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Monday, January 27, 2020

Benton Smith: Jayhawks should be even tougher to beat with McCormack back — as a backup

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) attempts to stop Oklahoma State guard Lindy Waters III (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) attempts to stop Oklahoma State guard Lindy Waters III (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

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Stillwater, Okla. — It wasn’t easy the past few days for the Kansas basketball team to get by without suspended big man David McCormack, even against the only winless team in Big 12 play.

But when McCormack comes back, it should be in a slightly different role, as a backup.

The Jayhawks got lucky that their two opponents following the rivalry game fracas that cost McCormack his spot in the lineup were Tennessee and Oklahoma State, instead of upper echelon programs from the SEC and Big 12.

With the 6-foot-10 McCormack unavailable, KU lineups without center Udoka Azubuike proved disastrous versus the Volunteers. Two days later, on Big Monday against the Cowboys, it appeared it would be a little more manageable to play freshman wing Tristan Enaruna as the pseudo center because OSU played a half-court zone defensively.

Sure enough, the five-guard lineup found some success, particularly from 3-point range, increasing KU’s lead from 7 to 14 points in the first half during the first stretch Azubuike spent on the bench. However, the Jayhawks were just benefiting from their circumstances, because that lineup doesn’t stand the test of time in most games and against most teams.

It didn’t even hold up versus Oklahoma State, when Azubuike’s second foul of the first half meant he spent the 3:37 leading up to halftime watching. The Cowboys remembered how much easier it is to get to the paint when KU didn’t have a big man on the floor and within a couple of minutes trimmed the Jayhawks’ lead to a point. 

More than anything, anytime Azubuike left the court in a 65-50 road win, KU missed the 7-footer’s defensive presence and the work he puts in on the glass. McCormack isn’t the defender or scoring force that his senior teammate is, but the sophomore’s energy and size in the paint would have been a welcome addition in both the games KU played without him.

The Jayhawks could easily stick with freshman Christian Braun (McCormack’s replacement in the starting five at OSU) or go back to senior Isaiah Moss (who started against Tennessee) and thrive throughout the rest of the season with a four-guard starting five.

And KU coach Bill Self said after the win that’s what he sees them doing.

“That’s who we are as of today,” Self said of starting four guards. “I don’t see that changing.”

And McCormack should be an essential part of the overall winning formula as the one and only big man on the floor when Azubuike takes a seat on the bench.

He may be listed as a forward on KU’s roster, but in reality McCormack is a perfect backup center for KU’s most dominant player, Azubuike.

McCormack’s time in KU’s starting lineup might have been coming to an end anyway. The last time he played, Self subbed him out less than two minutes into the Sunflower Showdown, with the two-big starting lineup off to a clunky start. McCormack only played four first-half minutes as the Jayhawks recovered nicely without him. 

Remember: McCormack’s night went poorly enough against K-State — even before the fight — that he was playing out the final minutes of a blowout on the floor alongside the walk-ons and Silvio De Sousa, leading up to the melee.

Now that the Jayhawks have played twice without their sophomore big man, they’ll be happy to have him back in the rotation. But that doesn’t mean Self needs to go back to starting McCormack.

Before his suspension, McCormack was a starter in name only. Entering the trip to OSU, he ranked seventh on KU’s roster in minutes played (13.8 a game) in Big 12 contests. In the Jayhawks’ first six conference games, he provided 5.0 points per game and 4.2 rebounds.

“I think David will still play the same amount of minutes, or close to the same,” Self said of McCormack becoming a reserve. “But I see our best lineup being probably with him and Dok playing the five, and those guys splitting time on the perimeter.”

The Jayhawks don’t need McCormack to start. They need for him to, for minutes at a time, do the best Azubuike impression he can.

KU has looked far better most of this season with Azubuike as the only big on the floor and four guards playing around him. Surrounding McCormack with four perimeter players won’t be as overwhelming. 

But the Jayhawks should become even more difficult to beat with McCormack as a second-string center who can bring size, energy and, most important of all, some lineup continuity.

Comments

Tony Bandle 4 weeks ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Let's hope this game puts away any more thoughts for a two big line up for the rest of the season.

2] Would someone please check Braun to see if he even has a pulse...he almost looked bored out there.

3] Maybe KU's only chance for a share of the Big 12 title will be beating Baylor in Waco...no one else is going to help us. [I wonder if Chip and Jo Jo will be at that game?].

4] Sorry Bryce..I guess Bill isn't the worst coach in the western hemisphere after all.

5] Love the fact that Christian's whole family either played for Misery or are big Tigger fans!!

6] Wow..Okie State really sucks on offense. They could have built a cathedral with all the bricks they threw up at the basket last night.

7] I see that friggin' Lunardi has us as a Number One seed again!!

