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.”
As much as the Kansas basketball players who lived through Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament encounter with Auburn would like to wipe the night full of lowlight memories from their heads, that’s not the way season-ending defeats work.
These types of losses frustrate, linger and fester. But eventually the mental wounds begin to heal, and when that happens they can fuel players, too. For all the pain and disappointment that dominated the Jayhawks’ thoughts inside Vivint Smart Home Arena, first as Auburn ran away to advance to the Sweet 16, then in the locker room when the season’s finality hit the team’s leaders with an emotional knockout punch, their psyches will recover in the days ahead.
For the KU players who are both driven and plan on returning for another postseason run in 2020, this 14-point loss to Auburn in a game that felt like a 30-point Tigers lead much of the night has the potential to be a launching pad for an offseason of growth and improvement.
That’s really the only good thing about such brutal losses. Even when the sting downgrades from a 10 to more manageable level, it won’t go away for competitors. And because it will always be there for certain players, they’ll be reminding themselves the entire offseason that they need to push themselves harder in order to make sure this brand of heartache that they confronted in Slat Lake City doesn’t devastate them again.
Five-star prospects don’t sign with Kansas to lose in the tournament’s first weekend. This wasn’t what Devon Dotson envisioned for his first taste of March Madness. And when he couldn’t will the Jayhawks to some semblance of a rally versus Auburn, it crushed him.
The toll of goals unrealized first weighed on KU’s freshman point guard late in the inevitable defeat, as he sat on the bench and did his best to fight off tears — covering his mouth with a towel, attempting mask the raw emotions of the moment.
But Dotson couldn’t escape those feelings by leaving the floor after the final buzzer. They hovered over him in the postgame locker room, too. Upon taking his seat, Dotson slumped over. A towel soon draped over his head, as he powered through answers to reporters’ questions, pausing on several occasions to find some composure when the tears wouldn’t stop falling form his eyes.
“We’re all brothers. This team has an unbelievable bond,” Dotson said regarding the visibly shaken look the Jayhawks wore in the aftermath of the defeat. “We’d do anything for each other. At the end of the day, we just wanted to play for each other. It just hurts.”
Dotson must’ve uttered some variation of that last word at least a dozen times during postgame interviews, repeatedly shaking his head in disbelief, covering his face with his hand at times, and his eyes downcast most of the session.
While the future of his teammate Dedric Lawson is unknown at this juncture — Bill Self said after KU’s loss to Auburn that Lawson and others will have decisions to make regarding their chances of going pro — Lawson summed up the mood inside the locker room perfectly, describing the NCAA Tournament as something he and his teammates grew up dreaming about.
“And it went away so quick,” Lawson said.
The Auburn Tigers know that feeling. In 2018, their dreams of a March run were dashed by Clemson in the second round with a 31-point loss.
A year later, they were the experienced team crushing a second-round foe for a berth in the Sweet 16. The Tigers looked not only fast, but also experienced, as they buried the Jayhawks in the first half.
For Dotson and other members of the KU rotation who return, this dismantling at the hands of Auburn, impossible as it may have seemed while they endured it, could end up becoming a driving force within the team’s DNA when the Jayhawks try to redeem themselves in the 2020 tournament.
“It’ll definitely be beneficial,” Dotson said of the admittedly upsetting circumstances. “You know, us growing as a team and taking that next leap next year.”
While Dedric Lawson and his brother, K.J., and Quentin Grimes didn’t want to get into on Saturday whether they will be back for another go-round at The Big Dance, it doesn’t look like Dotson is going anywhere.
“I’m just heartbroken from this loss,” Dotson said, when asked what’s next for him, quickly adding he would turn his focus to the offseason and “getting better.”
If Dedric Lawson were to leave to pursue a professional career, this would immediately become Dotson’s team. Regardless of the pecking order, the point guard already is a program leader, and he’ll continue to grow in that role in the months between now and the start of his sophomore season.
Dotson is the most competitive player on KU’s roster. And now that he’s felt what an early exit from the NCAA Tournament is like, he’s not the type of athlete to let it happen again. If he has to become the lead guard who carries the Jayhawks he’ll do it. If he has to motivate his teammates as they work together toward something greater, he’ll do that, too.
