Raise your hand if you thought in December David McCormack would be playing at an All-Big 12 level in January. And be honest.
When the Jayhawks’ starting big man was going 1-for-9 versus Kentucky or 5-for-12 against Creighton or 3-for-10 at Texas Tech, there wasn’t much evidence that McCormack’s junior season was going to be all that different from either of his first two years in a Kansas uniform.
If you truly believed McCormack would eventually figure it out in a few weeks’ time, you’re either an eternal optimist or you believed head coach Bill Self, who repeatedly during the preseason sang McCormack’s praises and then kept on banging the “McCormack is a good player” drum all through his big man’s struggles.
(Full disclosure: I did not raise my hand.)
Self is a basketball savant, but it was becoming difficult not to wonder what he had seen out of McCormack that had him so convinced about the junior’s potential to make an impact this season — especially after KU opened its January schedule with a home beating at the hands of Texas, in which McCormack went 0-for-4 and was so ineffective he only played 14 minutes.
Who could’ve known that would be a turning point in his third college basketball season?
After shooting below 50% from the floor in each of KU’s first nine games against Division I opponents, McCormack’s career night (24 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) in a loss at Oklahoma State marked the third game in a row that he shot 55% or better and produced 17 points or more.
Behold: the David McCormack about whom Bill Self spoke in October and November isn’t a mythical figure. He’s an actual legitimate college big man, finally ready to make the best use of his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame inside.
“I just kind of played to my size advantage,” McCormack stated matter of factly in a postgame video interview with reporters. “Did what coach asked, posting deep, tried not to force any shots and just made some good reads. That’s about it.”
McCormack scored 12 points, pulled in six rebounds and blocked two shots during the second half at OSU, as the No. 6 Jayhawks (10-3 overall, 4-2 Big 12) rallied out of a double-digit hole.
For stretches against the Cowboys, it seemed like McCormack was the only Jayhawk who was capable of scoring.
“He was great,” teammate Ochai Agbaji said of McCormack following the 75-70 defeat. “Just throwing it in to him, and his post presence throughout the whole entire game was great. We looked for him when things weren’t going for us and he was a big part of that comeback we kind of sparked.”
To Agbaji’s point, OSU led by 16 with a little more than nine minutes to go before KU went on a 21-2 tear, during which McCormack scored eight points in a little under eight minutes.
KU’s surging big man once again made the most of his offensive potential by not often drifting outside of the paint. Among his season-high 10 successful field goals, nine came within the paint and he only hoisted two jumpers from outside of the key. McCormack shot 10-for-18 overall and went 7-for-12 around the rim. Can he do even better inside? Yes. But remember: this is the same man who only made 46.7% of his attempts around the rim through KU’s first 10 games.
Even better news for KU: McCormack isn’t limiting his interior presence to one end of the floor. Three of the best shot blocking games in his 76-game career have come in the past week-plus. He tied his career high for blocks with three at Oklahoma State after swatting two each at TCU and against Oklahoma. This from a man who blocked three total shots in KU’s first seven games.
For McCormack, just like with his offense of late, his defensive improvement is tied to feeling more comfortable and confident on the court. He said he’s more aware defensively now, because of his preparation, making sure he knows what to expect from certain opponents off of scouting reports.
“Reading their moves and timing things up,” he said.
After the OSU loss, Self said McCormack’s play was what he pictured getting from the big man this year.
“I think David had a great game. I thought everybody was so poor defensively the first half but I thought he had a great game,” Self said. “We threw it to him, he delivered. He made some hard shots. Defensively, he controlled the defensive glass for the most part. I think David’s certainly on an uptick.”
Self continued: “I don’t know that he can average 20 and 10 the rest of the season, but I do think he has the potential to get 20 and 10 in any game.”
Typically, KU has the 3-point shooting to complement McCormack’s play inside. And if that was the case against the Cowboys, KU would’ve survived and won on the road. But on Tuesday at Oklahoma State, Agbaji (4-for-9 from deep) was the only Jayhawk on target, as the rest of the team combined to go 1-for-12.
If Jalen Wilson was the surprise of the season in December, then this reinvigorated McCormack is bombshell 2.0.
