Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Tom Keegan: Jayhawks will go as far as Udoka Azubuike can take them

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) pounds his chest after a dunk during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) pounds his chest after a dunk during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is Long Beach State forward LaRond Williams.


It’s that time of year again when a national media outlet picks Kansas No. 1 in its way-too-early college basketball top 25.

It happened again. I don’t see it. Even if Devonté Graham can come close to approximating what national player of the year Frank Mason III gave Kansas and Malik Newman can contribute as much as Graham did, nobody on next season’s roster can come close to influencing a game in as many ways and as powerfully as Josh Jackson did.

KU looked very ordinary and lost when Jackson didn’t play against TCU in the Big 12 tournament.

Defending guards and centers, turning every passing lane into a potential deflection, rebounding at both ends, playing super fast in both directions in transition, lending defensive help instinctively, showing great vision setting up teammates for easy buckets, Jackson did it all. He did things seniors don’t do, much less freshmen.

Everything he did camouflaged weaknesses, kept opponents on the defensive, filled teammates with adrenaline. Whatever the need during the course of a game or even a season, Jackson was capable of filling it and never stopped competing to win.

So without him, I just don’t see Kansas shaping up as a top-five team. Maybe the following year, but not this coming season.

Unless this team’s X-factor delivers a monster season that alters the way opponents have to play Kansas because he is such a force at both ends of the floor.

If Udoka Azubuike, who has all of 11 games of college basketball experience, develops into a first-team All-Big 12 center who garners All-American consideration, then that changes everything.

If Azubuike stays out of foul trouble and has the stamina to make it up and down the court swiftly enough to keep the Jayhawks from numbers disadvantages in transition for at least 25 minutes a game, things could grow interesting in March.

The 7-foot, 280-pound freshman from Delta, Nigeria, moves so well for a man so large, has pretty good hands and loves nothing more than hammering home dunks. He’s not a guard in a center’s body, eager to show off his outside shot. For one thing, he doesn’t have an outside shot, which is actually a plus, as long as he can develop a free-throw touch. He shot just .379 from the line last season.

His production per minute from a year ago, pro-rated to 25 minutes, comes out to 9.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots.

He’ll be a year older and far wiser because of all the time he spent watching practices. Provided he has the stamina to maintain his effort level, it’s reasonable to expect those numbers to improve, especially if he can become at least a 60-percent shooter from the line. Maybe 15 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots per game?

The better scorer he is, the more the defense has to double him and the more shooting opportunities created for everyone else.

But it’s at the other end that Azubuike can improve Kansas the most.

Jackson did a terrific job of bailing out teammates defensively, so the failure of the guards to stop penetration wasn’t as obvious as it otherwise would have been.

With Azubuike sitting on the block, ready to swat and alter shots, the Kansas guards can apply pressure on the perimeter, knowing that when their man blows by them, they are headed for a dead end.


Joe Joseph 6 days, 22 hours ago

Kansas has the potential to be a MUCH better defensive team this coming season. AZ will play a large role in that, but KU also gets more length on the perimeter with Newman. Cunliffe's length and athleticism could be an asset and a strong offseason could lead to the emergence of a very good defender in LaGerald Vick.

There's great reason to believe KU will be better on the perimeter. When you combine that with a true shot blocker in AZ, it becomes easy to envision a top-five team, regardless of how effective AZ is on offense.

David Robinett 6 days, 22 hours ago

I DO see it.

Big difference between NO inside game last year vs next year with Dok, Preston, Whitman, and older Lightfoot.

Jonathan Allison 6 days, 11 hours ago

You're selling Landen Lucas way short. He saved our butts time and time again last year. They only things he didn't do was block shots and shoot threes. Az is bigger and stronger and should be big upgrade as a shot blocker, but Lucas had a whole lot of savvy defending the post. He made all of the kinds of contributions that don't show up on the stat sheet. There's no stat for taking away all of the opposing bigs best moves and forcing him to pass back out to the perimeter, for example.

Jesse Johnson 6 days, 9 hours ago

"They only things he didn't do was block shots and shoot threes."

You're kidding right? Don't get me wrong, I loved what Lucas was able to contribute to the team, but from a talent standpoint he was several notches below our bigs of the past. He never possessed the ability to finish around the rim as well as Robinson, Morris Twins, Aldrich, Darnell, Arthur or Withey. He was a good role player that helped with rebounds and defense but nothing more.

Jason Flowers 6 days, 8 hours ago

Not every contribution ends with points on the board. Lucas made those around him more effective. you could see it every time he left the floor.