8] Let's see....2 suspended, 1 injured, 1 schollie abandoned, 1 red shirt, 7 active scholarship players......who'se #13?

9] Not a Laker fan at all but I always admired how Kobe worked like he was the last man on the bench and he would get let go if he didn't give 110%. A tragic loss of a father and daughter.

Bryce Landon 4 weeks ago

I never said Bill was the worst coach in the Western Hemisphere. I am on record as saying that his teams are infamous for messing the bed in Stillwater, especially since OSU isn't the powerhouse they were in the Eddie Sutton days. And indeed, I was his harshest critic when he was losing to the likes of Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament, going so far as to call for his firing for his postseason underachievement. But now I am on board with him again, thanks to that 2018 Final Four appearance.

Don't confuse me with Brett, who constantly rails on Self for being a "dirty cheat".

Tony Bandle 4 weeks ago

Bryce, my apologies..I realized last night I had gotten you guys confused....at 72 all it takes for me these days is two guys names having the same first letter!! :)

Bryce Landon 4 weeks ago

No worries, Tony! It can also be confusing when Brett and I seem to be battling each other to be the most hated guy on these comment threads - what with him denouncing the basketball program for being dirty and me openly singing the praises of the Iowa Hawkeyes during football season - Brett and I are the "Killer B's" of KUSports.com!

Edward Daub 4 weeks ago

From Bryce to Brett to Bandle! Double Play?

Hey Tony, you lost me. Who the heck are Chip and Jo Jo?

The "Silvio" Lining in the Suspension, it forces Bill to play 4 Small and 1 Big.

Joe Black 4 weeks ago

Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper on HGTV. They are from Waco and huge Baylor fans (but really nice people.)

RJ King 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Tony - There are 2 redshirts: Mitch and the freshman guard.

Clarence Haynes 4 weeks ago

Another McCormack dimension will be consistency with his 10’-15’ shot.

Barry Weiss 4 weeks ago

It looks like the 4 guard rotation will start. I still like the option of going to two bigs against certain opponents, but maybe Coach will not even have them both out on the court at the same time, more of just have DMac coming in for Dok exclusively. Braun is looking awesome, even led the team in rebounds last night.

Robert Robinson 4 weeks ago

Finally. I love the idea of 2 bigs, but not with this team. Too bad it took a brawl and player suspensions to finally get a chance to try it

Joe Black 4 weeks ago

I agree with liking two bigs but not with Dok. To run the high low properly with two bigs they both need to be able to shoot from 10-15 feet and Dok's range is about 1 foot. (It's all he needs to dunk).

Mike Greer 4 weeks ago

Two bigs worked really well when one of them was named Perry Ellis. Right now we don't have a high post guy, it could be DMac, but he's not there yet, and may not get there with Dok. It looks to me, Coach has committed to 4 around 1, and I don't think that will change wen/if Silvio suits back up this year.

I think up until the "brawl", Coach thought and spoke highly of Silvio as a person. If Silvio chooses to come back for his senior year, Coach will give him a chance. I don't think it's the same relationship Coach had with some of the other guys, like Vick. Maybe he and Mac will be 2 bigs that works out. We'll just have to wait and see.

Tony Bandle 4 weeks ago

Mike, good point. Next year we will have DMac, Mitch and most likely Silvio at the 5 hole. Not bad but not compelling enough, in my opinion, to justify going back to the two big set up.

Besides, we've got a top guard coming in and, between you me and the lamp post, I think Devon should consider one more year. Throw in Christian and Marcus and KU has the best 4 guard line up in America!!

Brian Wilson 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Tony, I am not sure that Silvio really helps. Why hasn't Mac and Silvio been any good this year together? I hate to say it, as much as I like him, but it might be time for Silvio to go International or D league especiallly with Muscadin and possibly Thor coming next year.

I am not sure that HCBS won't still play two bigs just a little, it could create matchup problems on occaision, but happy to hear that a four guard offense with Az in the middle is decided on. I also would like to see Moss and Braun starting. Let Mac, Garrett, and Enaruna come off the bench. Wow!! the 3 point potential with Moss Braun with Dotson and Ag in at the same time will be hard to beat! Play em and let the chemistry develop!!

Jerry Walker 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Bench Marcus? That sounds like 86 proof talking.

Steve Quatrocky 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Lets give Doke some recognition as the last two games showed how much his game improved since arriving as a Freshman and fouling anybody within his ominous wingspan. Sure, the numbers weren't eye popping or even close to his career records, but lets face it, he had to play conservative as the only big, as if he was in foul trouble from the opening horn with no backup, yet he rebounded, blocked shots, defended, ran the court, and even made two FTs in a row without fouling out. His impact on the game was obvious even if it wasnt a highlight reel of dunks. His maturity and understanding of the game was on full display.

RJ King 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Tony - There are 2 redshirts. Mitch and the freshman guard.

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