Monday, December 21, 2015


Tom Keegan: KU post with most? Pick ‘em

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.


If your name’s not Perry Ellis and you play in the post for the second-ranked Kansas University basketball team, chances are good you’ll watch more minutes than you’ll play.

Five post players share the available 54 minutes either backing up Ellis or playing alongside him.

None of the five play more than Jamari Traylor’s 15.3 minutes a game or fewer than Hunter Mickelson’s 10.3 minutes.

If you’re going to watch, you might as well watch closely. Mickelson’s playing time has increased lately, but he still watches enough to offer interesting insights on the big men he plays with in practice and alongside in games.

So I asked him what he would steal if he could take one thing from each fellow post man.

“Landen (Lucas), probably how he gets angles in the post,” Mickelson said. “He’s really, really good at that, so I’d take that from him. I think from Perry, footwork. He has really, really good footwork. Jamari, hustle and energy. I’d probably take athleticism from Cheick (Diallo) and overall style from Carlton (Bragg Jr.).”

The fact he didn’t specify any one facet of Bragg’s game makes sense, because of those vying for time next to Ellis, Bragg has the most all-around talent and is the team’s best NBA prospect, regardless of what the meaningless-at-this-stage mock drafts might indicate. If anybody breaks from the pack to the extent he plays more minutes than he sits, Bragg’s the most likely, but there is a limit to how much stronger an athlete can get in a short amount of time.

Lucas, the most offensively challenged and least athletic of the bunch, also is by far the strongest physically and has the most knowledge of how to play the game at the collegiate level.

The center-by-committee arrangement, although not ideal, has its redeeming qualities.

“Since we have so many bigs as of now, we aren’t going to play that many minutes, so while we’re out there we have to go as fast as we can and get the most out of it,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson has the speed to keep up in transition running in both directions and has a knack for blocking shots. His lateral quickness doesn’t match his speed, and as is the case with everyone other than Lucas, he lacks the strength to keep centers from backing him down in the post. Still, Mickelson appears to have grown on 13th-year KU coach Bill Self.

“Hunter is getting better at understanding what we’re doing,” Self said. “Hunter needed reps, and the reps have really helped him. Seems like to me the more he plays the more confident he gets. He just looks like he belongs out there.”

When Mickelson takes an open shot from the corner, Self is not saying, “No, no, no, yes.” Instead, he expects it to go in.

“He’s not a low-post scorer,” Self said. “For the most part, he’s a pick-and-pop guy. Great touch. He can shoot the ball. Everybody feels comfortable with him shooting.”

Ten games into the season, Kansas is shooting at a remarkable .467 clip from three-point range, nationally ranking behind just St. Mary’s (California) and Oklahoma, who are shooting .477. That kind of accuracy has made it barely noticeable that other than Ellis, Kansas doesn’t have a prolific low-post scorer. The Jayhawks don’t need a ton of points from their center. If they can steadily improve as defenders and rebounders, the center-by-committee shouldn’t hold them back.


Joe Joseph 5 years, 10 months ago

I feel like Self is finally embracing this team's strengths and accepting that he needs bigs on the floor that can stretch the defense and open the lane. Hunter and Carlton do that. Jamari and Landon clog up territory that could otherwise be exploited by KUs biggest advantage - its guards.

Diallo will continue to be the most interesting component. His offensive game is arguably the weakest of all the bigs, but it could eventually develop into the strongest. Can it by season's end, however? Can it even develop into the second or third best? Even if it doesn't can his defensive awareness progress far enough to compensate for his rawness on offense? While he provides energy and athleticism, I don't feel like he has necessarily demonstrated that he's a better defender at this point than any of the other bigs.

Regardless of all of this, I like where this team is heading. Tuesday is going to be a difficult game, however. Not so much because of the opponent (SDSU is not very good this year), but because of all the other factors. Time difference, late game (Kansas time), holiday break looming, true road game.... These will be tough to overcome. A win will be a real indicator of this team's collective endurance and desire.

Bryce Landon 5 years, 10 months ago

I hope Bill Self forces the team to watch that ugly, ugly home loss to the Aztecs from January 2014. That game was no fun to watch and it was a miserable effort by the Jayhawks in all facets of the game. One of the worst and most inexcusable home losses ever.

Kent Richardson 5 years, 10 months ago

Our inside game was certainly exposed as they had tall turds all over the place and we couldn't handle it.

Tom Jones 5 years, 10 months ago

Dumb comment, even for Mr. FIRE BILL SELF.

That San Diego State team was a senior-led defensive juggernaut that was an eyelash from the Final Four that year and we were a complete roster turnover from the year before. Not even close to one of the worst and by no stretch of the imagination inexcusable. They were better than we were at that point in the season and deserved to win.