KU might need another revelation in the weeks ahead to become one of the elite teams in the country in time for March Madness. But McCormack’s stunning turnaround looks like a key development, even though his most outstanding game to date came in a loss.
Look at where David McCormack’s shot attempts came from in his season-high scoring night at TCU earlier this week, and it’s not surprising that the Kansas veteran big man enjoyed his most productive offensive game to date.
KU’s junior pivot scored a season-best 20 points — marking the second time in his college career he put up at least that many — on 7-for-9 shooting. His 77.8% field goal percentage put him above 50% against a Division I opponent for the first time this season.
McCormack, who in the Jayhawks’ first 10 games averaged 3.0 shot attempts at the rim, while attempting 5.4 per game from farther out, made a habit of doing damage deep inside the paint versus the Horned Frogs.
Of course, McCormack helped himself out by not settling for midrange jumpers. He went 4-for-4 at the rim (another big positive, considering he entered the week shooting below 50% from point-blank range this season), and 3-for-5 away from the rim. Even better: McCormack only took two shots that were from outside the paint — three if you want to be a stickler and count an attempt from around the right block.
Earlier this week, Bill Self called McCormack’s showing at TCU “dominant.” On Friday, ahead of the No. 6-ranked Jayhawks’ home game versus Oklahoma, KU’s head coach said his starting big man played to his size in the rout of TCU.
While praising McCormack on a number of fronts, Self pointed to the junior’s low post positioning and the job he did making himself available for passes deeper in the paint than normal.
“That takes some physicality to do that. I just thought he played to who he is,” Self said, referencing the measurements of the 6-foot-10, 250-pound man, and putting an emphasis on the word man while describing his player.
Although McCormack has endured some subpar offensive games so far, Self said he rarely is disappointed in the big man’s effort.
“I think sometimes guys can try really hard and give really good effort, but it doesn’t look like they’re doing it because they’re a little out of whack in some form or fashion or their balance is off, or technique’s off some, or whatever,” Self said. “I think David for the most part has always given great effort.”
In his first couple of seasons at KU, McCormack often played sped up. As Self referenced, it wasn’t that he wasn’t trying. Now the Jayhawks need him to harness his energy on offense by carving out good position inside for himself on a regular basis.
“I do think he’s got to do some things from a technique standpoint that allow him to create opportunities to get easy baskets,” Self said. “And I thought he did that (at TCU). And when he was in position to get them the other day, I thought he did a better job of finishing or demanding the ball or put himself in positions where they had to throw it to him.”
KU’s perimeter players obviously don’t mind feeding McCormack.
“All it is is just throwing the ball in there,” sophomore guard Christian Braun said of how KU can keep finding success scoring inside. Braun said McCormack and the other bigs are “more than capable” of scoring.
McCormack now has proven an inside-focused offensive approach can boost his productivity (10.5 points per game through KU’s first 11, fourth on the roster). And making a point to take the ball up strong inside should make even better use of one of McCormack’s strengths: his free-throw shooting.
The largest man in a KU uniform has a soft touch at the foul line. McCormack heads into Saturday’s home game versus Oklahoma having made 21 free throws in a row (he went 6-for-6 at TCU). On the year, he’s 38-for-44 (86.4%). Only Jalen Wilson (36-for-55, 65.5%) has attempted more for KU.
No one’s asking McCormack to average 20 points a game. But putting a priority on taking more of his shot attempts inside will make him a more effective and efficient scorer — especially if he can increase his 4.0 free throw attempts a game in the process.
In KU’s first three Big 12 games, McCormack was trending in the wrong direction offensively, shooting 7-for-23 (30.4%) and averaging 8.3 points. He proved at TCU a different line of attack can make him far more impactful.
As the Kansas basketball team strives in the months ahead to replicate the kind of success it had in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season, the path to victories — and the math to get there — will look different.
More likely than not, the Jayhawks will take an egalitarian approach to scoring, rather than relying on one particular player to put the ball in the basket.
In the middle of discussing how KU might utilize sophomore guard Christian Braun offensively, Bill Self veered in another direction during a video press conference on Thursday, to highlight what looks to KU’s head coach like a balanced roster.
“I really could care less who scores on this team,” Self said.