Craig Carson 6 days, 7 hours ago

Lucas may have done what you said, but his lack of scoring and shot blocking ability was majorly exposed by Oregon. Too many teams could score inside against KU way too easily. Lucas would have been great playing along side Azibuike, but by himself, he was the least skilled starting big man Self has had.

Jonathan Allison 6 days, 6 hours ago

You're comparing him against guys who played the same position, but played a totally different style with a totally different set of skills, which is fine to do, but don't overlook that he shot 63% from the field, and scored 8pts and 8rebs for us, played smart ball, almost never turned it over, and despite his lack of explosive athleticism or raw size and strength, he was a more than adequate post defender because of his cerebral approach to the game. and who can forget the heads up play at the end of the Baylor game where he made the diving contest that may have sealed the W on the transition 3 attempt after being on the floor out-of-bounds on the other end.

Jesse Johnson 5 days, 6 hours ago

I'm not arguing with anything you're saying about him. I'm just arguing that not having one of the other players with "totally different skill sets" has left a gaping hole in our team that Lucas was not able to fill. Ellis sort of filled that role (well, offensively) and Embiid was fantastic in the middle of his lone season but other than that we haven't had a really great inside presence Withey.

Suzi Marshall 6 days, 22 hours ago

Yes, to be one of the top teams the Hawks need 25 good minutes from Azubuike BUT that is a big IF. Azubuike couldn't do boot camp last year and will have lost nearly an entire year of conditioning and playing. Nevertheless, lets hope he can get close to that by mid-March. The team needs a big time big graduate transfer. Somebody like a healthy Colby.

Joe Joseph 6 days, 21 hours ago

It's not like AZ hasn't been able to condition the last several months. He will have plenty of time over the summer to get in good condition. Barring a setback, his injury should be no excuse for a lack of conditioning come November.

Suzi Marshall 6 days, 19 hours ago

He also had plenty of time last summer to get ready for boot camp...didn't happen.

Shannon Gustafson 6 days, 15 hours ago

Self has said previously he's been doing conditioning since his injury. That doesn't mean he'll be running any marathons but he should be in way better shape than last year.

Mike Greer 6 days, 11 hours ago

You also need to consider he's at a different starting point than he was last year, he's already in better condition than he was a year ago.

Craig Carson 6 days, 7 hours ago

Keep in mind Suzi..Self has a great track record with turning raw big men into AA. Azibuike will be a solid scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. His big thing will be staying out of foul trouble and raising his FT % to at least 65%. Other then that, he will develop just fine. I look for him to play at least 28 minutes per game.

Tim Orel 6 days, 5 hours ago

I'll agree to a point. That point is, Danny Manning had a lot to do with making our bigs into All Americans. Since he's left, there hasn't been the steady parade of terrific big men.

Craig Carson 6 days, 4 hours ago

Self did recruit and develop Embiid AFTER Manning had left. And IMO, Embiid is the most skilled big man KU has had during the Self era. Diallo and Alexander wouldnt have developed even if Manning was still here

Alan Dickey 6 days, 21 hours ago

Until he announces he is leaving, I’m assuming Svi is coming back.

Azubuike vs. Lucas
Graham (Sr.) vs. Graham (Jr.)
Vick (Jr.) vs. Vick (So.)
Mykhailiuk (Sr.) vs Mykhailiuk (Jr.)
Whitman (Sr.) vs. Bragg (So.)
Lightfoot (So.) vs. Lightfoot (Fr.)
Garrett vs. N/A

Newman vs. Mason

Preston vs. Jackson
Coleby vs. N/A

Joe Joseph 6 days, 21 hours ago

You do remember that Frank Mason was the national POY last season, right?

I know your intent is good, but to call the gain/loss between the only consensus POY in KU history and an unproven transfer from Mississippi State as a "toss up" is downright offensive.

Unless, of course, you're being sarcastic??

Alan Dickey 6 days, 11 hours ago

I know Mason’s extremely impressive shoes will be difficult to fill.

In anticipation of this type of response, I considered constructing it like this:

Azubuike vs. Lucas
Vick (Jr.) vs. Vick (So.)
Mykhailiuk (Sr.) vs Mykhailiuk (Jr.)
Whitman (Sr.) vs. Bragg (So.)
Lightfoot (So.) vs. Lightfoot (Fr.)
Garrett vs. N/A

Graham (Sr.) vs. Mason (Sr.)
Newman (RS-So) vs. Graham (Jr.)

Preston vs. Jackson
Coleby vs. N/A

So, you can consider that one if you think it is less offensive.

