A starter in 18 of the season’s first 20 games, the most experienced player on the Kansas basketball roster was met with a demotion earlier this week.
Senior guard Lagerald Vick lost his starting job ahead of the Jayhawks’ trip to Texas. It wasn’t the first time his head coach removed Vick from the starting five. And it may not be the last.
At least for the moment, though, KU’s often unpredictable guard seems to be in as good a head space as one could hope. Bill Self indicated Friday afternoon, on the eve of his team’s home matchup with Texas Tech, that he has been satisfied with the veteran’s response since Self removed Vick from the starting five — at least for one game.
“He had a good day (Thursday) — his energy level was really good,” Self reported of KU’s first practice since losing at Texas, a game in which Vick played 23 minutes and scored 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting off the bench.
“And, you know, we need Lagerald to be good Lagerald, without question,” Self said with a grin, “because he can do some things offensively that’s better than anyone else on our team.”
Undeniably, Vick, a 6-foot-5 senior from Memphis who has played in 115 games and started 59, is KU’s best shooter. Entering Friday, the offensive-minded guard ranked 17th in the country in 3-point shooting, connecting on 45.3% of his 137 attempts.
When he’s draining shots, KU tends to benefit. Look at Vick’s splits in wins and losses:
• In KU’s 16 victories: Vick is shooting 50.5% from the floor and 49% on 3-pointers, and averaging 15.8 points, 2.2 assists and 2.6 turnovers.
• In KU’s five defeats: Vick is shooting 37% from the floor and 33.3% on 3-pointers, and averaging 10.6 points, 0.8 assists and 2.8 turnovers.
Sure, there have been instances when Vick was unproductive and KU still managed to win. But he hasn’t stood out offensively in any of KU’s losses, and shot 44.4% or worse from the floor in every one of them.
The Jayhawks’ offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders lately, with them losing three of their last four games. Self’s group needs all the help it can get, and the head coach understands how valuable a confident and productive Vick can be as he tries to navigate the team toward a more consistent and effective offense.
Vick’s worth isn’t lost on the teams trying to beat KU, either. The way Texas Tech coach Chris Beard spoke of Vick during his Thursday press conference, it seemed the No. 16 Red Raiders (17-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12) may be as concerned with shutting down KU’s mercurial shooting guard as they are with harassing go-to scorer Dedric Lawson.
A reporter asked Beard in Lubbock, Texas, ahead of the Red Raiders’ trek north, whether Vick may be the x-factor for No. 11 Kansas (16-5, 5-3) on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I think he is the factor. Not the x-factor,” Beard replied. “He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in college basketball. He’s an elite, NBA athlete. He makes plays on both sides of the court, specifically on defense with his ability to get steals and block shots with his quickness. He’s a great open-court player.”
That’s high praise from Beard, particularly considering Vick has yet to burn Tech with his shooting. The last time Vick faced Tech, in late February of his junior season, he played 39 minutes and contributed 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting, to go with one rebound, one block, two steals and a turnover.
In four career games versus the Red Raiders, Vick’s averaging 4.3 points on 27.2% shooting, with a 1-for-13 overall mark on 3-pointers, while averaging 31.3 minutes.
But Beard doesn’t see senior-year Vick (14.5 points per game, 45.3% 3-point shooting) as the same role player who struggled against Tech in the past.
“I think he’s the latest example of Kansas’ player development, too. Last year, maybe their third or fourth shooting option; this year, maybe the best shooter in the league,” Beard offered. “Kansas gets a lot of credit and a lot of pub for their five-star recruiting and stuff like this. But their player development is some of the best in the country. Their guys get better. We saw that first-hand the last couple of years, with four-year players like (Devonte’) Graham and (Frank) Mason, and now we’re seeing it with Vick.”
Self hopes to see the optimal version of Vick reemerge in what should be a slugfest of a matchup with Texas Tech, one of the best defensive teams in the country. Big 12 opponents are averaging only 62.6 points per game and have hit just 29.5% of their 3-pointers against the Red Raiders.
A hot shooting hand on Vick could be the key to a Kansas victory.
“He can make hard shots,” Self said of one of Vick’s best qualities, “and certainly you’re not going to get a ton of wide-open shots against Tech, so that can be very important — having guys that can make semi-guarded shots. Because great shots are going to be few and far between.”