That’s not an unfamiliar line of thinking for him. In Self’s 17 years at KU, it’s been rare for one player to dominate as a scorer. Only two have averaged more than 20 points per game over the course of a season: Frank Mason III (20.9 points in 2016-17) and Wayne Simien (20.3 in 2004-05).
Others have come close. Just two years back Dedric Lawson put up 19.4 points a game. In Sherron Collins’ junior season (2008-09) he averaged 18.9 points. And the what-if campaign that was last season concluded with Devon Dotson giving KU 18.1 points a night.
The Jayhawks won’t be able to rely on Dotson or Udoka Azubuike for scoring anymore. But that might not necessarily be an entirely bad thing if, in fact, KU can throw an assortment of scorers at opponents instead.
“You know what we’ve got to do? We’ve just got to play and let the open man basically take what he’s given,” Self said.
None of KU’s returning rotation players averaged more than 10 points per game this past year. Yet it doesn’t seem any of them will need to make a quantum leap as a scorer for the Jayhawks to play at the level Self wants.
Ochai Agbaji (10 PPG in 2019-20), Marcus Garrett (9.2 PPG), David McCormack (6.9 PPG), Braun (5.3 PPG) and Tristan Enaruna (2.4 PPG) all are basically locks to increase their scoring outputs. But none of them need to burden themselves with carrying the load.
“I see this being a team where, hey, some guys get eight a game, some guys get 12 a game and at the end of the game it adds up to 80,” Self said. “That’s what I’m kind of hoping for.”
The fewest points a leading scorer has averaged for a season under Self at KU is 13.3, and that came from Brandon Rush on a balanced team that won the 2008 national championship.
While it’s unclear at this point whether KU has that type of phenomenal run in it for the 2021 NCAA Tournament — fingers and toes crossed that March Madness actually happens this time around — it’s logical to look up and down the Jayhawks’ roster and forecast this year as one where Self has five players averaging somewhere between 9.0 and 13.0 or so points per game, just like he had with that championship squad.
Neither will need to be a primary scorer, but McCormack and Garrett look like the best bets to lead the team in points. Don’t be surprised if both of them average around 12 or 13 and Agbaji’s right in that range with them. Braun’s such a strong 3-point shooter, he could easily double his average from last year and provide another 10-plus points a game as a sophomore.
And if freshman guard Bryce Thompson comes in and adds another 9.0 or 10.0 points right off the bat, KU would find itself with some enviable balance, especially when considering the handful of other players who can chip in and/or have their own big nights from time to time: sophomore Enaruna, redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson, junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster, fifth-year senior Mitch Lightfoot and redshirt freshman guard Dajuan Harris.
“I think we have a really good team,” Wilson said of KU’s balance, “with a lot of good players, a lot of versatile players. Any game it could be anyone’s night and I think we’re all on board with that. No one’s going and trying to say this is who does this or this is who does that. We’re all just playing together and we all do the same thing that we need to do to win.”
Plus, with Garrett as KU’s unquestioned leader this season, his team-first approach should influence the players around him. If a senior who will have the ball in his hands more than anyone else in a KU uniform doesn’t care about his scoring numbers, why should any of the other Jayhawks?
That’s easier typed than put into practice, of course. But winning will make it easier for players to not become overly obsessed with their stats. And the Jayhawks seem to believe a few weeks before the season that they can thrive with a diversified offensive approach.
“I think it’s hard for one individual,” Enaruna said, “to be really good scoring wise, because I think this team has too much talent. We’ve got too many guys who can score the ball and make plays. And I think the way coach wants to play, it’s not too much focusing on ourselves, but kind of forging all of those aspects together. Getting each other shots.”
In the past, Self has coached teams where certain players have to get touches or shots for them to play well, and those types of teams can run into issues when a go-to scorer is being harassed or shut down.
However, if he’s right about this year’s roster, KU shouldn’t have to deal with that particular problem in the 2020-21 season.
“I see it by committee,” Self said of KU’s scoring approach. “I really do.”
Nothing about 2020 has felt or will ever seem normal for anyone, including Kansas basketball players who saw a pandemic cancel what they counted on being a lengthy March Madness run.
In spite of all the peculiarities that accompanied the pandemic, though, KU big David McCormack discovered some comfort during an isolating offseason.
