Not one of the four four-star freshmen on the 2019-20 roster screams guaranteed NBA lottery pick at this point, the earliest stage, of each of their college basketball careers at the University of Kansas.
Yet not one of them has failed to impress their new teammates and coaches in one fashion or another during their brief time on KU’s campus.
The Jayhawks’ supposedly underwhelming — at least by the ridiculous standards of this particular program — freshman class is full of players Bill Self is convinced will contribute at some point in the future, even if the coach has not figured out quite yet how much KU will ask of forwards Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna or guards Issac McBride and Christian Braun during their collective debut season.
For what the freshmen may — for now — lack in jawdropping talent or five-star power, it seems they are making up for it with the types of efforts that will earn them not only respect, but also playing time.
“They came in here ready to work,” sophomore David McCormack said Monday of what the youngest and newest players on the team have done to stand out so far. “They play hard. Definitely. The whole group of freshmen, they’re tough. They don’t take crap from no one when it comes to practice or games or anything.”
Perhaps that’s why Self thinks all four could end up factoring into KU’s rotation this coming season.
“I think they’re all good players,” Self said on more than one occasion of the freshmen on Monday. “I think we’ve got to figure out some things with the minutes standpoint, which may be a situation we didn’t think we would have to deal with. But, hey, they’ve all been good (on the court since arriving).”
Ahead of his 17th season at KU, Self made it clear neither Wilson, Enaruna, McBride nor Braun will leave the type of footprints as freshmen that some of the more heralded recruits Self and his staff have landed through the years, citing the names Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ben McLemore and Josh Jackson.
“But these guys are going to be really good college players,” Self predicted.
From what senior forward Mitch Lightfoot — he’s already a senior? — has witnessed from the freshmen during the summer, he thinks they can make a “huge” impact for the Jayhawks.
“The thing about these freshmen is they play so hard. They’re all willing to get better from what I’ve seen,” Lightfoot shared. “They like to learn. And then coach is obviously confident in them and he’s letting them know that. I think that’s important for them for their development.”
Wilson, who just committed to KU this past week, didn’t arrive in Lawrence until the weekend. On Monday afternoon, when he left KU’s locker room inside Allen Fieldhouse to head to a training session, he turned the wrong direction before Self redirected him toward the correct destination.
The coach and the 6-foot-8 forward who had previously planned to play at Michigan are just getting to know each other. At the moment Self was asked what Wilson will bring to KU’s lineup, the coach made sure to point out that he had only worked with the freshman once since Wilson enrolled.
“But he gives us size, he gives us toughness and he gives us skill,” Self said. “He’s not going to wow you like some people may think, like Josh (Jackson) could from an athletic standpoint and quick twitch standpoint. But he just knows how to play. He’s a winner. And I think his ability to shoot the ball is probably as good, close to as good as anybody on our team. And to have that as a guy that’s potentially a bad matchup four at least at times during the game, I think, is going to be real important to us.”
All four freshmen figure to prove themselves as vital components of a winning KU team next season. Wilson and the 6-8 Enaruna give the Jayhawks some flexibility and size on the wing whenever needed. McBride looks like an ideal backup point guard for Devon Dotson, and would also feel comfortable playing with Dotson. Braun could prove to be one of the Jayhawks’ better 3-point shooters.
None of them will be asked to carry more of a load than they can handle. And all of them just might end up too hardnosed and essential to keep out of a deep KU rotation.
A Devon Dotson-less Kansas basketball team would have figured out some way to succeed in the 2019-20 season — Bill Self is still the Jayhawks’ head coach after all. That alternate reality isn’t one even the most diehard KU follower could stomach in fan fiction form, though.
If Dotson had decided to go ahead and keep his name in this year’s NBA Draft, maybe Quentin Grimes would have tried to return to KU and play some point guard instead of entering his name in the transfer portal. Perhaps incoming freshman Issac McBride would have emerged as the team’s primary ball handler. More likely, junior Marcus Garrett would have served as a large floor general.
The truth is none of those alternatives could be characterized as ideal. Had Dotson not saved KU from that actuality with his decision to return, observers would constantly have wondered how much better the Jayhawks would have looked with the point guard from Charlotte, N.C., running the show.