The Jayhawks won’t ignore or forget their March shortcomings anytime soon. And if they try to, Dotson will be there to remind them that’s not an option.
Salt Lake City — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 87-53 win over Northeastern on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Though the Jayhawks missed shots in the opening minutes, they were able to get out in front by securing second chances on the glass and getting out in the open floor for transition opportunities.
The Jayhawks’ burst of 7 consecutive fast-break points helped them lead 18-11 a little more than 8 minutes in.
KU’s clear advantage inside assured the No. 4 seed and favorite of easy points much of the first half.
After a low-turnover opening 20 minutes, KU coughed it up three times in the first three minutes of the second, allowing NU to trim KU’s lead to 7 quickly. However, the Jayhawks gave the Huskies a dose of their own medicine after a timeout, as both Quentin Grimes and Dedric Lawson drained a 3-pointer, and Lawson got back to work inside to give KU a 15-point advantage, its largest lead of the game at that point.
The Jayhawks dissected NU’s defense, shooting 56 percent from the field in a win that advanced them to a Saturday matchup with Auburn.
The Huskies’ 3-point attack proved effective right out of the gate in the first-round matchup, with Jordan Roland draining a couple and big man Tomas Murphy another to give the Vegas underdogs the start they wanted and a 3-for-5 mark from deep early.
Bill Self didn’t stick with his starting lineup or two-big look for long, though, and with four guards capable of defending the perimeter on the court, KU did a solid job in the first half of keeping Northeastern from getting hot from long range.
While the Huskies were able to get inside for looks, KU’s bigs did a nice job of staying active and making it less than automatic for NU in the paint, and the CAA postseason champs went 1-for-9 on layups and dunks in the first half.
NU’s season ended as KU limited the would-be Cinderella to 6-for-28 3-point shooting and 28-percent shooting overall.
Other than a defensive misstep here or there in the first half, Dedric Lawson gave KU exactly the type of first half it wanted out of its best player.
Lawson had 16 points and 7 boards by intermission, as well as a block and a steal as KU led 37-25 at the break.
KU’s go-to big entered the second half ready to resume his takeover. And once the Jayhawks got back on track by following his lead, Lawson was able to rest longer than usual for a stretch in the second half, en route to experiencing his first NCAA Tournament win in style, producing 25 points and 11 rebounds.
David McCormack started the game but only logged 11 minutes, many of them with the game basically over. KU played variations of its four-guard lineup through much of what turned into a rout and didn’t need its freshman big man much.
McCormack went scoreless but provided 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
It became evident within a few minutes that NU didn’t have a defensive answer for Devon Dotson, especially in the open floor.
The freshman point guard’s confidence and assertiveness with the ball in his hands allowed KU to avoid any real first-half scare or nerves.
Dotson routinely sped by defenders, both in transition and in the half court. Just the threat of what he could do opened up the floor for his teammates, as well.
Though Quentin Grimes went scoreless in 18 first-half minutes, his defense was usually spot on and he continued to be an important passer offensively. The freshman shooting guard finished 1-for-5 from 3-point range and provided 3 points and 3 assists.
Ochai Agbaji’s best energy plays came when he crashed the offensive glass for tip-ins in the second half as KU was in the process of putting Northeastern away.
While Agbaji started, he played 20 minutes, coming through with 13 points and 5 rebounds.
Marcus Garrett didn’t start, but it only took a couple minutes for Self to turn to his team-first glue guy and sixth man. One of KU’s smarter players on both ends of the court, Garrett gave the Jayhawks their first separation of the afternoon when he scored back-to-back layups, the second of which he created by stealing the ball near midcourt.
While Garrett (8 points, 5 rebounds) was solid it was K.J. Lawson who stole the show off the bench.
K.J.’s first few minutes off the bench weren’t great, but that didn’t discourage him one bit. His assertiveness picked up when NU totally ignored him on a fast break for an easy layup in the first half and that seemed to empower him.
KU needed an offensive boost from someone off the bench and, boy, was K.J. the man for that job. The tough-nosed redshirt sophomore contributed 13 points and 3 rebounds.
KU’s old man, junior big Mitch Lightfoot, gave the victors 5 points and 7 rebounds.
Kansas City, Mo. — Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 78-66 loss to Iowa State on Saturday night in the Big 12 title game.