After Bill Self sent the Jayhawks away from Lawrence in March, it ended up being close to five months before they were cleared to return to campus in early August for limited training and workouts. In any other year, trips home would have been shortlived and players would have spent the summer getting countless opportunities to prepare for the coming season together.
McCormack, ahead of KU’s first preseason practice on Thursday, told reporters during a video press conference the Jayhawks missed such offseason chances to develop most. While he still described this year’s group as close-knit, there’s value in players being around each other almost constantly, especially on the court, where they can learn about their teammates’ tendencies and strengths during pickup games and organized workouts alike.
Yet oddly enough, McCormack, while away from all of his KU teammates and typical offseason basketball activities, found quarantine to be the “perfect time” to work on himself. He went as far as to describe the seclusion as an advantage.
“Anytime I’m isolated, I know I’m very focused and locked in,” McCormack explained. “And I have, kind of like my racehorse blinders on, so in quarantine I know if I can just work out by myself I’ll be fine.”
After averaging 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds as a sophomore during KU’s shortened 28-3 season, McCormack spent much of his alone time doing what he could to set himself up for a more productive junior campaign.
“If I’m home, there’s no reason to be lazy,” McCormack said of how he approached it. “Just kind of attack, eat right, and that’s just what I’ve been doing as far as changing my body and putting on muscle, leaning out, dropping weight, all those types of things in order to be a better player.”
With Udoka Azubuike’s college career complete, the Jayhawks will no doubt lean on McCormack much more in the months ahead than they did last season, when he averaged only 14.7 minutes an outing.
In fact, McCormack already has impressed head coach Bill Self with his athleticism and tack. Self forecasted the 6-foot-10, 265-pound junior producing an All-Big 12 season, because he’s a “much improved” scorer and a solid shooter.
Self said McCormack, along with guards Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji, have been the team’s most consistent performers up to this point. The coach not only expects McCormack will have opportunities to put up numbers, but Self also thinks KU’s latest go-to big man can deliver, and perhaps challenge for All-American status.
That might come as a surprise to some, who haven’t seen McCormack since he played limited minutes in KU’s last couple of Big 12 games back in early March. But Self raved about McCormack’s current state of mind.
“His want-to is at an all-time high,” Self presented. “His commitment is off the charts.”
Perhaps forced solitude isn’t always all bad. It seems to have benefited McCormack, leading up to a year when the Jayhawks will need him more than ever.
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.”
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 83-58 win over Oklahoma State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks weren’t always knocking down the 3-pointers the Cowboys invited them to take. But the offense didn’t ultimately suffer for KU as a result.
After a low-percentage first half of shooting (34.4% from the field), the Jayhawks finally got rolling a few minutes into the second half.
They connected on nine shots in a row to bury OSU, with four of their baskets in that stretch coming at the rim.
• KU finished 44% from the field in the easy home victory. The Jayhawks went 10-for-28 on 3-pointers and scored 28 points in the paint.
• The Cowboys spent much of the loss shooting in the low 30s, percentage wise.
Their 13 turnovers didn’t help, either, on a night OSU shot 38% from the floor. The Cowboys had to find and hit 3-pointers to stand a chance, but KU held them to 3-for-12.
• KU star senior center Udoka Azubuike looked ready for the attention OSU would give him from the opening moments of the rout.
Four OSU defenders zeroed in on the KU big man on an early touch and Azubuike wisely and quickly kicked the ball out to Ochai Agbaji for a wide-open 3-pointer, which the sophomore guard drained.
Azubuike wouldn’t be denied his chances to score, though, as he helped KU demolish OSU inside, all while he kept giving the Jayhawks high-level rim protection, too.
The Jayhawks’ 7-footer left the latest win with 19 points, 16 rebounds 3 blocked shots and a 7-for-8 night at the free throw line.
• Devon Dotson only shot 3-for-12 in the win. The sophomore point guard helped make up for that with his defense, as well as 4 assists and 5 boards on his 11-point night.
• Isaiah Moss quickly set his feet for his second shot attempt of the evening, a great look at the hoop from the top of the key, and the grad transfer knocked it down with the OSU defense collapsing on the interior any time KU got the ball inside. He looked like the perfect solution to OSU’s defensive strategy.
Moss finished 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. Not exactly a game-changer, but the exact kind of solid production KU need from him.
