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Friday, December 22, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Front-court additions needed to make Big 12 throne seem secure for Kansas

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets up to defend against Stanford guard Daejon Davis (1) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) gets up to defend against Stanford guard Daejon Davis (1) during the first half, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

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It’s often said by Big 12 coaches that toppling Kansas from the throne will require winning in Allen Fieldhouse, a respectful nod to the perennial conference champions’ spirited fan base.

What nobody ever seems to point out though is that the Jayhawks seldom are very far from home because their supporters from all over the country follow them wherever they go.

After a workmanlike 75-54 blowout of Stanford in Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings, Self marveled at the home-court advantage the Jayhawks had 1,740 miles from Lawrence.

“Unbelievable,” Self said on his post-game radio interview with Greg Gurley. “This may be as impressive a Kansas crowd as we’ve ever had. The lower bowl probably seats, I’m guessing 9,000, and we had about 7,000 fans. It may seat more than that. It may seat 11 (thousand) and we had nine (thousand) … The crowd was great. I couldn’t believe the support we had here.”

The crowd will help Kansas at home and will help to soften the road challenges throughout Big 12 play, which starts for the Jayhawks on Dec. 29 in Austin.

It’s tough to forecast KU’s chances of pushing its Big 12 title streak to 14 seasons until a final verdict arrives on potential front-line additions Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.

On a night in which Udoka Azubuike again showed his game is improving steadily, his need for help up front also was driven home because it wasn’t Mitch Lightfoot’s best performance. At this point in his career, Lightfoot turns it over a lot and is not a big scoring threat.

Kansas outscored Stanford by 20 points during Azubuike’s 26 minutes on the floor, but had just a one-point advantage in the 14 minutes he sat.

It’s not that Azubuike can’t play well with four 3-point shooting threats spreading the floor and making it difficult to pay extra attention to the big man. He gets scoring opportunities in part because of that. On many nights, it will remain KU’s best lineup. It’s just that the drop-off is too severe when he goes to the bench to rest or is forced there by foul trouble.

Plus, there will be games when playing with two big men is the way to go. It also would be nice to have a better free-throw shooter than Azubuike on the floor late in games because his 15-foot shooting mechanics are so flawed that opponents won’t even wait until late in games to employ the Hack-A-Dok approach.

Even with such a thin front-line, Kansas made it through an easier-than-usual non-conference schedule with a 10-2 record, thanks to Devonte’ Graham thriving at point guard, Lagerald Vick playing such smooth, efficient basketball and Svi Mykhailiuk becoming a far more aggressive offensive player, looking to dunk and to drive to finish with both hands. He went 0 for 5 from 3 and still managed to score 14 points, not a numbers combination he would have produced in younger years.

Kansas has talent, all right, but needs the depth that Preston and De Sousa can bring. Every Big 12 team is significantly better than the Stanford squad KU faced Thursday night. And No. 8 Texas A&M;, which visits Allen Fieldhouse Jan. 27, is the only opponent left from outside the conference.

By the Numbers: Kansas 75, Stanford 54

By the Numbers: Kansas 75, Stanford 54

Comments

Allan Olson 6 months, 4 weeks ago

Mitch has been an odd man out of position player for three semesters now. He should be shooting from 10 to 15 feet as well as feeding a low post big. That's likely why he was recruited and wanted to be at KU. He certainly wasn't the Arizona player of the year in HS as a low post beast. He, more than anybody, has to be chomping at the bit to see these two guys suit up and play. Let's all cut him some slack, I believe he has five potentially productive semesters ahead in his college career with the Jayhawks, playing in his natural position..

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 4 weeks ago

Completely agree. I will say that Mitch stands in and takes charge better than any other player. It is possible that Mitch will end up extending his skills but I seriously doubt that this team as it is made up now will end up extending the streak.

I've doubted Self before and been wrong but the BIG 12 is too tough to have only one true big. Kudos to Mitch for his efforts.

On a different issue, I would really like to see Sam Cunliffe start getting some of Malik's minutes. Not giving up on Malik but getting Sam ready for big 12 play may be crucial for us. The kid has skills.

Eliott Reeder 6 months, 4 weeks ago

And Mitch is also the best shot-blocker on the team.

Dirk Medema 6 months, 4 weeks ago

At 6-8, and with his shot blocking and other skills, Mitch probably was a low post beast in HS. To his credit, Mitch is also smart enough to know that it wasn't his future collegiately. That's why he's developed his game to 50% from 3 pt range (granted only 4 of 8).

Also to his credit, Mitch also seems that he came to KU because of his love for the school and program. He is the epitome of the KU players and why we're successful. He knows he's not bigger than the team or program, and that he has so much to learn.

Definitely agree that he will blossom so much more when he's able to play alongside a collegiate low post. It will be interesting to see what happens next year when the roster tables turn and there appears to be a plethora of front court player with fewer in the backcourt.

Tom Jones 6 months, 4 weeks ago

The title's not very good. Getting either or even both of these guys is not going to make the throne "seem secure".

The Big 12 is too good for that this year and it's going to take both of these guys (especially De Sousa) a while to know what they're doing out there. We could lose some early league games before they're up to speed...IF we even get them.

Harlan Hobbs 6 months, 4 weeks ago

Thanks for your thoughts on Mitch, Allan. You are correct that he has been forced into a position that is not his natural position.

In time, I predict that Mitch will be a major contributor to the program when he gets the chance to play the "4" position on a regular basis rather than the low post.

Mitch has done a credible job in his current situation. If he stays out of foul trouble, his energy, enthusiasm, and shot blocking capabilities hold him in good stead.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 4 weeks ago

You are always a positive poster. A voice of reason. Keep it up Harlan.

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