul again after picking up his second foul.
Elsewhere, and particularly in the UAB game, Jackson has shown the diversity of his game. The tendency is to look at the offense first, but I want to point out that Jackson is already one of the best defenders in college basketball, and yes, that's true even despite his foul issues. He has tremendous length, moves his feet properly, can guard four positions at the college level and is already proving to be a nightmare on-ball defender for most opponents. Jackson is an elite wing in so many respects, but none more than his defensive ability at all three levels.
"I think I bring a little bit toughness to this team, along with Frank and Devonte'," Jackson said. Those are two of the toughest guards in the country. ... I think I'm a really good defender, and I think our team identity this year is going to be toughness and defense."
On the other side of the floor, Jackson's showing fairly quickly that his jump shot is better than advertised. He's shooting 62.5 percent from 2-point range so far, and those buckets aren't all from within four feet. From 3, Jackson's just 3-of-9 on the season, but let's remember that Mason, Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk will take the load on treys for KU this season. If you watched the Duke game, and especially the UAB game, you saw Jackson create shots, hit casually from 15 feet and show good ball control against capable defenders.
"Certainly, he's an unbelievable talent that's starting to get more and more comfortable all the time," Self said. "He had angles to go after the rim more. The best play he made of the night was that last pass to Svi. There's a lot of things he can work on to get better obviously, but he's a talented kid. I don't know if we've had anyone that size that's that good with the ball."
That's an exceptional compliment by Self, who's had a number of terrific wing players. Jackson is listed at 6-foot-8, though having watched him in person, that terrific hairdo seems to account for some of the height. All of these attributes are why Jackson's name will be heavily in the mix to be the No. 1 pick.
Plus, there's this kind of stuff. The easy-to-spot, flip-you-off-your-couch highlight moments. So tantalizing.
Jackson's showing is even more impressive when you consider that KU started its season with that overtime loss in Hawaii against a very good Indiana team. Then it flew to New York for the Champions Classic. Self said in the postgame presser after beating Duke, that the team was pretty worn down from the travel and two games vs. top-10 teams. By the end of Tuesday night, Kansas will have played five games in the first 12 days of the season and traveled more than 10,000 miles.
The Indiana game was a lackluster debut for Jackson (nine points, four fouls, 3-of-11 shooting), but his energy, effort, athleticism and drive since then has pushed him into the top five or so of the most vital and impressive freshmen so far this season. Want to see more of what he's got? Kansas will be on TV again Tuesday night, playing Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic final at 10 p.m. on ESPN2.