• Ochai Agbaji bounced back nicely from a scoreless game at Baylor, putting up 15 against OSU, to go with his typical defensive effort.
• Marcus Garrett was the best creator and distributor among KU’s guards, dishing 7 assists.
His defense, as always, made him a huge bonus for the Jayhawks’ lineups, too, on a night Garrett produced 5 points and 3 rebounds.
• David McCormack early on looked explosive on an offensive rebound and follow jam, hranessing his energy for good.
McCormack wasn’t done there, either, with the blowout allowing him to get plenty of quality minutes. The sophomore backup big came away with 10 points and 4 rebounds, plus 1 block.
• Christian Braun looked confident with the ball in his hands again, and was a shooter that gave OSU trouble, as he went 3-for-4 from deep.
• The KU subs outscored OSU’s, 24-13.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 78-75 win over Texas Tech on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks looked poised to blow Texas Tech out in the game’s opening minutes, seeking out open shots and making sure to get the ball inside. The great start would be short-lived but needed.
• KU scored 18 points in the paint in the first half, even as Udoka Azubuike went without a made field goal inside.
• Kansas shot 55% from the floor in the first half, but four players combined to go just 9-for-15 on free throws.
• With Udoka Azubuike finding it hard to stay on the floor versus Tech, and the Red Raiders adjusting well at halftime, the KU offense began to unravel at times in the second half, allowing Tech to make it a one-possession game on a couple of occasions.
• Timely responses to Tech scores and runs made the difference down the stretch. KU shot 48% in the second half and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. The Jayhawks scored 38 points in the paint.
• Texas Tech missed its first 7 attempts from the field as KU raced out to a 10-0 lead behind strong defense from its four-guard starting lineup, which happens to be anchored by the very large Azubuike. The Red Raiders fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half. But were able to go on a key spurt when Azubuike checked out of the game with two fouls.
KU limited the visitors to 38% shooting in the game’s first 20 minutes, when the Red Raiders were 2-for-9 on 3-pointers.
• Tech’s offense got comfortable from time to time in the second half, and the Jayhawks quite a few times let the visitors do that by giving up 3-point looks. The Red Raiders went 7-for-12 from deep in the final 20 minutes.
• KU’s only starting big man picked up his second foul at the midway point of the first half. A charge call and a third foul a couple minutes into the second half meant the most valuable man on the roster would spend even more time on the bench.
• The Jayhawks led, 53-48, when Azubuike finally came back in with 12:55 to play in the second half.
• KU needs Azubuike on the floor to overwhelm opponents and truly be great. This was not the big man’s day and the senior 7-footer had 5 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes.
• KU’s guards all brought an assertive offensive approach to the afternoon. And with the way Marcus Garrett remained intent on getting to the paint, Tech’s defense had to keep moving and reacting. Garrett kept the Red Raiders off balance and set himself and his teammates up for great shots in the game’s opening minutes.
The Jayhawks led by 15 less than 8 minutes in after Garrett made his way inside for his second layup. When he wasn’t scoring off drives, he was assisting for uncontested, high-percentage looks.
• Garrett fell hard on a drive inside late in the first half, appearing to bother his ankle or foot. He already had 7 points and 2 assists when he checked out with 4:25 left until halftime.
He’s Marcus Garrett, though. So he was fine. And by the end of the game he was blocking shots inside in a one-possession game to seal a KU win.
Garrett willed the Jayhawks to a win and gave them 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks.
• Devon Dotson proved just as impossible for Tech defenders to stay in front of, as the sophomore repeatedly blew by Red Raiders for layup, on his way to 13 first-half points.
After Tech made it a 2-point game with less than 9 minutes to go in the second half, Dotson seemed to take it personally. He sought out a layup, grabbed two defensive rebounds and threw a lob for a powerful David McCormack slam in the following minute-plus, as KU extended its lead to 8.
Dotson came through with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.
• Ochai Agbaji came out hot for KU, nailing his first three shot attempts, all jumpers. Those quick 7 points would remain his total at halftime, but his quick start helped KU create some crucial separation against a strong Tech defense.
Agbaji finally scored again when the game was tight in the second half, and his defense, as always, was a must on the perimeter. Plus, taking his first free throws of the game with KU up 1 points with 14.3 seconds left, Agbaji made both on a 1-and-1.