The Jayhawks should be what-if free next season, though, with Dotson back and Silvio De Sousa cleared. KU even projects as strong enough with its veteran heavy lineup to keep people from wondering how R.J. Hampton would have looked in a KU uniform.
With Dedric Lawson trying to carve out a spot for himself in the NBA and Hampton playing in New Zealand, this will be Dotson’s team. And maybe that played some factor in his decision to put his NBA career on the back burner for one year. (See Self’s statement on Dotson: “We feel like we have a very high draft pick in next year's draft returning as our point guard.”)
It looked like Dotson would have been a late second-round pick this year. Now he has a full season of starring for what looks like a legit Final Four contender ahead of him. More national television exposure and countless opportunities to showcase what kind of growth he has made as a playmaker, shooter and finisher after averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman, when he made 48.2% of his shots and 36.3% of his 3-pointers.
Dotson won’t have to lead KU in scoring — a healthy Udoka Azubuike would be more than capable of that — but he could. Dotson had the best free throw rate (.482) among KU starters this past season and he became more adept at getting into the paint and drawing contact as his first college season progressed. He’ll be even more comfortable, not to mention stronger, by the time his sophomore season begins, and Dotson is dedicated and competitive enough to become a more effective scorer off the dribble, whether that’s at the rim or at the foul line.
And you know he’ll spend the offseason working on his 3-point shot and trying to improve his ability to drive to set up shots for his teammates, because those are two qualities that will better his chances of getting drafted early in 2020 like Self thinks he can.
A leader in waiting and as obsessed with winning as anyone on KU’s roster this past season, Dotson can now smoothly step into the spotlight, while assuring the Jayhawks play with speed, as well as some confidence and passion. Next year’s KU team won’t look much like its predecessor. Not with a driven Dotson back and taking on an even larger role.
With Dotson, Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas has a core of rotation players that looks on paper like a Big 12 title-winning lineup and a top-five team in the country. Their ceiling could go even higher if some combination of freshmen McBride, Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun prove themselves ready. Plus, with three open scholarships at this point, there’s a chance Self and his staff could still add even another player or two capable of contributing right away.
As talented as all those individuals are, each of their jobs would have been more taxing without Dotson around. His presence changes everything for the better for KU, and saves everyone invested in the program from wondering what if.
Though the state of the Kansas basketball roster remains in a bit of flux roughly six months before the 2019-20 season officially begins, one definite Jayhawk who seems capable of cracking the rotation is freshman Tristan Enaruna.
Originally from the Netherlands and more recently a four-star prospect at Wasatch Academy, in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Enaruna won’t arrive in Lawrence ready to dominate, or even start. But the Dutch forward sure looks and speaks like the type of player Bill Self will love to coach.
When KU announced that Enaruna signed his letter of intent, Self invoked the names of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins while trying to give KU fans an idea of what to expect from the freshman, at least from a “size, athletic ability and skill set” standpoint.
It’s important to note at this point that Self wasn’t labeling Enaruna as a one-and-done 2020 first round NBA draft pick to be by mentioning the new signee in the same breath as Oubre and Wiggins. Enaruna has been on the international basketball radar for a few years now, but the intrigue surrounding him remains rooted in what he may one day become.
Sure, if you squint your eyes just right while watching Enaruna highlights he may sort of resemble Oubre or Wiggins while rising up for a fastbreak jam. However, it seems far more likely that during his freshman season at Kansas Enaruna will favor those two most as a long, athletic wing defender.
Earlier this year, months before Enaruna committed to Kansas, he was in Charlotte, N.C., for the Basketball Without Borders international showcase. It was there that he spoke in detail with ESPN NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz about his game.
After exhibiting his abilities in a gymnasium occupied by numerous NBA scouts, Enaruna said his plan was to play aggressively on both ends of the floor.
“A few years ago I was relying too much on offense. If my offense didn’t go well then my defense was probably pretty bad, too. So I worked on that,” Enaruna explained.
According to what the young prospect told Schmitz, he had trouble finding a rhythm during the first half of his senior season at Wasatch Academy, but his game improved during the second half of the schedule by playing “tougher.”
