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David McCormack's struggles underlie Jayhawks' problems in loss at Baylor

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Kansas forward David McCormack scores past Baylor guard MaCio Teague, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

Kansas forward David McCormack scores past Baylor guard MaCio Teague, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP) by Associated Press

As good as he was for a three-game stretch leading up to the Jayhawks’ marquee Big Monday showdown at Baylor, no one really expected Kansas big man David McCormack to keep putting up 20 points a game.

But given the way he had been playing, McCormack taking an erratic turn in the opposite direction — and quickly — left the Jayhawks scrambling to rally throughout a 77-69 loss to the second-ranked Bears.

After KU effectively played through its junior big for three straight games, McCormack had a travel and two poor fouls before the top 10-ranked teams had played three whole minutes Monday night in Waco, Texas. Kansas already trailed undefeated and No. 2-ranked BU, 8-2, when playing the five spot became senior Mitch Lightfoot’s job and McCormack headed to the bench for the first time.

Even though the Jayhawks would never dog their teammate for an off night, it has to be difficult to see a veteran post player struggling to that extent when KU was going to need some breaks and solid play from everyone to beat one of the two truly elite teams in college basketball this season.

“It’s not like every night you’re going to get a perfect performance from everybody,” KU sophomore Christian Braun replied, when asked how the rest of the Jayhawks needed to respond when it wasn’t McCormack’s night.

“We’ve got guys like Mitch – Mitch played well tonight,” Braun added of Lightfoot, who chipped in eight points and four rebounds in close to 17 minutes off the bench. “He came in, got some dunks, gave us some energy. But I just think the team as a whole,” Braun went on, “we’ve got to have a better start. And that would’ve solved a lot of our problems. Not playing from behind.”

Braun was making a different point when mentioning the hole KU fell into, but the Jayhawks (10-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12) needed a better start from McCormack.

After nearly five game minutes on the bench, McCormack checked back in with the Bears leading 18-7. His next stint again started poorly, with a turnover. But an offensive rebound and a blocked shot would follow, and he wasn’t hurting KU by playing too amped up. The problem was he never could turn it up and make a larger impact after settling in.

Between foul trouble (he picked up his fourth with more than 13 minutes left) and the Bears just making his night a grind, McCormack finished with a season-low six points (3-for-6 shooting) in 20 minutes, to go with two rebounds, one assist, one steal and four turnovers.

“Everybody’s going to have ups and downs,” Lightfoot said. “As you’ve seen, Dave’s been terrific these last three games. He gives us a dimension I think I give us a little bit of, but he’s such an interior presence, gets buckets around the basket.”

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound McCormack was far from making an optical impact at BU, though.

“We need him to be playing his best ball,” Lightfoot said, “and I’m going to do everything I can as a teammate to help him and get him back to where he was these last couple of games.”

Given McCormack’s issues at Baylor, the biggest surprise of the night was that the Jayhawks stuck with playing a traditional big man up until the game’s final minutes. There was 3:44 showing on the second half clock when KU head coach Bill Self sent five guards — and neither McCormack nor Lightfoot — onto the court for the first time.

A Jalen Wilson dunk in that lineup cut Baylor’s lead to five with 3:18 left, but the answer 3-pointer from Jared Butler at the 2:56 mark seemed as demoralizing a moment as the Jayhawks experienced, and the Bears wrapped it up from there.

Theoretically, KU could have still won this game with McCormack playing poorly for much of the night. But it would’ve taken the Jayhawks executing a level of defense they’ve yet to show this season, as well as several members of their core rotation stepping up their production.

Faults aside, it’s also important to keep in mind that even on a night when McCormack wasn’t even close to being at his best, KU was only outscored 34-32 when he was in, while the Bears had a 43-37 advantage when he was out.

Even when it’s not pretty, there’s something about having the big guy out there that is beneficial, and that, no doubt, is why Self continues to stick with McCormack and a more traditional lineup. At least for now.

The Jayhawks need a much better version of McCormack — and some more experimenting with five-guard lineups — in the weeks ahead if they’re going to reach their ceiling.

Lightfoot isn’t worried about what’s ahead for McCormack.

“If you know David, his confidence won’t dip,” Lightfoot said. “He understands that we need him to be a good team and he’ll respond.”

Comments

Dirk Medema 9 months, 1 week ago

I didn’t get to see the whole game, but there’s a highlight video of a BU player getting a putback dunk simply because he outhustled David.