The sophomore had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
• Christian Braun wasn’t finding open looks from 3-point range early, but he didn’t force the issue, either. The freshman, inches second career start, took hard-nosed drives to the paint instead, seeking contact and getting to the foul line.
His first bucket of the day felt meaningful, though, as he cashed in an open 3-pointer to give KU a double-digit lead minutes after it was a 2-point game.
Tech defended Braun well, though, mostly, and he gave KU 6 points and 5 boards.
• When David McCormack made his return from his two-game suspension, the Red Raiders initially looked more effective on both ends when the sophomore was on the floor.
But McCormack eased his way back and eventually helped KU keep its head above water for a while in the second half, when Azubuike picked up his third foul early on.
His size and athleticism helped him erase a couple of Tech layups. And the sophomore even showed off his passing with one bounce pass assist and another feed on an Isaiah Moss cut.
McCormack provided 6 points and 6 boards, plus 3 rejections.
• Moss missed his first 3-point try and turned the ball over before he did anything productive, but didn’t let a rough beginning to his afternoon deter him.
The senior guard really tok off in the second half, and even put up points in bunches without getting them from deep as one might expect.
Moss finished with 12 points and looked perfectly suited for his 6th man scorer role.
• The KU rotation now has two starting level players coming off the bench in McCormack and Moss, and the Jayhawks’ subs outscored Texas Tech’s, 20-5.
Anyone out there pondering the pros and cons of the Kansas basketball team continuing to start two bigs — even though it ends up playing more four-guard lineups — isn’t alone.
Bill Self is right there with you.
While the Jayhawks’ head coach has started sophomore forward David McCormack in 16 of KU’s 17 games, Self these days seems more contemplative on the matter.
The way he explained on Monday his recent line of thinking, Self suggested slightly altering the starting five was on his mind this past week. He may have even come closer than ever to switching it up for one of KU’s road games at Oklahoma and Texas, but the moving parts gave him pause.
The Jayhawks didn’t know for certain going into those games whether sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, who was dealing with a hip pointer, would be able to play. Before the game at UT, Self said, if he decided to start senior guard Isaiah Moss instead of McCormack, and then Dotson wasn’t cleared to play, he would have essentially been taking McCormack out of the starting five just to put him right back in. The coach didn’t want to “mess with” his big man’s mind with any juggling.
“So I thought it was best just to leave a status quo,” Self explained, “so you’re only messing with one guy, as opposed to messing with two.”
Dotson, of course, ended up returning and starting at Texas, so Moss, who started in Dotson’s place at OU, was the only Jayhawk waiting to find out his role at UT.
The approach worked, as Kansas (14-3 overall, 4-1 Big 12), now ranked No. 3 in the nation, won back-to-back road games. But the fact that he thought so hard about the starting five leads one to wonder whether Self’s more open than ever to making a change.
He said Monday, ahead of KU’s Sunflower Showdown with Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse, he doubted one was imminent. Even so, Self went on to describe a potential benefit of starting Moss.
“We know that our five most productive players on the floor is with Isaiah in the lineup,” Self said, clarifying that five-man group teams Moss with four other KU starters, Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji and Udoka Azubuike. “Stats, analytics prove that out.”
To Self’s point, in Saturday’s win at Texas, that lineup played 15:36 and outscored the Longhorns, 28-18, while committing three turnovers. The starting five, with McCormack on the court instead of Moss, played 7:32, was outscored, 15-10, and turned the ball over once.
McCormack, a 6-foot-10, 265-pound sophomore, still brings a different kind of presence to the floor that Self appreciates. The coach valued the big man’s play so much at UT that McCormack logged 20 minutes, a new high for him this season in Big 12 play. The starting forward who so often plays a backup’s minutes contributed 6 points and seven rebounds.
More importantly, overall, lineups with McCormack worked against Texas. When he was in the game, the Jayhawks outscored UT, 34-24. When McCormack sat, Texas outscored KU, 33-32.
“From a chemistry standpoint, I think up until this point it’s still been best for us to go the way that we've been going,” Self said of starting McCormack, “because you're still going to have ample opportunities to have that other lineup.”