So Enaruna is an incoming freshman who apparently values defense and toughness? It’s hard to imagine a better route to playing time on a Self coached team.
While Enaruna also professed to be a more consistent shooter now than he was a few years ago, his defense will probably be ahead of his offense as a first-year player at the collegiate level. And if he’s consistent on that end of the floor, with his 6-foot-8-ish frame and reported 7-foot wingspan, Enaruna should get to play through more offensive missteps than your typical KU freshman.
Enaruna, like most college basketball players with a pulse, has NBA dreams. In fact, it may be his confidence and willingness to combat on the defensive end of the court that eventually gets him that far.
When Schmitz asked him at Basketball Without Borders about how he thought he would fit into today’s NBA, Enaruna’s response pointed to the “positionless" nature of the game, with bigs capable of driving and shooting.
“You have to be able to guard multiple positions. And I think that I’ll fit in that situation pretty good,” Enaruna said.
While YouTube highlights of Enaruna show him doing plenty offensively — pulling up for 3-pointers, finishing above the rim with his long arms, driving past lazy defenders, attacking off the bounce and dishing to teammates inside and more — it’s hard to watch many of those clips without hearing Self’s voice say “that’s not ball” regarding the level of effort being exerted by some of Enaruna’s victims.
For as smooth as he looks with the ball in his hands at his edited for YouTube best, it will be the not as clickable dirty work on defense — in which Enaruna seems to take great pride — that will make him valuable for KU next season as a reserve.
From the time that it became clear to those who obsess over Kansas basketball that Bill Self was indeed the longterm answer for the program and a more than suitable replacement for Roy Williams, who left KU for North Carolina, those among the fan base prone to worrying about these types of things began fretting about which basketball team would one day lure Self away from Lawrence.
The popular potential offender quickly became the San Antonio Spurs.
KU conspiracy theorists pointed to Self’s longstanding friendship with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, dating back to their college days at Oklahoma State.
At some point, they figured, head coach Gregg Popovich would leave the Spurs. And when that happened, the premise went, why wouldn’t Buford call up his old pal, Bill Self?
Through the years, fodder for such speculation grew. Self and Buford are close enough that R.C.’s son, Chase, joined the KU basketball team as a walk-on. After Bill’s son, Tyler, graduated from Kansas, he took an entry level job in the Spurs’ basketball operations office.
Yet, here we are, 16 years after Self took over the KU basketball program, and he’s still in Lawrence and Popovich remains in San Antonio.
Even so, this offseason was one that had to be circled on the calendars of the most paranoid KU basketball supporters, because Popovich's $11 million a year contract with San Antonio would expire at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
Throw in recent rumors of Self being a candidate for the Chicago Bulls’ job — as if Self doesn’t know Fred Holberg well enough to know to avoid that franchise; and, by the way, the Bulls signed Hoiberg's replacement, Jim Boylen, to a contract extension in January — and theorists might have even more reasons to worry about Self leaving for San Antonio, because the 70-year-old Popovich, hypothetically, could decide to retire.
If Self shooting down NBA rumors earlier this month and declaring his intentions to not only coach the Jayhawks next season, but also “hopefully” begin negotiating an extension of his contract, which expires following the 2021-22 season, didn’t do the trick for the Self to San Antonio worry warts out there, maybe this will.
Popovich told reporters Monday, two days after the Spurs’ season ended with a first-round loss to Denver, he’s negotiating a new contract with San Antonio.
We don’t know yet how long Popovich's new deal will last with the Spurs, so perhaps these developments only kick the Self as Pop’s replacement suspicions down the road a few years.
But here’s another hunch. Self won’t be the next coach in San Antonio.
The Spurs, unlike many NBA organizations, emphasize system and culture, because that’s what Popovich, head coach and president of the team, has put in place.
Popovich is to the Spurs what Dean Smith was to UNC and what Mike Krzyzewski is to Duke.
So when Popovich eventually decides to leave behind the franchise that is as synonymous with his name and face as it is with Tim Duncan’s, you can bet that Buford will ask Popovich for advice in finding the first new Spurs head coach since the 1996-97 season.