I did include a question mark in my original construction, which is consistent with Bill Self’s statements that “I think Malik’s terrific … I’d be disappointed if he’s not an all-league player next year. … He’s really talented. He’s one of the most talented guards we’ve had here.”

Not being sarcastic, but such extreme statements from HCBS leads me to optimistically assume that Newman may be pretty special and not a huge drop off from any of our guards last season if he’s “one of the most talented guards we’ve had here.”

Michael Sillman 6 days, 17 hours ago

Graham will need to ascend to a Mason-like level for the Jayhawks to be a top 5 team next year.

Craig Carson 6 days, 7 hours ago

not really. A lack of inside scoring forced all of the guards to have to play better. Graham doesnt need to morph into Mason...just duplicate what he did from last season and Newman play like the McD AA he is, and KU will be fine. I have much more faith in this years post play that last years. Azibuike will be just fine..but Preston will have to be way better than Bragg.

Mallory Briggans 6 days, 12 hours ago

I recently listened to a radio show that was talking about recruiting..The 4 blue bloods Kansas. Kentucky. Duke and North Carolina were discussed.....One of the hosts pointed out that of the 4 programs Kansas didnt get the recruits that the other 3 programs did...They compared wins..national championships ...conference championships...and players currently in the NBA....note it was during the Bill Self of the hosts stated that its not the KU program but more that recruits don't care for Coach was an interesting show ........

Mike Greer 6 days, 11 hours ago

Makes you wonder why that would be? Coach has had some really good recruits that have played really well, Jackson, Embide, Wiggins, etc. But they do have to earn their minutes, there is no free pass because you were a HS superstar. Coach has also taken some less sought after young men and turned them into outstanding players, Mason, Graham, Chalmers, Taylor etc. My personal opinion is that there is a lot of spoiled brat mentality out there (Ball for example) that don't want to play for a coach that has team expectations. If you don't want to be held accountable, Coach Self is not going to be your first choice.

Alan Dickey 6 days, 11 hours ago

I agree with what you are saying, but Chalmers was the #12 HS overall recruit in the 2005 class per Rivals. So, his success was a little more expected than someone like Mason, who was ranked #76.

Mike Greer 6 days, 8 hours ago

My memory isn't that good, I was trying to think of guys that weren't McDonalds All Americans. Maybe Mario was, I just couldn't recall. But you get my point and that's all that matters. Coach has coached up guys that were McDonalds All Americans and guys that weren't. He's also had his share of McDonalds duds that just didn't pan out, but he's not the only coach that's had that happen.

Craig Carson 6 days, 7 hours ago

Selfs recruiting is just fine. He just doesnt build teams like Cal or Coach K(now anyway). I prefer him NOT to have teams of McD AA. He has shown himself to be a coach that can infuse and few top recruits with 4* guys and produce a team that can compete for FF. You outta see what what UK fans are saying on their message boards. Even after having 5-8 NBA draft picks on their team they really think Bamba is what propels them into the FF. They dont think Cal can take a team with less talent and win big. As a KU fan, I know Self and KU, arent in that same boat. Besides, its more fun seeing a guy like Mason develop over 4 years than to watch the entire roster declare for the draft and hope you have a great recruiting season.

Jim Stauffer 4 days, 11 hours ago

I am in agreement with you Craig. I really like watching kids develop over time and see how each year's team comes together with both new and old parts. This next year will be very challenging for Coach, but it should be fun also.

John Fitzgerald 6 days, 7 hours ago

It's because Self isn't a salesman, he's a basketball coach.

Bryce Landon 5 days, 8 hours ago

Recruits want to go somewhere where they have a decent shot at making the Final Four and winning the national title. They don't want to play for a coach whose teams routinely get upset in the NCAA Tournament and put up piss-poor showings if they make it to the Elite Eight.

Mike Greer 5 days, 6 hours ago

If that were really the case, if they really didn't think coach Self and Kansas had a shot at the Final Four or National Championship, then how do you explain how he recruited Josh Jackson, or Andrew Wiggens, or any number of high performance players?

Jonathan Allison 6 days, 11 hours ago

Kansas will be good. But I expect there will be bumps in the road. Losing Mason, Lucas, and Jackson is huge. Az looked really good before he got hurt, but we don't really know how good he is yet. I agree. He is the key to our ultimate success. But only if the guards are as good as we expect them to be. If we shoot 37% or better from 3, and don't turn the ball over, then it comes down to whether or not Az can defend without fouling, erase opponents pts in the paint, clean up on the glass on both ends, and play 20+ mpg (oh and make at least 50% on FTs).