Self wants KU to have experience playing bigger in case the Jayhawks need that type of lineup at some stage of the NCAA Tournament. And while a change to the starting lineup wouldn’t make getting those in-game repetitions impossible, it’s easy to see how it could be less appealing. Self didn’t hide the fact that KU has been better with four guards this season. If he removed McCormack from the starting lineup and gave the spot to Moss, carving out time to use two bigs probably isn’t going to give KU much of a spark against most teams.
Plus, if KU started four guards around Azubuike and didn’t at some point play two bigs, it would become even harder to find McCormack the minutes Self thinks the big man deserves.
Right now, Self is trying to take into account both chemistry and data as best he can.
“It's something that I think’s fair,” Self said of sticking with McCormack, “and I've actually thought quite a bit about.”
To McCormack’s credit, he’s amenable to his coach’s instincts, even when those lead Self to play smaller. At Texas, KU opened the second half with its best four-guard look, and Moss in for McCormack.
“Same approach as always,” McCormack said of the eight minutes he spent as essentially a second-half reserve. “Control what you can control. Coach felt like it was a better lineup, like going smaller would give us a better chance to win. And that’s what I want. I want the benefit of the team. And, you know, it’s not the first time that he’s done that. So I just stick to it and give myself up for the team.”
Happy with McCormack’s play at Texas, Self said it was an example of why people shouldn’t get hung up on starting roles, based on how a certain player performs in one game, because McCormack “was probably better” than Moss versus the Longhorns.
“He just has a different type of role,” Self said of his sophomore big man. “But I know what I hope for, and it doesn't have anything to do with who starts. It has everything to do with how are we able to be successful playing two bigs? Because we're going to some. And then how do we maximize the opportunity to play small, which we have to the majority of time?”
Moss (24.8 minutes a game in Big 12 play, 23.2 minutes on the season) is playing more than McCormack (14.6 minutes in the Big 12, 16.3 overall) anyway. Swapping one out for the other in the starting five isn’t going to change that.
“We’re still going through the process of trying to figure that out,” Self said of finding the proper combination of two-big and four-guard lineups, “but I do think getting some offense off the bench (Moss is averaging 8.1 points per game this year) hasn’t been bad for us.”
David McCormack is in a tough spot, which is a strange thing to say about a big man who starts for the No. 3 college basketball team in the country.
It’s just that the Kansas sophomore never knows from game to game how much playing time will be coming his way.
The Jayhawks, of course, open up against their opponents with an imposing frontcourt tandem in the 6-foot-10 McCormack and 7-footer Udoka Azubuike. However, KU often turns to four-guard lineups quickly, making it hard for McCormack to find minutes behind the team’s primary low-post player, Azubuike.
In the past two games, his 11th and 12th starts of the season, McCormack logged 11 minutes at Stanford and just 10 minutes — his fewest this year — against West Virginia.
Theoretically, it seemed KU might be able to get away with playing both of its big bodies versus WVU because the Mountaineers also start two behemoths, with 6-9 Oscar Tshiebwe and 6-10 Derek Culver. It turned out Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse wasn’t McCormack’s day, though.
“David got off to a terrible start,” head coach Bill Self said after KU beat WVU. “I don’t mean to be negative, but he got off to a terrible start. And then we put him back in there and he gambles (defensively) and misses on a guy who isn’t going shoot the ball from outside of 4 feet and gives him a dunk and it’s like he was just too sped up. He wasn’t himself.”
As a result, KU didn’t turn to the potentially powerful McCormack when the second half began, and he finished the Big 12 opener with 2 points and three rebounds. Those were actually an improvement on his scoreless outing at Stanford on Dec. 29, when he recorded two rebounds and turned the ball over three times.
Nevertheless, the former McDonald’s All-American didn’t leave the win over WVU without showing a positive sign for the future. McCormack only played three minutes in the second half, at one point giving Azubuike a breather and later on allowing KU to play in a tight game without its worst free-throw shooter, Azubuike, on the court.
Fewer than 3:30 remained on the clock when McCormack, with KU up 6 points, delivered a critical and impressive sequence. McCormack first skied over Culver for a defensive rebound, then headed down to the offensive end, where his activity and instincts led him up to the rim to finish off a lob from Marcus Garrett for a slam, as well as what was KU’s largest lead of the game up to that point.