And when that day comes, here’s my hypothesis of how it will play out: it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Popovich helps pave the way for some NBA history by recommending the Spurs become the first team to hire a female head coach, San Antonio assistant Becky Hammon.
Since the day he accepted the position 16 years ago, Bill Self’s job title at the University of Kansas has been head men’s basketball coach. But it might as well be general manager, CEO, president of basketball operations and czar of roster engineering, too.
Sure, his assistants help Self a great deal in both discovering and zeroing in on talented prospects on the recruiting front, but it’s ultimately up to the commander in chief of KU basketball to determine the composition of KU’s roster each and every season.
Through the years, Self has even often mastered the art of college basketball’s version of the waiver wire, with more than a dozen players transferring in and even more transferring out during his tenure. All the while, he’s adding high school prospects and often dealing with the possibility of any number of current players deciding to leave Lawrence early in pursuit of their NBA dreams.
As well as Self has handled that juggling act, tweaking KU’s roster has now become more difficult than ever. Rules currently in place allow college players to declare for the draft as underclassmen, do so with the help of an NBA-certified agent, receive feedback about where they may land in the first or second round and then decide whether it’s in their best interest to return to school or stay in the draft.
These rules exist to help each player make the best possible decision for his future. And that’s the way it should be.
This revamped pre-draft process just happens to make it extra challenging for high profile college basketball head coaches/general managers to plan in April for the following year’s roster.
Nine rotation players appeared in KU’s season-ending loss to Auburn in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. Most likely, at least four of them — Dedric Lawson (draft), K.J. Lawson (transfer), Charlie Moore (transfer) and Quentin Grimes (draft) — will be gone.
Five others — Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot and possibly Devon Dotson (draft) — could be back.
Then, as of Tuesday night at least, there’s the who knows category, occupied by ineligible through next season Silvio De Sousa and injured Udoka Azubuike.
If both of those bigs decide to go pro, too, Self and his staff, in a doomsday scenario, could have as many as six or seven scholarships to fill for next season, with only two Class of 2019 recruits — Christian Braun and Isaac McBride — currently on board.
And with those dipping their toes into the NBA Draft waters, there’s always the new possibility, even if they have an agent, that they could decide to come back by withdrawing from the draft.
“I think the new rule, maybe it’s a good rule, maybe it’s not,” Self said Tuesday night, following the team’s end of season banquet. “I think time will tell. But I do think it makes it hard to manage rosters, because it’s much easier to say ‘I’m gonna try something.’”
If anybody can pull off this dance, it’s Self. He made it clear that KU’s staff won’t sit back idly, waiting to hear what each potential draftee will decide.
“But the thinking of it is that if you open yourself up to try, then certainly you’re telling us that it’s OK to go sign somebody. So that’s probably not the ideal situation to be in. But I’d much rather have too many than not enough,” Self said.
It appears Dotson is using the early entry rules the way every talented player should, as an information-gathering tour that will set him up someday down the line for a successful NBA career. So at least some semblance of stability (probably) exists on that front.
But how will KU fill the rest of the roster with rotation-level players when the coaches don’t yet know how many spots they have to fill?
The man in charge, as you might have guessed, hardly seemed worried.
“So we’ve got some things that we’re working on to do,” Self said. “But I think in the next 10 days a lot of this is gonna clear up.”
The Kansas football fans who showed up Saturday for the Jayhawks’ spring game at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium got a bit of a surprise during one of the breaks in the action.
And for that matter, so did the man responsible for drawing so many of them there.
Les Miles admitted Monday he was caught a bit off guard when a skit he and KU basketball coach Bill Self teamed up for began playing on the giant video board at the south end of the stadium.
“I was walking off. I had no idea. I was oblivious to where they were going to play that,” Miles said. “I mean, if somebody would have asked me before. … No, obviously they’re not gonna play it at the spring game.”
The KU-produced video featured the athletic department’s two biggest names reenacting a scene from the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy, “Step Brothers.”
“So I’m walking off the sideline, I go, ‘I’m hearing my voice. What am I doing?’ And I look over there,” Miles described of his reaction when it began playing, “and I go, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me.’ I bet I waited three to five minutes before I said, ‘What a terrible waste of a jumbotron.’ And off I went.”