KU couldn’t immediately settle in offensively in the first half, with a rowdy bunch of ISU fans screaming in support of every play that went the Cyclones’ way. The Jayhawks didn’t appear anything close to rattled. But they definitely weren’t crisp, and ISU jumped out to a 13-8 lead.
Still, the slow offensive start seemed contagious at times, as KU missed layups, 3-pointers and free throws throughout most of the first half. With 4:12 left before halftime, the Jayhawks were 10 for 31 from the floor (8 for 16 on layups), 0 for 7 on 3-pointers and 1 for 6 at the foul line. At that point, ISU led 27-21.
The Cyclones’ lead would grow to 11 before KU could get out of the miserable half and head to the locker room. The Jayhawks went almost 6 full minutes without even scoring late in the half, before Dedric Lawson went 1-for-2 at the foul line with 0:38 to go. Devon Dotson accounted for the last field goal of the half with 6:34 on the clock.
KU shot 10 for 36 in the first half, turned it over 7 times, was 0 for 9 on 3-pointers and 2-for-8 on free throws. In summation: ouch.
Down 32-22 entering the second half, KU’s offense improved. But how could it have been worse?
Even though KU made much better use of its trips into the paint in the second half, they spent basically the entirety of the half trailing by double figures, because it was going to take a borderline miraculous offensive display to catch up once the Jayhawks squandered a handful of early possessions out of halftime.
KU finished the loss 39.4% from the floor, 3 for 18 on 3-pointers and 7 for 13 at the foul line.
Early on the defensive energy came in the form of blocked shots from Quentin Grimes and a steal and layup for Devon Dotson. In the meantime, the Jayhawks often were fortunate that ISU missed some open looks from 3-point range.
Luckily for KU, and you have to give at least partial credit to the defense for this, the Cyclones weren’t exactly on point offensively in the first half either. ISU has the potential to explode with 3-point shooting and strong guard play. But the Cyclones were 3 for 11 from deep and 13 of 31 overall before intermission.
The defense just wasn’t there in the second half, though. The Cyclones led by as many as 17 points fewer than 3 minutes into the half.
ISU spent much of the decisive half scoring at will and shot 56.5% in the final 20 minutes, while making 4 of 8 3-pointers.
Although Dedric Lawson scored a couple of baskets in the first few minutes, he hit a serious funk soon after, even short-arming a wide-open layup attempt. He finished the half 2 for 11 and didn’t get his third hoop of the night until making an and-one layup inside with KU down 17, minutes into the second half.
Lawson finished a forgettable night with 18 points, 8 rebounds and shot 8 for 21.
Freshman David McCormack, meanwhile, was hardly a factor much of the game. ISU’s four-guard lineup made it difficult for Kansas to play both Lawson and McCormack, because one of them would inevitably be a defensive liability from a matchup standpoint.
McCormack contributed 4 points and 2 boards in 8 minutes.
Dotson was the only player in a KU uniform consistently making winning plays on both ends of the floor for much of the title game.
The freshman point guard’s solid efforts (17 points, 3 rebounds) couldn’t make up for the way the team played as a whole, though.
After a hot shooting night in the semifinals, Grimes couldn’t keep it going in the title game, finishing with 10 points and going 0 for 6 on 3-pointers.
Ochai Agbaji, too, struggled more than he prospered, providing the most help he could with his 6 rebounds, while scoring 5 points.
Marcus Garrett deserved a ton of credit for ISU not completely running away with this game, and he played so well that Bill Self started him in the second half instead of McCormack.
Garrett killed it on the defensive glass, and had 9 total rebounds by halftime. The sophomore guard finished with 7 points, 15 boards and 4 assists while also providing his characteristically smart and effort-driven defense.
When Dotson got into foul trouble in both halves, Charlie Moore came through with a few positive moments, and totaled 5 points and 1 assist in 14 minutes.
Kansas City, Mo. — Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 88-74 win over West Virginia on Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals.
If KU hadn’t turned the ball over 16 times there wouldn’t have been much to complain about on the offensive end.
The Jayhawks scored 46 points in the paint, shot 40% from 3-point range (8 for 20) and made 52.4% of their field goal attempts overall.