“David is usually the kind of guy with poise, and when he went back in the game down the stretch, he was great,” Self said. “And he went and got that ball, he went and got that rebound and Marcus made a perfect pass to him when we set something up for (Garrett) to drive it downhill.”
Those plays in crunch time by McCormack proved he can come through even when he’s had a subpar outing or he’s not playing 20-plus minutes like he did against Duke, BYU and Villanova.
McCormack’s only playing 16.5 minutes a game. More often than not, KU (11-2) will need him to do his best Azubuike impersonation as the No. 2 center for the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineups.
The physically gifted sophomore is capable of performing that role well this season. Set high ball screens and roll or slip for lobs. Post up and score from the blocks when defenses aren’t doubling KU bigs inside. And, of course, defend and rebound.
He could even turn into a more effective scorer by taking Azubuike’s approach to shot attempts when McCormack is in for the 7-footer. Per hoop-math.com, Azubuike attempts 75.8% of his shots at the rim (with dunks and layups). McCormack has only taken 39.7% of his shot attempts in that high percentage portion of the paint. On his 31 tries to date on layups and dunks, McCormack is converting 74.2% of the time, second among Jayhawks only to Azubuike’s 87.5%.
A starter and a role player all at once, McCormack has the right attitude and skill set to pull it off, difficult as it may be. The more effective he can be when it’s his turn to be KU’s only big on the floor, the better the Jayhawks will be overall.
Kansas City, Mo. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 98-57 win over UMKC on Saturday at Sprint Center.
• Throw out the first 8 minutes or so and KU mostly overwhelmed UMKC. The Jayhawks rarely even needed the 3-point line to continually add to their lead.
KU shot 63% from the field in the second half and finished with 52 points in the paint.
• KU didn’t need to do much to disrupt and challenge the Roos, and once the Jayhawks consistently played with some effort the hometown team’s chances of keeping up diminished.
UMKC shot 42.3% overall in defeat, turned it over 22 times and made 9 of 18 3-pointers.
• On a day that KU should have come out and dominated inside from start to finish, the listless start from the Jayhawks kept the game close early, with UMKC even leading nearly 10 minutes in.
• The interior play for Kansas picked up right about the time that Udoka Azubuike returned from his first breather on the bench. KU had tried its two starting bigs (Azubuike and David McCormack) for a few minutes, then Silvio De Sousa as the lone interior player. None of those looks were particularly effective in front of a low-energy crowd.
But KU, which trailed 11-10 when Azubuike checked back in, steadily built a 10-point lead in the 5 minutes that followed. The 7-foot senior blocked a couple shots, scored inside, grabbed some rebounds, even passed out an assist to Devon Dotson for a layup as KU finally began playing with some focus and gaining control.
Azubuike finished the win with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.
• When Azubuike headed to the bench for another breather in the latter stages of the first half, KU got some Udoka-like production out of McCormack. The sophomore big was up to 10 points and 4 rebounds by the final media timeout of the half. He hit jumpers, played hard inside and helped KU maintain a double-digit lead.
McCormack made sure KU headed to intermission on a positive note, too, as he provided energy and scoring in the final minutes of the half. He finished with 28 points and 7 rebounds.
• One would have figured Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett would come out flying around the flooring making life difficult for UMKC’s guards on both end of the court. But it took the trio a while to warmup for this nonconference December matchup.
• Agbaji couldn’t put together the types of shows he had of late, but Dotson and Garrett started producing once KU regrouped.
Oddly enough it was Garrett (13 points, 4 assists), who hit each of his three 3-point tries, who was the only Jayhawk hitting from outside, while also distributing and defending.
Dotson’s obvious speed advantage showed up from time to time, and the longer the game went the more he was able to stand out as UMKC wore down. Dotson contributed 18 points and 3 assists.
Agbaji wasn’t involved much offensively for much of the win, finishing with 5 points on 2-for-3 shooting.
• It wasn’t until very late in the blowout that KU’s reserves really started contributing. Silvio De Sousa was the most effective, especially in the second half. KU’s third big man in its rotation put up 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.
This was a great opportunity for the reserves to shine. But KU only had 13 bench points when Chris Teahan checked in late with KU up 39. The reserves finished with 25 points.
Christian Braun provided nice effort on the glass, too, with 7 rebounds.