We shot horribly, but a huge reason why was because there were no easy shots.

David Brown 5 years, 10 months ago

Agree with your point about unclogging the lane. If minutes cannot be nailed down by one or two guys, then play the 'hot' hand from your portfolio each night, and tailor your guys strengths against the opponents weakness. Coach Self might have to make selections each game, and within games.

Kent Richardson 5 years, 10 months ago

Very nice work, Joe.
Diallo is the most unpolished offensive player for sure. However his scoring is the highest at 7 ppg. Our saving grace at SDSU is they really are bad this year.

Kent Richardson 5 years, 10 months ago

Play Diallo until he fouls out, which may be in five minutes vs Niang. Give Perry minutes to Carlton and start using him mid-range, rim finishing and passing.

Can we be effective with the fairly equal platoon system? Maybe defensively effective until Hunter and Cheick get a feel for offense. Cheick and Hunter both create from different angles.

Mick Allen 5 years, 10 months ago

Good article Tom. I think you have accurately described the strengths and weaknesses of our 5 bigs. Bragg's development and understand ing of the game is light years ahead of Diallo. I agree with others, that for us to be as good as we can be[Final 4 and possibly more], he needs to become the factor that his raw athleticism says he can be and I feel he will.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 10 months ago

With an ultra-competitive Big 12 race coming up, it's great to see we have so many fouls to give up amongst our bigs.

Tom could have stated the limited minutes even stronger by citing in addition to Ellis' 26 minute lock (leaving 54 minutes), Bragg seems to have minimum 15 minute lock, most of which will be at the 4 giving Ellis a rest. That leaves 40 minutes for the other 4 guys. I'm pretty sure Self will get Diallo in for about 10 minutes per game, regardless, in an attempt to develop him for post-season.

That leaves 30 minutes for 3 guys. For Big 12 play, we need Lucas to hold down guys from UT, Baylor, and ISU. Paradoxically, Self will need Mickelson against the same teams to pull those bigs from the basket to open driving lands. The bulk of Big 12 minutes at the 5 should go to a Lucas/Mickelson rotation with Diallo getting developmental spot time.

That leaves Traylor for the times energy is most required, like in pressing situations. Against our main competition, that will probably be most of the game.

Everyone is talking about Self using a 9 man rotation. With the quality of debt and spot needs, my bet is he uses 11 players. On average over the Big 12 season, the lowest guy might average 8 minutes, which probably will be Diallo because of fouls. Remember how much trouble Self had getting Embiid minutes due to fouls. Besides winning all our games, I'd like to see each of our bigs average 3 fouls per game through Big 12 play.

Kent Richardson 5 years, 10 months ago

The three guard set almost makes the 11 man rotation a lock with Vick being the 12th.

Humpy Helsel 5 years, 10 months ago

This was a really good article. Very insightful and sheds light on Coach's comments regarding this group. It is confusing, even to him, how and who to use when. Rather than the normal, stabilized and predictable rotation of bigs, it may just be who is hot, who matches up, who is in foul trouble, who is playing aggressive, etc. We may have seen the patterns for the year already. On some nights, it is by committee with shared minutes, and on others a shortened bench because "it is working." If you look back at Saturday's game, Coach was like a chemist in the lab, using a game to experiment with varying combinations. It requires players who are willing to "buy in" knowing some nights they may sit and others they are on the floor. We've already seen one this year who didn't 'buy in" on one night in Chicago.

Gee, I hope Cheick gets to stay another year. Next year this time, he could be one of the top big men in the country. Not sure I agree with you Tom on Bragg being team's best overall NBA prospect. Twenty-five pounds of Hudy muscle from now he may well be.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 10 months ago

I don't know if Bragg and Diallo will be back next year since the NBA is so much about potential, which those two have in abundance.

Jay Scott 5 years, 10 months ago

Bragg is on zero mock draft lists that I've seen. He'll have to explode to be a OAD. He's said he sees himself as a multi year Jayhawk. Diallo is dropping on some, not others. Who knows?

Jay Scott 5 years, 10 months ago

Great comments. Humpy, as always. Matchups and recent play will have a great deal to do with who plays. This isn't the year of the big man in college basketball. Only a few of the top teams have a great front line (Purdue..who else?) and no Embiid, 'Brow, KA Townes type talent is out there. The Kansas bigs have enough size talent and depth to win it all. They'll get better every game.

Jay Scott 5 years, 10 months ago


Is there any small chance that you and the boys at the LJW might give Vick, Diallo, Bragg and Coleby a gift this Christmas and put a picture up beside their name on the basketball roster?

Maybe you could be extra special and actually list Clay Young, now that he's played in a handful of games and even scored? A picture too?

C'mon. High school papers keep up better than this.

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