Bill Self hated KU’s defense on this night, harping on WVU’s ability to easily score early on in the first half.
The Mountaineers shot 27.3% on 3-pointers and only scored 9 second-chance points. But they did make 43.5% of their shots overall, scored 40 in the paint and turned the ball over 11 times on the night.
David McCormack didn’t dominate in stretches like he did in the quarterfinals versus Texas, but the freshman big man still had his effective moments on offense, on the glass and with his effort, finishing with 7 points and 8 boards.
Dedric Lawson, on the other hand, was just as efficient as anyone could hope for. The junior forward shot 9 for 13 from the field, made 2 of 3 from 3-point range and connected on all 4 of his free throws.
Quentin Grimes caught fire in the first half, giving KU the momentum it needed to advance. Grimes drilled 5 of 8 3-pointers on the night and added 8 rebounds and 4 assists for a remarkable evening overall.
Devon Dotson, too, proved more than WVU defenders could handle on several occasions, and finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
Ochai Agbaji went for 9 points and 3 boards in 21 minutes.
Marcus Garrett keeps looking more mobile and comfortable on the ankle that hobbled him earlier this season. His defense and drives to the paint made him as valuable as anyone for KU, as he finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Mitch Lightfoot also had his moments, though not as often as Garrett. The junior blocked 4 shots in just 15 minutes and scored 4 points.
Kansas City, Mo. — Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 65-57 win over Texas on Thursday night at Sprint Center.
The offense was at its best when Devon Dotson was blowing past perimeter defenders to get to the paint, but not even his flashes of dominance were enough to keep Kansas firing on all cylinders for a full 40 minutes against a Texas team operating in NCAA Tournament bubble territory these days.
Remarkably, KU outscored Texas 17-0 in fastbreak points. It often had Dotson to thank for those high-percentage, energy-lifting scores.
Those numbers also set the Jayhawks up for a 34–20 advantage in points in the paint.
Kansas shot 41.8% from the field and only made 3 of 11 3-pointers, but helped itself out by going 16 of 22 at the foul line.
UT big Dylan Osetkowski (18 points, 3 for 7 on 3-pointers) was the only Longhorn that seemed too much for KU to handle.
The other Longhorns combined to shoot 14 for 43 from the floor.
It seemed UT would need to catch fire from long range to pull off a quarterfinal victory, but the Jayhawks held them to 8 for 25 on 3-pointers.
David McCormack spent stretches of his Big 12 tournament debut posting up like a man possessed, and with him overpowering UT bigs at times, his 13 points and 9 boards were critical components of the win.
Dedric Lawson didn’t have his most efficient night, shooting 6 for 15 on the way to 16 points. But he’s the type of offensive threat that just his presence on the court benefits those around him. And he hit a timely 3-pointer as a trailer during the second half, plus he chipped in 6 boards and a couple of steals and one block.
Dotson (17 points, 4 assists) controlled the game more often than not offensively, and his assertiveness propelled KU into the semifinals.
Grimes’ shot was off much of the night (2 for 10). But he reached double figures with the help of a crucial second-half 3-pointer and a 7-for-8 showing at the foul line.
Ochai Agbaji was the low scorer among the starters, finishing with 2 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 26 minutes.
Marcus Garrett accounted for all 5 of KU’s bench points and drew the praise of Bill Self after the win. Garrett also pitched in 8 rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes.
Ask Devon Dotson to identify the best 3-point shooter on the Kansas basketball team and he’ll preface his response by first telling you he doesn’t study the statistics.
Then Dotson will point to two of his teammates, Quentin Grimes and Ochai Agbaji.
The reply doubles as yet another reminder of the freshman point guard’s savvy, as well as his willingness to defer at exactly the right time.
Dotson isn’t the type to sit in front of a group of reporters and anoint himself as the Jayhawks’ top 3-point shooter. Nor does he have to.
Everyone who is paying attention knows that Dotson is KU’s most reliable threat from downtown now that Lagerald Vick is on a leave of absence. A 6-foot-2 point guard from Charlotte, N.C., Dotson’s 42.2-percent accuracy from beyond the arch leads all active members of the rotation.
