The four-guard era for the 2016-17 Kansas basketball team officially arrived with 12:40 to play in the first half of Tuesday’s 92-74 exhibition victory.
Prior to that, Kansas coach Bill Self, as he has been known to do, had played two forwards and three guards in a variety of forms during the opening seven minutes of Tuesday’s game.
However, with KU leading 16-6 with 12:40 to play in the first half, Self emerged from a 30-second timeout by Washburn by sending starting guards Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham back into the game in place of freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot and junior wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
For the next 5:46 of game action, Self tried a lineup that featured four guards and one big man.
In all, the Jayhawks played five different lineups during that initial stretch, the first featuring Jackson, Graham, Frank Mason and Lagerald Vick playing next to Landen Lucas.
By game’s end, the number of different four-guard lineups that Self used had grown to 11, with the five perimeter players all rotating in and five different big men getting at least one crack at being the lone forward on the floor.
After the initial stretch of 5:46 with four guards on the floor in the first half, the Jayhawks twice played stints of the four-guard lineup in the second half. The first spanned 3:54 in the early portion and the other covered just over three minutes, from the 7:49 mark to 4:44 remaining, when Self began to clear his bench.
Neither Self nor the Jayhawks were overly thrilled with the production that came from the four-guard lineups on Tuesday, but that was part by design and part because the whole thing is still in the experimental stages.
“We’re gonna have some stuff that we run that we’ve worked on,” Self said hinting at more specific sets within the four-guard lineup. “But we didn’t show anything tonight and we won’t the next game (Sunday vs. Emporia State).”
The main reason for Self’s willingness — and desire — to go away from his more favored approach of three perimeter players and two bigs is the make-up of this year’s roster. With five guards possessing a varying blend of talent, experience and athleticism, the strength for this Kansas team appears to be in its backcourt.
Self has said going small should give Kansas a variety of advantages on the offensive end and in transition, but it did not exactly play out that way Tuesday night.
“Our passing and ball handling was pretty brutal,” Self said. “And they took advantage of our carelessness and our softness.”
One of the biggest keys to the whole concept is the 6-foot-8 Jackson’s ability to play and hold his own in the 4 spot. He scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting — nearly all of it in the second half — but finished with just four rebounds despite picking up three in the game’s first eight minutes.
“Playing the four felt pretty good,” Jackson said after the victory. “We’ve worked on it before, we go over it in practice all the time. Sometimes it can be a really good thing and sometimes it can be a little tough for me guarding bigger guys. But I felt pretty comfortable out there. I think I did well.”
Because no one expected the lineup to be in mid-season form on Tuesday night, the Jayhawks came away optimistic that the new look still will create advantages for Kansas as the season moves along.
“I think it could be good for us,” Mason said. “I just don’t think we executed as well as we could have. We’ll just keep practicing and get better at it. Hopefully, it will work better for us moving forward.”
1st Half, 12:40-6:54
2nd Half, 15:39-11:45
2nd Half, 7:49-4:44