David McCormack's minutes will be crucial for KU in March
No. 1-ranked Kansas could play as many as 11 games between now and when college basketball’s national champion is crowned on April 6, in Indianapolis. And during the most pivotal and scrutinized portion of the season, the Jayhawks will have to at times get by without starting center Udoka Azubuike.
Whenever one of the best big men in the nation isn’t on the floor for KU, it will be up to Azubuike’s backup, David McCormack, to make sure his minutes result in a net positive outcome.
A sophomore who is averaging just 13.5 minutes a game in Big 12 play, McCormack won’t be asked to do anything unreasonable in the weeks ahead. But sensible basketball minds will agree that he should be more than serviceable if Azubuike is hurt, in foul trouble or needs a breather.
At 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds, McCormack is a presence inside, even though he doesn’t rebound, block shots or influence the outcome of opponents’ attempts in the paint as successfully as Azubuike does. But he proved at Kansas State this past Saturday he can impact the game in a supportive way, even in crunch time.
When the Jayhawks (26-3 overall, 15-1 Big 12) played the final six-plus minutes in Manhattan without Azubuike, because of his ailing ankle, McCormack checked in with his team up two, and in the 5:58 that followed, KU outscored K-State, 11-9.
In that span, McCormack accounted for a turnover, a steal, an assist on Christian Braun’s late-game 3-pointer, a foul, a missed jumper, a successful shot attempt and another foul.
Due to Azubuike’s ankle issue, McCormack played 20 minutes in total — his most since he was still in the starting lineup in January. The reserve center contributed nine points and four rebounds, went 2-for-7 from the floor and 5-for-6 at the foul line.
Bill Self thought KU played well down the stretch, with McCormack in for Azubuike.
“He made a big shot. He took a silly one and made a big shot,” Self clarified. “And then the one that he made at the end of the (shot) clock got waved off. I thought he did fine. I don’t think we win the game without any of our seven today that played a lot of minutes, but certainly David was pretty clutch down the stretch.”
One knock against McCormack is that so many of his shot attempts are mid-range jumpers and long 2-pointers. Earlier in the season, when KU regularly played McCormack and Azubuike at the same time, those attempts were a little more forgivable, because they relatively spaced the floor — or at least made the interior somewhat less crowded for driving guards.
But now that McCormack spends almost all of his minutes as KU’s only big on the court — and If Azubuike’s injured ankle keeps him out of KU’s home finale versus TCU it will be all McCormack all the time — he would be better suited taking his shots inside. Per BartTorvik.com, in his 26 games versus Division 1 opponents this season, McCormack is 18-for-20 (90%) on dunks, 37-for-48 (77.1%) on shots at the rim and 38-for-89 (42.7%) on other 2-pointers.
Plus, if he spends more time posting up and quickly attacking, he’s more likely to get to the foul line, where he’s quietly one of KU’s best shooters (36-for-44, 81.8%).
“I don’t know if you guys know this — that’s the first free throw he’s missed in conference play this year,” Self remarked of the big man’s lone misfire at the charity stripe versus K-State.
McCormack, who is converting 54.1% of his attempts this season and making 47.9% in Big 12 contests, isn’t shy about taking shots in his limited minutes. If he can reprogram his offensive approach by taking those shots inside, he could even become a more effective player just in time for March Madness.
Self had few critiques, though, of McCormack’s game following KU’s win at K-State.
“I thought his ball screen defense was OK. I thought he rebounded OK. But I don’t know,” Self replied, when asked if there were things McCormack could do to be more effective during his minutes. “He’s obviously a good shooter from 15 and in, so he needs to shoot the ball. But I would say just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s kind of settled into his role and is doing it pretty well.”