Kansas women’s basketball poised for best season in years

The Kansas women's basketball team poses for a team photo inside Allen Fieldhouse during media day Wednesday.
The Kansas women's basketball team poses for a team photo inside Allen Fieldhouse during media day Wednesday. /

This time of year, there is always a lot of excitement and anticipation surrounding Kansas basketball.

Most of that is directed toward the men’s program – and rightfully so. Under head coach Bill Self, they’re a top 25 team year in and year out with national championship aspirations.

However, this year’s Kansas women’s basketball team should also have KU fans excited because it could end up being one of their best seasons in school history when it’s all said and done.

The Jayhawks were picked to finish third in the Big 12 preseason poll, and they received 26 votes in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 poll as well. It was the highest Big 12 preseason selection the Jayhawks have had since being picked second prior to the 2009-10 season.

This recognition comes on the heels of the Jayhawks winning the 2023 NIT Championship this past spring. But the Jayhawks should have their sights on a much bigger prize this year thanks to the bevy of returning talent for 2022 Big 12 Coach of the Year Brandon Schneider this year.

The Jayhawks will once again be led by a trio of super-seniors who are now in their third year together at KU – Taiyanna Jackson, Zakiyah Franklin, and Holly Kersgieter. They are three of four returning starters for the Jayhawks this season.

Jackson is the headliner of the group following her stellar 2022-23 breakout season.

Last year, Jackson was a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 All-Defensive Team selection after becoming the first Kansas player since 1981-82 to average a double-double (15.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game).

Because of last year’s success, Jackson was a unanimous All-Big 12 selection for this upcoming season. She’s also one of 50 players named to the 2023-24 Naismith Women’s Player of the Year Watch List and one of 20 preseason selections for the Lisa Leslie Award, recognizing the top center in college basketball.

Franklin was also named to the 2023 Preseason All-Big 12 Team after earning First Team All-Big 12 honors a season ago thanks to her average of 15.7 points, 3.1 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Her 15.7-point scoring average led the team in 2022-23.

Franklin is one of 20 candidates for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the top point guard in college basketball.

Kersgieter was named Preseason Big 12 Honorable Mention this upcoming season after averaging 13.8 points per game in 2022.

She is by far and away the best three-point shooter on the team and ranks third in school history with 208 made threes. She also currently sits at No. 11 on KU’s all-time career scoring list with 1,559 points.

In addition to the super-senior trio, the Jayhawks also welcome in the talents of freshman S’Mya Nichols.

Nichols was a five-star recruit coming out of Shawnee Mission West High School in nearby Overland Park, Kansas, where she averaged 19 points per game during her senior year.

She was a gold medal winner at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship as a member of the 2022 Team USA U18 National Team and was nominated to compete in the McDonald’s All-America Game.

Her signing was one of the biggest recruiting wins in school history and she will be expected to contribute early in her KU career.

Raising expectations

With all the talent and experience on this year’s team, it’s not unfair to expect a better finish once March and April rolls around.

The 2023 NIT Championship run was impressive, sure, but there’s a reason that accomplishment wasn’t recognized with a banner inside Allen Fieldhouse.

The expectations at Kansas – for both the men’s and women’s programs – are NCAA Tournament appearances, and the women’s team has fallen short of that under Schneider.

The Jayhawks have just one NCAA Tournament appearance during his eight years as head coach, which resulted in a Second Round exit as a No. 8 seed in March 2022. That’s not going to be (and shouldn’t be) acceptable with the team the Jayhawks have this season.

They have all the makings of a team that can not only compete for the program’s first Big 12 championship, but also make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament

The key to success in March is having experience, good guard play, and a dominant force underneath the basket. The Jayhawks have all of that and then some.

This team has as good of a chance as any in recent memory to have perhaps the most successful season in Kansas women’s basketball history.

The Jayhawks will begin that quest for history tonight as they open the season at home against Northwestern State starting at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN+.