The two don’t build a bunk bed together, but the video opens with Self asking Miles a simple question, once the football coach enters the room: “Who are you? And why are you in my office?”
Before long, Self and Miles are in staredown mode, both claiming to be “the Kansas ball coach.”
After some namedropping boasts about players each has coached in the past — Self shows off a photo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid before Miles lets him know he coached Odell Beckham Jr. — the two compare national championship rings, as well as pictures from each of their team’s trips to the White House.
The scene culminates with Self asking, “What is your favorite rapper from Florida?”
In unison, the coaches answer: “Rick Ross!”
That, of course, prompts Miles to deliver one of Ferrell’s memorable lines from the movie, “Did we just become best friends?” before the two high five.
Between the “Step Brothers” parody and Miles’ recent video announcing the Rick Ross performance for KU’s spring game, the 65-year-old who led LSU to a national title has proven open to embracing his less serious side at KU — even if there is some slight hesitation.
“What goes through my mind,” Miles said of when such ideas have been pitched his way, “is ‘I hope that my wife and kids don’t see this.’ That’s the first thing that I think. I enjoy the challenge. I really enjoyed the Bill Self thing. That was great fun.”
The way Miles sees it, “you only get to go around one time. There’s no do-overs. You might want to have some fun.”
Salt Lake City — Thursday afternoon inside the Kansas locker room, shortly after the Jayhawks opened their path through the NCAA Tournament with a first-round victory over Northeastern, head coach Bill Self had a question for his players.
“Good job. Hey, guys. One down and how many to go?” Self asked.
A mixture of responses followed, with “five” being the overriding reply.
“One,” Self quickly corrected them, as seen in a video posted on KU’s social media accounts. “One down. One to go. Hey, hey. One down and one to go, OK? All right, good job.”
When it comes to March Madness, Self always prompts his teams to look at each stop along the way as its own, four-team, two-game tournament. If the Jayhawks win the first two-game tournament, they get to go somewhere else and try to win another.
Apparently at least a few players who grew up watching The Big Dance and came to KU with dreams of chasing a national championship got caught up in the moment, knowing six wins is what it takes to cut down the nets at the Final Four.
“That tells you the impact I’ve had on their lives, as far as them paying attention,” Self would joke after the fact.
So who was to blame? Who said five?
“I think I said five,” a smiling Dedric Lawson admitted Friday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, ahead of KU’s second-round matchup with Auburn. “I forgot it was a two-game tournament.”
And with that response, Lawson didn’t hesitate to use the conversation as an opportunity to mess with nearby teammate Charlie Moore, teasingly throwing him under the bus.
“It was really Charlie’s fault. Charlie, he play too much. He’s the one that made me say five,” a grinning Lawson continued. “But we all know it’s a two-game tournament, one game at a time and things like that, so we can’t get ahead of ourselves.
Why was Moore at fault? What did he do?
“He play too much, man,” Lawson replied. “I ain’t even gonna say what he did.”
Learning that Lawson had just placed the blame on him, Moore provided his version of the story.
“That was definitely Dedric. I wasn’t gonna say nothing. But Dedric said five. If you’re listening closely to the video you’ll hear Dedric say it,” the smiling Moore insisted.
With Moore and Lawson cracking themselves up with their accusations, Moore’s assertion continued.
“Everybody said one. Dedric yelled five,” Moore argued. “He over-yelled everybody, ’cause he thought he was right. But he really wasn’t.”
Why did Lawson say it was Moore then?
“I was next to him. I don’t know why he said that,” Moore retorted.
As the allegations flew back and forth, the reactions from David McCormack, sitting in the locker stall between Lawson and Moore, indicated he knew something.
Asked for some insight, McCormack provided his opinion.
“I mean, you can never tell with these two. Between them, Marcus (Garrett), all of them, they all like to joke around,” McCormack said. “Maybe Charlie might have tapped Dedric … I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past him, honestly. He probably told him the right answer was five and everybody else said one.”
What was McCormack’s response to Self’s question?
