Kansas Jayhawks (0-0) vs. Washburn Ichabods (0-0)
Time: 7 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
TV: Jayhawk TV/ESPN+ | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Take care of the basketball
In their season debut, the Jayhawks coughed up 22 turnovers in a win over Emporia State, 14 of them coming from the big man trio of Udoka Azubuike, Dedric Lawson and David McCormack.
If there’s one thing Kansas is locked in on correcting from last week to tonight, it’s lowering that number and playing a much cleaner game.
“Most of it is trying to do too much,” KU coach Bill Self said of what led to those turnovers. “They’ve got to be able to handle catching the ball in the post and being doubled a lot better than they did. But the 14 that they had in that particular game, that’s about par for the course in what we’ve been doing in the scrimmages, too.”
Asked what aspect of taking care of the ball the players have emphasized during the past week, sophomore K.J. Lawson pointed to playing with more of a purpose.
“Just indecisiveness,” he said. “Being hesitant. We just need to make plays and not worry about turning the ball over. That’s when you turn it over, when you try to play passive aggressive.”
Added sophomore guard Marcus Garrett: “We were very careless with the ball.”
Emporia State forced a bunch of turnovers via trapping the post and the Jayhawks expect Washburn to do a lot of the same. They also expect to handle it better because, as Self said, “We’ve actually practiced it since then.”
2. Azubuike bounce back?
Playing against players much smaller than him in a game that did not mean anything in the record book or on the stat sheet, KU junior Azubuike turned in a dud last week against Emporia State.
In 17 minutes, Azubuike attempted just one shot — a dunk he made that slammed off the face of a defender after going through — and neutralized his seven rebounds by turning it over six times.
After the victory, Self noted that it was as little of an impact as he can remember Azubuike having and lamented the big man’s effort, intensity and desire to take over the game.
All three facets should be a major focal point for Azubuike in tuneup No. 2 and Garrett said he expected the 7-footer to bounce back.
“He’s responding great,” Garrett said. “He still feels good. We just let him know it’s an exhibition game and it can be like that sometimes. We’re just glad it happened early.”
3. Rotation talk
With the regular season drawing nearer, Self said he was getting closer to managing a workable rotation.
That’s a far cry from where Self and company were three weeks ago, when Self conceded that they were still searching for ways to possibly play 12 and did not exactly know which direction they would go to trim that number down.
Sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa being held out for the second exhibition game in a row pares the number of available scholarship players to 11 and Self said KU’s recent practices and the effort, comfort and production of those 11 players had helped bring clarity to the Kansas rotation.
“I think it’s getting better,” Self said. “Without going into any details, I think we can get it down to nine. For sure 10, which doesn’t seem like you’re doing much. On paper, we’ve only got 11 on scholarship, so getting it to 10 shouldn’t be hard at all. Getting it to nine would be the goal going into the Michigan State game next Tuesday.”
Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji and junior big man Mitch Lightfoot are the players most likely to be impacted by the trimmed-down rotation. But both figure to stay engaged and ready in case their numbers are called and both or either, if not needed, could wind up redshirting the 2018-19 season.
Regardless of what’s ahead, tonight’s game could be the last chance in the foreseeable future for both players — or perhaps even a surprise who is still battling for time in the rotation — to get meaningful minutes. That alone should push the effort and intensity up a level. Add to that the fact that the young Jayhawks want to be even sharper tonight than they were last week against Emporia State and it’s easy to predict this one having more of a regular-season feel to it than the opener.
Dedric Lawson vs. whoever Washburn puts on him
Kansas junior Lawson exploded for 31 points and 15 rebounds in a KU debut that will not count in the record books.
Good thing, too. Because Self and many of Lawson’s teammates believe the junior transfer from Memphis has a lot more than that to offer.
“I feel like he didn’t really get to show what he can do in the exhibition game,” Garrett said. “It was more just layups right under the goal, and I feel like he didn’t get to show his skill set yet. So I feel like people still have a lot to look out for — his passing ability, him being able to bring the ball up the floor, make plays for others.”
A lot has been made this offseason about how great Lawson and Azubuike could be together and Self is eager to see that combination click starting tonight.
“We look at (Lawson’s) 31 (points) and say, ‘Great,’” Self said. “And then we look at he and Dok combined for 33 and we say, ‘Average.’ So we need to get them both going at the same time.”
With a showdown vs. No. 10 Michigan State looming just five days later, the Jayhawks enter their second and final exhibition game of the 2018-19 season with one last chance at a true tuneup. After this, it starts for real.
Because of that, look for the Jayhawks to play with more intensity and focus than they did during a pomp-and-circumstance, 93-55 win over Emporia State last week in the exhibition opener.
Self has said that his team spent more time in the past two weeks preparing for Michigan State than it did for either of its exhibition foes. But neither ESU nor Washburn are able to throw the same kind of looks at Kansas — in terms of personnel and experience — as Tom Izzo’s Spartans will on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
While the Jayhawks shot better than 50 percent and scored 90 points, there were plenty of moments when the offense looked a little out of sync and it was clear that the current crop of Jayhawks is still learning how to play together.
“We’re all new faces, so we all have a lot of things to improve,” K.J. Lawson said Wednesday. “We just have to keep getting better. That’s what that first game was all about, just having fun and getting a feel for what everybody likes to do.”
G – Devon Dotson, 6-2, 185, Fr.
G – Quentin Grimes, 6-5, 210, Fr.
G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 190, Sr.
F – Dedric Lawson, 6-9, 235, Jr.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 270, Jr.
G – Tyler Geiman, 6-1, 175, Soph.
G – Javion Blake, 6-3, 185, Jr.
F – Tyas Martin, 6-4, 175, Jr.
F – David Salach, 6-7, 210, Jr.
C – Will McKee, 6-7, 200, Soph.