While Ochai Agbaji, the freshman who replaced Vick in the starting five at Texas, will remain a starter against Tech, Self said, there’s a chance Vick could regain his starting job, too. Self hinted Friday he “wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a little bit of a mixup” to the starting unit versus Tech, “just to create some different mojo.”
Will Vick take freshman Quentin Grimes’ spot? Or does Self have something else up his sleeve?
Either way, Self seems to think KU will get the aforementioned “good Lagerald.” Either that or he was trying to speak it into existence.
“I think he’ll have a big game tomorrow. I do,” Self shared. “I’m excited for him. And I’m excited for us to get out there.”
A domain so welcoming to the Kansas basketball team this season, the territory behind the 3-point line didn’t yield typical results for the Jayhawks in their Big 12 home opener Tuesday night.
KU experienced its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season — 6-for-26, 23.1 percent — in an 85-73 loss to Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse.
Shockingly, after opening the game 6-for-12 from long range, the home team’s final successful 3 of the game came 2:23 before the two teams left the court for halftime. The Jayhawks missed their final 14 3-point tries of the loss, which included an 0-for-12 second half.
Afterward, KU senior guard Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 2-for-8 on 3-pointers) was asked if going 0-for in the final 20 minutes had anything to do with the Red Raiders’ defense.
“Nah, just off shooting basically. I didn’t know we missed all 12, but, yeah, it was just an off shooting night,” Graham replied.
The team’s leader had reason to remain so self-assured. Even after the slump-filled night, Kansas remained ranked 21st nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.9 percent) on the season.
Still, considering No. 10 KU (11-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) has experienced such ruts before — 8 of 28 versus Kentucky, and 5 of 20 against Washington are the other sub-30 percent performances — and the team relies on 3-pointers as a weapon (see: the Jayhawks’ double-digit makes from downtown in eight games) it seemed worthwhile to look back at the 3-pointers that did and didn’t drop for Kansas in the loss to No. 18 Texas Tech (13-1, 2-0).
Below is a sequential recap of the long-distance misfires and hits (X = miss; √ = make).
X (19:03) — On KU’s opening possession Lagerald Vick settled for a contested step-back 3 from the left wing with the shot clock approaching 5 seconds.
√ (16:54) — Off a baseline out of bounds set, Graham drove into the paint and kicked out to the right corner for a wide-open Svi Mykhailiuk.
X (15:02) — Graham rose up early in the shot clock when given too much space, and just left it short.
X (14:15) — With the shot clock around seven, Graham opted to take a contested 3-pointer up top.
√ (9:58) — KU beat Tech’s transition defense as Graham threw ahead for Mykhailiuk on the right sideline, in front of the Red Raiders’ bench.
X (8:50) — Garrett kicked to Vick on the left half of the floor, but Keenan Evans was right there to outstretch his left arm and contest.
√ (8:32) — Another Graham push with Mykhailiuk out in front of him on the right wing provided an open look, yet again in front of the Tech bench.
√ (7:12) — Graham saw an open window up top when Niem Stevenson gambled, trying to swipe a Mitch Lightfoot pass, and Graham stepped into a 3-pointer
X (6:13) — Malik Newman caught a Graham pass on the right wing and tried to jab-step Justin Gray to create space for a step-back 3, but Gray stayed low, then got his hand in Newman’s face
√ (4:54) — Graham, whose feet stood on the beak of the giant mid-court Jayhawk logo, simply ball-faked on a catch to give himself room, took one dribble to his left and nailed a long 3 before Gray could recover.
X (4:09) — When Tech smothered Graham with a trap in the left corner, it left Vick wide open 10 feet away. Despite the extra space, Vick’s 3 rimmed out.
√ (2:23) — Azubuike caught an entry pass in the paint just below the free-throw line. When Tech’s defense shifted its focus toward the 7-footer, the center spotted backup wing Sam Cunliffe open in the left corner for as open a look as he’ll see all year.
X (1:18) — Following a timeout, Graham dribbled up the floor and Mykhailiuk set a ball screen for the point guard before popping open for a quality 3, which hit the back of the iron.
X (0:43) — Graham tried to exploit Tech’s retreating transition defense by pitching the ball to Mykhailiuk on the perimeter for a third time. When Tech closed out and forced him to drive, the senior from Ukraine kicked to Vick, who had a great look from the right side rim out.
