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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Rotation likely to stay at seven for Kansas basketball

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa, left, sits next to teammate Billy Preston, who remains inactive, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

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Most of the rest of us couldn’t help but take our minds off the moment to wonder how much better a bigger, more balanced Kansas basketball roster would look once Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa were cleared to play in games.

While we drifted, the seven young men who made up 15th-year KU coach Bill Self’s rotation kept their minds trained on the two constant tasks at hand: preparing for the next opponent and working on improving themselves.

Now, Preston’s in Bosnia drawing a paycheck and De Sousa (6-9, 245) has played six games, time enough to show he is too far behind to project as a member of Self’s regular rotation before next season.

So the same seven names make up the rotation, but the team isn’t the same. It’s better, improving at a faster rate than the rest of the Big 12 contenders. The standings look better, too, with KU alone in first place.

Self, obviously, is one of the best at both preparing his team for the next challenge and making his players compete harder, more unselfishly and smarter as the season progresses.

And the improvement of the team actually can be traced in part to an apparent weakness that has an underlying strength to it: the lack of depth.

Here’s why: Kansas ranks 347th of 351 in the nation in bench minutes (20.8 percent), per kenpom.com, which is another way of saying KU’s starters spend more time playing together on the court in games than all other schools in the nation not named Western Kentucky, Boston College, Albany and Syracuse.

It shows. They Jayhawks compete together fluidly and the ball moves rapidly to the open shooter. They blast down court relentlessly and cleanly, getting open 3-pointers, dunks and layups in transition.

They know how to play together defensively, as well, comfortable with one big man on the floor and four guards frequently switching when confronted with ball screens.

All that time on the court together, consistently delivering at both ends in the clutch in a season of more close games than normal for Kansas, results in their confidence in each other growing each time they win another close one.

Sure, the lack of depth hurts them when foul trouble surfaces. It sometimes means higher-than-ideal minutes to keep players fresh. Yet, for a team that defends with intensity and pushes the pace, KU doesn’t play tired. Self carefully has managed practice time and intensity to keep in-game fatigue from weakening his players.

Looking from the outside, it’s always difficult to have patience. It’s normal to want the player with the higher upside to supplant the more experienced one immediately. It doesn’t work that way. Forcing playing time on an athlete who isn’t ready to absorb all that comes with getting thrown into a faster game than the one he just left behind doesn’t always accelerate a player’s progress. It sometimes stunts it, as well as hurts the team.

That’s where Kansas is at center behind Udoka Azubuike. Mitch Lightfoot is a far better college basketball player at the moment than is De Sousa, who has the higher ceiling as a post player.

The difference between the players at this moment is big enough that it’s a stretch to believe that will change enough within two months that De Sousa surpasses Lightfoot.

Kansas scrapping the four-guard lineup it has used the past two seasons in favor of one that features two post players is an hourglass on the verge of dropping its final few grains of sand.

After De Sousa appeared on the court for two minutes in the 79-68 victory against Texas A&M, Self explained the challenges of finding more time for the power forward who was playing high school ball the first semester at IMG Academy in Florida.

“It’s difficult if you’re going to play four guards all the time,” Self said Monday night. “I mean, it’s difficult. Mitch played great tonight. Mitch was great the first half. When I subbed for (Azubuike) when he got his first foul, I put Silvio in in front of Mitch and Mitch had done nothing wrong. As long as we’re playing one big, it’s going to be hard.”

The NCAA has reined in practice time, which puts using it productively at a greater premium than ever. At some point, perhaps soon, practicing with two bigs together becomes a poor use of time.

“If we’re playing two bigs more it will be a little easier,” to find time for De Sousa, Self said. “I keep saying that could happen, but it hasn’t looked good in practice at all. And I’m not talking offensively. I’m talking defensively.”

If it plays out that Self stays with four guards the rest of the way and Lightfoot remains the safer sub for De Sousa, that doesn’t mean the year has been a waste for the prospect from Angola. He’ll know what to expect next year, what he needs to polish in his skill set and in his understanding of the game. At the start of next season, De Sousa will be far ahead of where he would have been had he not skipped his final semester at IMG.

Plus, situations tend to surface during NCAA tournament games that press players outside the rotation into service and the results often are surprisingly good. Tyrone Appleton’s six-minute effort in 2009 vs. North Dakota State comes to mind. Just last March, Dwight Coleby (averaging 12.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks for Western Kentucky this season) lent a valuable nine minutes to the cause against Michigan State.