Erich Hartmann 6 days, 11 hours ago

Not saying that Big'Doke will be a scoring machine, but lets not forget how completely exposed our post play was vs Oregon. Lets throw it into Lucas 1 more time (taking the ball OUT of Mason's hot hands), and see what happens...nope, only made some 6'7 athlete for Ducks look like an NBA prospect. Can we get some fast-twitch athletes in the post, please! It wasnt Landon, it wasnt Bragg, and unfortunately Coleby is transferring.

So, yes, as others posted above, this year's post-play by committee looks better than last year's, but its only on paper. Never played as a unit. Lets hope Billy Preston, McDAA, is at least play-able as a frosh. Lets hope Big'Buki learned some plays, improved his FT%, and got some Huditioning. Lets hope the Wm&Mary xsfer can at least pull a KYoung type energy mpg, and Lightfoot continues his development. He did show a knack for getting rebounds, just needed to get stronger. He supposedly has shooting range as well, which Coleby lacked, and Bragg refused to do in his soph year.

Maybe Self likes this challenge of fitting chess pieces together.

I will agree with article about the absolute domination of a game that Josh Jackson did: the BEST freshman Bill Self ever had at any college he's coached. Try to replace that! Newman will help, another McDAA, now with a chip, something to prove...

Jim Stauffer 4 days, 11 hours ago

With all due respect it is hard for a guy like Bragg to shoot from outside when Coach demands he play with his back to the basket. Coach has developed many players. I would want no other to coach our team, but Bragg did not develop. His play at the 4 as a frosh was encouraging. His play at the 5 his sophomore year was not. Coach decided we needed him to be a 5 and that is the reason he did not shoot from outside.

Erich Hartmann 6 days, 11 hours ago

Remember that even as a raw, outta-shape, clueless frosh, BigDoke started over Lucas--he was "better" already than 5th yr senior Lucas. He only got sidelined because of the injury.

Now, hopefully, we get an improved Azibuike. Remember he was having his way in the paint against Duke early in the season. Not something Lucas was capable of, except against cupcakes, and in a highly orchestrated fashion (timed post-entry feeds, timed lobs, etc).

You've seen Self's offense make bigmen look better than they are, but imagine if you plug in a more talented participant. Much like the difference between Svi and Josh Jackson at the 3. Or Releford or Brady at the 3 vs JoshJackson at the 3. A whole different level.

Jonathan Allison 6 days, 9 hours ago

welcome back to the site by the way. Seems you haven't been around as much. the poster formerly known as Ralster, am I right?

Robert Brock 6 days, 10 hours ago

Jackson was an unusual talent who desperately wanted to win. Big loss.

This year's team will lack that talent and will be without Frank Mason - a person of True Grit.

Graham and Newman are the studs. Coach Self will turn grey trying to get Preston to play team ball.

All else is average or below average. No depth at all. This is a Frankensteinish squad!

Craig Carson 6 days, 6 hours ago

cant totally agree with you. Self really hasnt had an issue with players NOT playing team ball...even if they are top recruits. Preston wont be an issue. This team does have depth. Vick has improved drastically and Garrett looks good as well, theres your back court depth. If Svi come back, he will start. Cunliffe looks more than capable of holding his own. With Coleby leaving the front court depth takes a hit, but as shown last year, Self can win without front court depth..this years Front court looks alot more promising than last years.

Shannon Gustafson 5 days, 20 hours ago

I'm more worried about Preston's motor than Self's ability to get him to play team ball. No team ball = no minutes. That normally gets through their skull pretty quickly. There have been rumblings about Preston not always being engaged and taking possessions & even games off. He certainly never showed much effort in the all-star games I watched him play in.

Jesse Johnson 6 days, 8 hours ago

So... you're not going to tell us which media outlet it was that picked KU #1? Seems really odd to tell us that a national media outlet once again picked KU #1 in their preseason rankings but then not even bother to say which outlet that is.

Craig Carson 6 days, 7 hours ago

Azibuike doesnt need to be a dynamic inside scorer like Embiid was..he just needs to be a carbon copy of Withey. Patrol the paint, block shots and hit a decent FT %. Self has a good track record of developing raw big men. Yes JJ was a difference maker, but this KU team has #1 potential

Barry Weiss 6 days, 5 hours ago

DOK was coming on like a Nigerian Night Train! His improvement from game to game was amazing before the injury. I seriously put him into the Ebiid level of improvement. Seriously, I think we will only have him this coming year. His domination, stats, and taking KU to yet another b-12 conference title will put him in lotto territory by year end.

Bryce Landon 5 days, 8 hours ago

I feel like expecting a sophomore to carry the weight of next season's team is expecting too much.

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