Robert Brock 9 months, 1 week ago

The game wasn’t about McCormack. It was about Butler. KU did nothing to bother him.

Glen Miller 9 months, 1 week ago

McCormack isn't man enough down low against the better teams. He tries, he just gets pushed around and put out of position. Not that he's the only one by any means, but he gets moved too easily for a 5 man and dribbles way too much when they throw the ball into him because he's on the wing or at the free throw line. He's got to get position deeper in the lane so he doesn't have to do so much work on the back end. And for God's sake, stop throwing it to him when there are 2 or 3 guys around him, turnover every time. McCormack is the better athlete, but honestly in games like this I'd rather see more of Mitch. I trust him more.

Blake Brown 9 months, 1 week ago

McCormack stunk it up woefully and it really didn't`t have anything to do with Baylor. he just lost all sense of court discipline and went as if crazed. Self made a comment on the post game show that Baylor took the chair out from under him meaning that McCormack would lean back against a defender and they would just step aside and he fell off balance and out of rhythm which his exactly his persona for the game. Three of his fouls were simply from being overly aggressive and made it easy for the refs to call it. Boy, do we miss Udoka. The crucial play of the game was that Butler 3 at 2;56 which came after he pushed off right in front of 2 refs who swallowed their whistles. Instead of having the ball with momentum from a 9-0 run and down 5, we get it back down 8 and we're toast. It's not just David, Wilson is totally out of sync, Marc made so many unforced turnovers at terrible times and Harris doesn't have an offense so there were times when we had only 1 or 2 bonafide scorers on the floor and that's a recipe for losing. Time is short and 4-3 in the conference is not good especially when some games may not be made up. Not playing Iowa State last Saturday was a big miss in getting things turned around. Can it happen for OU? Rock Chalk!

Steve Zimmerman 9 months, 1 week ago

Been saying this for a while, just like observations from the above posts. Coaches - Dave's problem is on you, he doesn't have the fundamental of good down low position, be it in the offense or defense on boxing out. His feet are happy feet, just like tap dancing. He needs to be solid - i mean put feet on the ground low, like SUMO wrestlers - that's how you get stable position, plus stick his butt out while wrapping his arms around the opponent.

I'm not a pro coach, so are the other fans that keep complaining about Dave, but i think our coaches are not emphasizing fundamentals enough and expecting them to play their low-post games. We fans, sometimes, can provide valuable inputs.

In the first few minutes opening, his slip screen is quite on target, but failed to take the advantage of it, because again, lack of FUNDAMENTALS: 1. when he set screen, the baller passed through his left, a very easy reminder is to ask "WHERE'S THE BALL??", he should've spin to the left - this is quicker. 2. why the heck he's asking for a lob, when there's a defender in the middle? 3. he moved his feet, again, too much, the pass from Garrett was too speedy for Dave to catch with two hands because his other hand was still pointing up asking for a lob!!!! 4. had Garrett bounce-passed the ball, Dave would've had a better chance to finish it.

We want to see improvement in passing and using the bigs in a non low-post situation. Once coaches address these fundamentals, we'll be unbeatable. Trust me. We've already got the pieces. Go Jayhawk!

Micky Baker 9 months, 1 week ago

Here's the thing. There were 2 times in the 2nd half KU turned up the intensity and got within 5 points. They they let up just a little, and Baylor got their double digit lead right back. The games that we have really struggled with are those where we do not come out and match the intensity of the opponent. Keep the pedal down through the game. We really only needed about 10 minutes of intensity like we showed to close the gap to 5 points those 2 times earlier in the game and we probably would have won. Butler can score 30 points and we can still beat them. We only lost by 7... which was one of those runs they made to get to a 12 point lead right after we closed it to 5. We had a couple of other stretches like those when the gap was closed, we win. It's a team game. Everyone has to do it. McCormack was not why we lost. Of course it would have helped to have him, but if he doesn't hustle back on defense and Wilson doesn't hustle back on defense, they're going to get easy fast break points on us. We can't expect Baylor to not make plays, but they got a lot of easy shots because we were not playing with intensity virtually the whole first half. We're the underdog right now, we need to play like it pisses us off.

Clarence Haynes 9 months, 1 week ago

He struggles against teams with a strong inside presence. If two are guarding him, somebody’s open.

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