By tournament time, even if De Sousa isn’t granted valuable development minutes in many games during the regular season, he might look more comfortable on the floor than he has thus far.

For now, he’s making too many mistakes for Self to trust in close games. De Sousa has played 18 minutes and taken one shot, a lefty bank that went in after a nice, quick post move. He has scored two points, hasn’t gone to the line yet and has three rebounds and a blocked shot. He has committed six fouls and five turnovers.

Sam Cunliffe also has struggled, especially defensively, to capitalize on limited playing time. In 63 minutes, Cunliffe has committed 10 personal fouls, shot .435 overall, .250 from 3 and totaled 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three turnovers.

The best guess is that come tournament time, the seven-man rotation will have the same seven names as it did when much Kansas basketball talk centered on anticipated in-season additions Cunliffe, De Sousa and Preston. Seven just might be enough for a deep tournament run.

Comments

Allan Olson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

AAH! The cold, hard reality comes through after all our hopes and dreams for the team with Billy, Sam and Silvio. So many posts here, so much speculation from Jayhawk Nation. Billy is finally a non issue. Sam probably should be considered a bust after close to two years of college ball under excellent coaching. And, Silvio is an Arabian horse in the Indy 500 right now. The Magnificent Seven will have to carry us to championships. Rock Chalk you guys!

Jim Stauffer 3 weeks, 3 days ago

It is totally unfair and unkind and irrational and anything else negative anyone can think of to say Sam is a bust. He is the most athletic guy on the entire team. Give the kid a break. We know Self will not use the non-con to prepare a bench to contribute during the conference and tourney portion of the season. That is not Sam's fault. He obviously should have been playing multiple minutes when we were beating people by 50 and he would have gained much experience and his chemistry with the rest of the team would have improved and yes, we would only have won by 35-40 in those games. Sam Cunliffe is not the reason he is not prepared to play right now.

Cedric Spire 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Total agreement I'm a Sam fan, you could tell he was nervous against KSU but he hasn't had a chance so that should be expected. He made nice Euro step layup after getting hit in the head with the ball because he was ready for a pass. He air balled a 3 I think just because he was nervous. He's playing to try not to make mistakes because he knows he will get yanked. He had 2 rbs and a assist also against KSU. If we play some zone I think Sam and Silvio can probably play some more minute because there will be less defensive break downs.

Tom Jones 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I agree it's waaaay too soon to call Sam a bust, but the rest of your post is frankly just silly. You do realize that Sam couldn't play until mid-December, right? Since then we've had a grand total of three games that we've won by more than six points, and Sam has averaged 12 minutes in those games.

It sounds like you know better than the coaches who gives KU the best chance to win games. If that's the case, you should be coaching D1, not posting on a message board. Your post makes it sound like he's being deliberately blackballed by the staff even though he'd give us a better chance to win. That seems...unlikely. There's no indication of any disciplinary issues with Sam.

I would rather win games than play guys who don't know what they're doing, but that's just me. I want to get #14. Sam's obviously doing more things right in practice because for a while he wasn't seeing the court at all and he got meaningful minutes versus KSU. Hopefully he'll be able to squeeze in more minutes as he gets more comfortable and be able to contribute if needed in the tournament.

Allan Olson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

He was not even eligible for the non-con routs. Look at the talent coming in for next season plus the likelihood of nobody leaving but the two seniors. And, there are still 3 solid, experienced transfers, all former college starters. That brings the count to 13 scholarships, my friend. Sam will be a junior with little KU experience and limited practice time. Self will have a stacked team next season, and someone[s] will surely need to redshirt. There will 4 transfers with no room to redshirt. Tell me where that prospect will leave Sam? You think there is no playing time for a guard NOW, wait till next season. That's why he's bust situation for the KU coaches, who expected much more from him NOW. We've seen this transfer story play out before. Hit the ground running, or warm the bench or leave. Then the problem becomes geometric if we get guard Romeo Langford. Do the math, this poor guy transferred to the wrong place and has not made any meaningful game contributions to this point. This was Sam's semester to impress. I think he's out of chances.

Marius Rowlanski 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Is Sam the most athletic player on the team? How did you come to that conclusion?

Kent Richardson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Fantastic writing Mr. Tom.