X (16:59) — Mykhailiuk effectively slipped a ball screen for Graham and found an opening in the right corner. A pump fake sent Jarrett Culver flying by Mykhailiuk, who rose up and missed a high-percentage shot, leaving it short.
X (15:45) — A ball screen at the top of the key courtesy of Azubuike allowed Mykhailiuk to reach the apex of his jumper before his defender could recover. However, the 3 only made it as far as the front of the rim.
X (14:57) — Vick’s baseline drive gave him a lane to make a skip pass out to the right wing for Mykhailiuk, who missed his fourth 3 in a row.
X (10:04) — KU tried running Mykhailiuk off an Azubuike pick near the right block, and the 280-pounder gave the Ukrainian senior ample space for a right-corner 3, which refused to fall through the cylinder during a tough second-half stretch for Mykhailiuk.
X (7:03) — Thinking he might have caught Brandone Francis off guard as Marcus Garrett attempted to get open a few feet away, Graham pulled up with 21 seconds on the shot clock and misfired while fading away from Francis on a 3.
X (5:41) — Utilizing no action, Newman attempted to go one-on-one versus Francis on the left side of the floor, settled for a well-defended 3 with 17 left on the shot clock and missed to the left.
X (5:19) — A hard dribble and step-back gave Mykhailiuk the clearance he desired near the right corner momentarily, but Culver regrouped to get a hand in the shooter’s face.
X (5:17) — Mykhailiuk’s long offensive rebound of his own missed 3 allowed him to shovel a pass out to an open Graham at the top of the arc, but his fellow senior missed as a defender flew past him.
X (4:11) — Newman drove and passed to nearby Vick on the left wing. Though the junior from Memphis made a quick dribble to get more open, Francis’ extended arm obstructed Vick’s look at the 3.
X (1:54) — Down eight with less than two minutes to play, Graham tried to deliver a needed 3 from the right corner off a Newman pass. But he did so knowing Zhaire Smith was right there, and left the attempt short.
X (1:07) — With the Red Raiders’ lead up to 10, Vick dribbled into a pull-up 3 on the right side, but Culver went up to defend it and make sure KU got nothing easy.
X (0:11) — The game was all but over, and Graham raced up the floor and missed a 3 defended by Culver.
Unsurprisingly, KU fared far better when it found quality looks at 3-pointers (6-for-10 in the first half, 6-for-15 overall), as opposed to attempts that qualified as less-than-ideal (0-for-4 in the first, 0-for-11 overall).
Asked for his assessment of what his Red Raiders — now 14th nationally, with a 29.3 percent 3-point defense — did to take away one of KU’s strengths, Chris Beard said some good luck played a part in it.
“They got some good looks. We made some mistakes on some switches, so we were fortunate tonight,” Beard said. “But I think you’ve got to give our players credit. I do feel like there was an urgency to guard the 3-point line. With that came the opportunity for Kansas to drive the ball against us in the second half. But luckily we had a lead big enough to where we could sustain that.”
Bill Self, when discussing how Tech’s defense of the 3-point line might have differed from other opponents, cited how the Red Raiders defended ball screens. Beard’s players iced or downed in those situations at times — a strategy that, when successful, takes away the potential to even attempt a 3-pointer, because the defenders aren’t going under picks, gifting shooters with clear lines of vision.
“They are a pressure defensive team. Chris has done a great job of getting them up the floor and playing their man before he catches it and all that stuff. So I would say they did a good job of playing higher on the floor and not letting us get a lot of wide-open looks,” Self said.
“To me, the first half we made six 3’s and I thought three of them were awful shots, they just happened to go in,” KU’s coach added.
Mykhailiuk, who went 3-for-4 from 3-point distance in the first half and 0-for-5 in the second, said the Red Raiders’ defensive activity made them unique.
“Definitely. It started with denying the ball,” said Mykhailiuk, who is shooting 38-for-84 (45.2 percent) on 3’s this year. “They didn’t let us catch anything. It was breaking down everything.”
The Jayhawks will look to rediscover their 3-point touch Saturday at No. 16 TCU (13-1, 1-1). The Horned Frogs have held opponents to 33.3 percent 3-point shooting (128th in the country).