“I took the smart route and I didn’t say anything. I just whispered to myself,” the freshman big explained, “and said one after the fact. So right or wrong, I just didn’t get called out.”
Whomever was to blame, McCormack said Lawson was “by far” the loudest to give the incorrect answer. But he wasn’t sure if there were others on Team Five.
“I just know I was standing next to Dedric, so he definitely said five,” McCormack said.
Surely veteran Mitch Lightfoot didn’t fail Self’s postgame locker room test, right?
“I don’t know what I said, to be honest,” Lightfoot claimed. “I’m not gonna self-incriminate, either. The next time he asks, we’ll be locked in on one.”
Of course, in order to do that the Jayhawks will have to get past Auburn on Saturday night.
“We’ve got to lock in for our second game of this one,” Lightfoot said, “and hopefully get to the next one.”
You can’t knock any of KU’s players for having large scale goals this time of year. The vibe the Jayhawks gave off in their locker room was one of confidence. They believe in themselves and their ability to make a deep run.
The incorrect “five” response that popped to the front of some players’ minds allowed them to have some fun along the way, too. But they all understand the crux of Self’s one down, one to go message.
“You can’t win five games if you don’t win one game,” Lightfoot said. “Slight issue.”
On Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., shortly after Kansas lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, freshman point guard Devon Dotson sat in the Jayhawks’ Sprint Center locker room answering questions about what went wrong.
As he detailed both the positives and negatives of the defeat from KU’s perspective, Dotson emphasized that the disappointing result came with some important lessons, especially when it came to defending a team such as ISU, which plays four guards and one big man.
“They ran some stuff that I think got us tricked up a little bit, but for the most part, I feel like we can learn from this — how to defend four guards better,” Dotson said. “And how we can score on the other end easier when our shots aren’t falling. We can find other ways to get the ball in the basket.”
Thanks to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the Jayhawks don’t have to wait long for a do-over.
Five days after their four-guard counter failed to topple the Cyclones, they’ll take on Northeastern’s four-guard attack in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday afternoon.
Iowa State’s guards possess their specific strengths and weaknesses and it’s overgeneralizing to say the Huskies will challenge KU in exactly the same fashion. For one, Northeastern’s top four guards rely even more on 3-pointers. According to hoop-math.com, among NU’s four starting guards, three take more than half of their shots from downtown, while the other came up just shy of that cutoff.
Jordan Roland takes 66.7 percent of his shots from 3-point range, Donnell Gresham Jr. comes in at 60.6 percent, Bolden Brace is at 58.7 percent and even Vava Puscia attempts 47.3 percent of his field goals from behind the arc.
After the brackets revealed KU (25-9) would play as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, head coach Bill Self was asked Sunday evening whether the previous day’s matchup with ISU would help the Jayhawks in any way against No. 13 seed Northeastern (23-10), the Colonial Athletic Association’s postseason champions.
"In theory, yes. But we prepared to play Iowa State with one walkthrough, so it wasn't like we practiced to play Iowa State,” Self noted. “We practiced last week for Texas, with actually a thought we would play Texas Tech (in the Big 12 semifinals, instead of West Virginia, which upset the Red Raiders). It will probably help more than it would hurt, but hopefully we'll be better prepared to be better at it with three days of practice."
Against Iowa State, KU began the game as it usually does, playing with two bigs, Dedric Lawson and David McCormack. But the Cyclones gave KU too many issues and Self went with four guards during much of the title game.
Don’t expect to see Self start Marcus Garrett in the NCAA Tournament’s first round just because Northeastern plays four guards, though. The Jayhawks figure to stick with two bigs to have an advantage inside offensively. And then if and when necessary they can play four guards and do so comfortably after having days to go over actions and strategies designed to overcome Northeastern.
Before the Jayhawks had much time to get into scouting reports or watch video of Northeastern, Lawson indicated Sunday night KU could play with four guards or three against Northwestern in its tournament opener.
“Coach, he already talked about he’s been in the business a long time and he knows what it takes to win. So he basically talked about sometimes play two bigs, sometimes play one big,” Lawson related. “Whatever the case may be, we all just have to buy into that role and that scouting report.”