For all our hope of depth assistance by the start conference it is time to accept the seven man rotation as reality. The notice that we have improved more than most is spot on as is the reason for it. Maybe Texas is next in line for that but their's is more of a poor shooting team getting a little better at scoring.

We can expect more upside from Mitch and Marcus who we hope can do more than hold their own at times and Silvio and Sam can't get any less effective can they?

Robert Brock 3 weeks, 3 days ago

De Sousa will be an adequate backup to next season’s PF starter - Mr. Dedric Lawson.

Danny Hernandez 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Man, do I wish Dwight Colby was still on the team, big mistake to let him go

Tony Bandle 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't he want to leave on his own? I agree, however. Still, I wonder how he feels seeing that he would have been a high profile rotation member at a Top Ten iconic university instead of just another player at some school in the middle of Kentucky.

Aaron Paisley 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Coleby left because he wasn't projected to play many minutes. His best case was projected as the 3rd or 4th big in a 4 guard line up. Hindsight being what it is, I'm guessing Coleby would've stayed if he knew how KU's rotation was going to play out this year because he would've been tgebsecond big.

Tony Bandle 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Everything points to a season ending short of the Final Four. no depth, minimal height, our main offense the three pointer could go away for one game and we're done, exhaustion, zero margin for error, etc.

But one thing keeps the flame of hope alive for me.......this season's year ends in EIGHT!! [1988, 2008...2018???]

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 3 days ago

And before that there was 1978 - which ended with a loss to UCLA.

And 1968 - which ended with Kansas playing for the NIT title.

And 1958 - which ended with Kansas missing the NCAA Tournament a year after losing the national title to the Tar Heels in 3-OT.

And 1948 - which ended with Kansas tied for last in the Big 6.

Dale Stringer 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I believe Sam will make it into the rotation plenty next year. He only came off the practice squad in mid-December where Charlie was his point guard. He still has twice as much experience working with Charlie than he does Devonte and it probably won't even up until the end of the season. It will take time to develop the chemistry/timing needed to get more minutes.

Michael Terry 3 weeks, 3 days ago

If Bill keeps to seven, KU has little chance of making a deep run into the tournament. They will run out of gas. Our best bet is to keep getting Silvio and Sam into the mix whenever possible. We will need all hands on deck to make it to the Final Four.

DiscGolfer Jason 3 weeks, 3 days ago

We were not going to make it to the FF anyway. Couldn't do it last year in KU's backyard in KC. Without bench scoring there is no chance. I hope Garrett can begin putting up at least 7-8pts avg.

Shannon Gustafson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

If we've learned anything from the tourney it's that nobody knows what's going to happen since there is a lot of luck involved (who's hot at the right time, matchups, seeding, bracket makeup, upsets elsewhere in the bracket, etc.) and that KU will be tight in the E8 game if they get there. So to speak with such certainty about what will/will not happen with this year's team in the tourney is silly.

DiscGolfer Jason 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Fair enough. It's also silly to believe in "luck". There is no such thing.

David McNickle 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Sure there's luck. How do explain Syracuse getting the highest seeded opponent possible through the first three rounds on their way to the FF two years ago? Your matchups through the tournament have very little to do with your teams' skill.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 3 days ago

And we probably won't get to the Final Four again if we have to wait on Bill Self to get us back there.

Andy Godwin 3 weeks, 3 days ago

"Dwight Coleby (averaging 12.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks for Western Kentucky this season)". His decision to leave KU pretty much set the tone for this season. As the pundits have proclaimed after a fairly mediocre showing against the SEC, there are no final four teams in the Big 12. I have to agree. Even the national luster of Trae Young has faded. The "KU 7" continue to surprise, but they do not appear to have enough pieces to replicate the near success of the not so deep 2012 team.

Town Thomas 3 weeks, 3 days ago

7 is good for regular season but not the tournament. KU lost to TCU in big 12 tournament and to Oregon in Elite 8. The reason? They were tired. Remember KU lost to Standford in tournament? KU had no one to go except for Conner Frankamp? However, He was not prepared because Self did not want to play him in regular season. This year's team is not as good as last year's team, who were tired eventually. DG is already showing sign of tiredness. If 7 was good for 35second per possession, it is not for 30 second. (35/30*7)= 8.17. You need at least 8 regular players to keep the intensity. 7-rotation is already old school! If Coach Self doesn't play more players, he may still get 14. But I don't see any hope in tournament. It's not science. The history has already proved it.