Should the game dictate that McCormack spend less time on the court and more minutes on the bench, the 6-foot-10 freshman won’t get his feelings hurt. He explained after KU’s loss to Iowa State why logging 8 minutes didn’t catch him off guard or greatly trouble him.
“We have a full understanding of knowing how the other team plays and that they might want to play small — well, not even might — they’re gonna play small. You’re a big man and when you want to play to the advantage of your team, you understand that. It’s not an individual sport. It’s about the team and what we can do to win,” McCormack said. “So the variation in minutes didn’t affect me.”
If McCormack is forced off the floor, it won’t be because of any shortcoming of his, but the result of Northeastern’s shooting and KU’s need to have Lawson on the court as much as possible.
Between 6-foot-1 redshirt junior Roland (.408 3-point shooter), 6-1 redshirt junior Gresham (.393), 6-5 redshirt senior Puscia (.401) and junior Brace (.415), the Huskies may prove to have the fire power to force an adjustment.
If KU spends any time using Garrett, Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and Lawson as its lineup, the Jayhawks are confident in that group, even though it couldn’t rally past the Cyclones this past weekend.
“I felt like we rebounded the ball good for having four guards out there,” Garrett said of one positive, after KU had a 41-36 advantage on the glass against ISU. “We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, and just learn how to defend at the end of the shot clock.”
Immediately after KU lost to a four-guard lineup in K.C., Lawson predicted the Jayhawks would handle any opponent of that ilk better in the NCAA Tournament.
“Just keep the competitiveness,” he said. “I think guys definitely competed. We keep that competitive nature we’ll be good.”
The Jayhawks obviously have the personnel to handle the Huskies, and by the time the game tips off on Thursday afternoon they’ll be well versed in what each member of the potential Cinderella team from Boston brings to the floor.
KU’s players seem confident. And they’re saying all the right things. Now they just need to prove that they absorbed the wisdom ISU’s four guards made available to them.
If Selection Sunday is any indication, the Kansas Jayhawks should enter the NCAA Tournament feeling lucky.
While it’s true this team experienced way too many valleys during an at times rocky regular season to make any assumptions about what’s in store for the Jayhawks this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, their potential next stop was too massive to ignore.
A nine-loss KU team that is seeded fourth has no business playing in Kansas City, Mo., in the Sweet 16. But if — and this “if” should be deciphered in a font size 10 times larger than this — the Jayhawks handle their business against No. 13 seed Northeastern on Thursday and are then able to advance past either No. 5 Auburn or No. 13 New Mexico State, they’ll be right back at Sprint Center less than two weeks from now.
That hardly seems fair for the No. 1 seed in the region, North Carolina, and its leader, former KU coach Roy Williams, should the two blue bloods advance out of the opening weekend.
But this isn’t about fairness. It has much more to do with fortuity, at least on the Kansas side. On the NCAA Tournament’s master list of seeds, Nos. 1-68, KU landed at No. 13 — considered the best No. 4 seed in the field, ahead of No. 14 Florida State, No. 15 Kansas State and No. 16 Virginia Tech. And in that spot, the Jayhawks ended up in their preferred regional, the Midwest.
Good for Kansas. Bad for UNC.
Imagine if the sneakers were on the other feet — and we’re not talking Nike and Adidas. What if KU was a No. 1 seed and playing against a No. 4 seeded UNC team in Charlotte, N.C., in the Sweet 16? Those who wear crimson and blue might have been too livid to even fill out a bracket.
So is it really fair for a No. 1 seed to potentially have to travel to Kansas City, Mo., and play KU in an arena 43.3 miles away from Allen Fieldhouse?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Bill Self said Sunday evening, after the brackets were unveiled. “But I would say that, to me, if you win two games in the tournament, you know you’re going to play a really good team. And you know it’s probably going to be a neutral deal in a situation like that (the Sweet 16). But this won’t be a neutral deal if everyone advances.”
Self’s right. If the bracket were to go chalk, KU supporters could be rock-chalking it up in K.C. next week in a year when the Jayhawks didn’t win the Big 12 regular season or postseason titles.