Shannon Gustafson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Or they lost to TCU because they didn't have their 2nd best player (Jackson), lost to Oregon because they always seem to get tight in the E8, lost to Stanford because they didn't have their best player (Embiid) and the second best player was already looking towards the NBA (Wiggs).

I'll agree that Graham seems to be wearing down this year.

David McNickle 3 weeks, 3 days ago

And they didn't have Jackson for the entire 1st half against Oregon.

Tom Jones 3 weeks, 3 days ago

They sure looked gassed blowing out Michigan State and Purdue right before the Oregon game, didn't they?

And you kinda destroyed your whole "tournament loss because bench guys not ready" argument bringing up Conner. He was our second best player in that game. We lost because our three best players (since Embiid couldn't go) all had horrible games.

Mike Greer 3 weeks, 3 days ago

For all the Sam supporters, he wasn't eligible for all those non-conference games, because of NCAA transfer rules. Silvio came to the team after conference play started, both of these guys needed those games to get accustomed to playing with the other starters. Couldn't happen, not Coach's fault, you can't play in games your not eligible or present to play.

Of those for whom we were hopeful, only Preston had the potential to jump right into the lineup, and even he was at a serious disadvantage after missing all those non-conference games where we won by 50 and the competition wasn't as high quality. It's a smaller jump for these guys to play the "little sisters of the poor" than just about any team in the Big XII.

John Brazelton 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Bill Self can be quite cruel to certain players whose main strength is offense, rather than defense. Look a Brandon Greene who had he chose another university might be playing the NBA today. Trae Young made a great choice when he choose OU. Can you imagine Bill Self letting one of his players jack up 39 shots in a game. Sam will have to concentrate on defense if he ever wants to see the court under Bill Self. Don't get me wrong, Bill Self is a great coach, but he has a cruel streak towards certain players who are primarily offensive players..

Tom Jones 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Thanks for the laugh with the "cruel" bit.

Brannen's in the G-League for a reason, and it ain't where he went to college.

Marius Rowlanski 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Greene? Self kept Greene, leaving Andrew White lll to transfer to Nebraska all because of Greene's 3pt shot which never materialized despite his "perfect" form.

Coach Self gave Greene far more chances than he deserved.

Shannon Gustafson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Well, he did shoot 40% from 3 his sophomore year and 49.2% his junior year with a career average of 42.2% so I'd say it's unfair to say it never materialized. He's even shooting 62% from 3 for his G League team through 15 games this season.

Mike Bennett 3 weeks, 3 days ago

One good thing is the tournament has much longer timeouts and breaks than regular season games. I'd still like to see them get more minutes for the bench, but understand you have to win the games.

Harlan Hobbs 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Bill Self "cruel"? Are you nuts. He has his methods and beliefs, and everyone knows them up front. Greene was a streaky shooter who played poor defense and had a questionable attitude. He probably should have gone elsewhere, but he was and is not pro material.

Svi and Vick are better players today than they would be anywhere else.

In short, Bill Self and his staff are as good as any in the country, and their record shows it.

As for the article, it certainly is well done. KU's limited rotation obviously creates potential problems. However, I doubt that, given the outstanding work of Andrea Hudy and the training staff, fatigue will be a significant factor when all is said and done.

Bill Self teams are as well conditioned as any in the country, as witnessed by the fact that Devonte, Malik, and Svi played a total of 119 minutes out of a possible 120 at Manhattan and came away with a convincing victory.

Lance Hobson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Tom you may very well be right but I see this team as a work in progress throughout the entire season. It’s not uncommon at all to have a player who was on the outside for most of the season to suddenly find a role during the tournament. This could be one of those teams. In reality that’s probably our only chance to make the Final 4 unless our 3-point shooting is hot, which is usually a huge wild card and recipe for early tourney exit.

Brad Miller 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Good column Tom, nice work. So much commentary over running out of gas, worn down, played out. I am more optimistic about their resiliency. Everyone staying healthy is far more important (Captain Obvious told me). So I will just continue to enjoy/stress-out each game as it comes and hope the ride lasts until April.

Barry Weiss 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Good article. Totally agree. This team is coming together really well on both ends of the court. The fatigue factor will always be there, but this short rotation is our identity this year. Who knows, this may work well. In years when we had the 8-9 man rotation I thought maybe the starters should be out there more. I trust Coach.

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