Dedric Lawson admitted that possibility didn’t even hit him at first as the Jayhawks watched the selection show, until an on-air analyst brought it up.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ We’ve just got to win these games and get back home,’” Lawson shared.
According to Self, even if KU, UNC and Kentucky were to move on and get to K.C., all of those blue-blood fan bases could be outnumbered if the region’s No. 6 seed, the Big 12’s postseason champs, can stay hot.
“If you throw Iowa State in, if they advance, I mean they’ll have more fans there than anybody,” Self predicted.
Of course, as Self said while discussing such scenarios, we’re all getting way ahead of ourselves. But ’tis the season.
“I still think what wins more than anything is talent and talented players playing together at the right time,” Self said.
Still, even KU’s head coach couldn’t think about the possibility of a KU-UNC Sweet 16 game without recalling the last time the two programs met up, in 2013.
“Certainly we had an opportunity to play Carolina the first weekend in Kansas City and that was a pretty significant advantage for us at that particular time,” Self remembered of a 70-58 victory for No. 1 KU over No. 8 UNC in KU’s home away from home.
The Jayhawks weren’t wearing green when Selection Sunday happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, but they’ve got to be feeling a little charmed.
Good thing, too, because sometimes when March Madness comes around, it’s better to be fortunate than proven.
Kansas City, Mo. — For much of the regular season, those who follow Kansas basketball wondered when freshman Quentin Grimes might turn a corner and become the steady shooter and scorer the Jayhawks needed in the backcourt.
Perhaps turning the page to the postseason will do the trick.
Grimes shot 2-for-10 in his Big 12 tournament debut against Texas, when he scored 12 points in a quarterfinal victory, but he quickly moved on from that performance to set the nets ablaze in the semifinals. Grimes’ 5-for-8 3-point shooting led to an 18-point night for the freshman and the sense that he may finally be trending upward.
Even so, Bill Self wasn’t ready after that showing to place Grimes in the same stratosphere as a recent KU guard who caught fire just in time for March Madness.
One reporter asked Self whether the coach could compare Grimes’ uptick to what Malik Newman pulled off a year ago, during the 2018 postseason.
“No, not yet,” Self said.
“If the guy goes off and gets 30 (in Saturday night’s final versus Iowa State),” the KU coach added, “and is the most valuable player of the tournament, then, yeah, you could say that.”
You may recall that Newman, like Grimes this year, had an up-and-down regular season before turning into “Postseason Leek.” Newman went off for 30 points in his Big 12 tournament debut versus Oklahoma State, then followed it up by pouring in 22 against Kansas State and finishing his three-day run with 20 more in a title game victory over West Virginia.
So Grimes would need to put on an extra-spectacular shooting display in the championship game to give the Newman comparison more weight.
“But what did he get today, 18? What did he have, 12, yesterday? So probably not quite that level, but it is a nice addition,” Self said Friday night at Sprint Center. “And to win three games in a row, especially the situation that we’re in, you’re going to have to have some guys step up that maybe haven’t been asked to do it in the past because they’re so young, and maybe play beyond their years. And Quentin did that today.”
Despite some rough patches as a scorer over the past few months, Grimes has now produced double-digit points in four of KU’s past six games. During that span he’s 17-for-35 on 3-pointers.
Self didn’t think there wasn’t a specific moment when he noticed Grimes shooting the ball with more confidence.
“I think everybody goes through phases like that. If you look at numbers, he’s shot it better in league play than he has for the season. But it’s been a gradual thing,” Self said.
What had stopped Grimes from getting going, Self pointed out, was that he would maybe have a decent night from 3-point range, 2-for-4 or something along those lines, and then go 1-for-6 the next game.
“He hasn’t really been in a real rhythm,” Self said. “We’re saying he’s shooting it better, which he is. He looks better shooting it. He looked better shooting it (Thursday) night, but he was 1 for 6 (Thursday) night, from 3 — is that right?”
“I agree. He’s playing with more confidence, and good shooters shouldn’t remember their misses, they should only remember the makes,” Self concluded. “And I think he’s going through a phase right now where he actually feels that way.”
Grimes enters the Big 12 title game averaging 8.3 points for the season and hitting 35.9% from 3-point range.