The subject of KU’s 3-point shooting, and the team’s increased reliance on long-range jumpers came up earlier this week, ahead of the Jayhawks’ crucial road trip to Oklahoma State (10-18 overall, 3-12 Big 12). In the seven games since they dropped back-to-back road trips to Kentucky and Texas, the Jayhawks are averaging a shade under 25 3-point attempts an outing and making 9.3 a game.
Asked for his thoughts on the trend, head coach Bill Self, who had previously pointed to Dedric Lawson spending less time in the post as a primary factor in KU’s 3-pointer surge, shared another theory on his team’s tendency to hoist more from downtown.
"I think that teams are guarding us in a way that makes us shoot 3s, too,” Self said on Thursday during his weekly press conference. “I think teams are really trying to clog the lane and to do some different things. In order for us to get a good look, a lot of the possessions, I think that is our best opportunity.”
Since Lawson became more of a face-up forward in a tweaked offensive approach, Self also noted the Jayhawks seem to play with more “freedom.” He said that has benefited everyone from Quentin Grimes to Ochai Agbaji to Lawson.
But Lawson has clearly benefited from that shift the most. The redshirt junior forward went from posting up, playing inside and rarely taking a 3-pointer to averaging 3.9 attempts per game in KU’s previous seven contests, a stretch in which Lawson is shooting 12 for 27 (44.4 percent).
In the meantime, while Self described Agbaji (16 for 45 in 14 games) as “not bashful” from 3-point range, the coach called Dotson “pretty selective.”
It was neither a slight nor a challenge. Just an observation.
To the coach’s point, in the past seven games, while KU’s outside shots have gone up as a team, Dotson has only attempted one 3-pointer in three different games: losses at Kansas State and Texas Tech, and a home win over West Virginia.
Would Self like to see Dotson (27 for 64 from deep this season) be less selective as a shooter and more assertive?
"I think Devon is playing like a guard should play,” Self countered. “The way the game is meant to be played is you move it, you pass it and you shoot open shots. And I think he's doing about as good of a job as anybody doing that."
Self also is bullish on Dotson’s defense, labeling the first-year and ever-improving guard as one of the top perimeter defenders in the the conference.
Dotson, averaging 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Big 12 games, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 43.2 percent on 3-pointers, said he plays the style of basketball that his coach appreciates because of his competitive nature.
“I just hate losing,” Dotson said, adding he does his best to play with fire and passion. “I try to give 110 percent each game.”
The young point guard’s emergence in the past several weeks has kept KU in the mix for a Big 12 title. Dotson averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds in February, as KU went 5-2. The Jayhawks couldn’t have won at TCU in overtime without him, for sure.
Dotson is KU’s best perimeter player, it’s top 3-point shooter and a worthy co-star to Lawson. And his unassuming basketball personality has made him an increasingly more effective point guard the deeper he gets into his freshman season.
With three games left in the regular season, one gets the sense that March may be Dotson’s best month yet. His trajectory is pointed in the right direction just in time for college basketball’s spotlight to turn up its intensity.
The Jayhawks (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) need for that to be the case, too, if they want to finish the 2018-19 season with the types of accomplishments that are expected around Lawrence.
Dotson is the man for that job. Just don’t expect him to boast about himself when he’d rather tell you about the abilities of the teammates around him.
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 64-49 win over Kansas State on Big Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Considering that K-State has one of the better defenses in the nation, the Jayhawks were highly unlikely to blow out their rivals in this Sunflower Showdown.
KU shot 39.6% from the floor overall and only made 8 of 24 3-pointers.
But the ball security (see: 10 Kansas turnovers) kept the Wildcats from feasting off takeaways.
Freshman David McCormack accounted for 2 of those mistakes, while the rest of KU’s rotations players combined for just 8. That may be the most important thing accomplished offensively for Kansas in this one.
KU’s ability to switch defensively, Barry Brown said after shooting 1 for 8, turned the Wildcats’ offense stagnant.
Mitch Lightfoot (credited 3 blocks) defended the paint well, too, and with Dedric Lawson competing inside as well, the Wildcats couldn’t manage any more than 8 points in the paint.
K-State only connected on 31.6% of its shots in the loss and the Big 12’s first-place team hit 8 of 24 3-pointers.
Lawson was back to his double-double ways, putting up 18 points and 14 rebounds. But he shot 6 for 20 from the floor and missed all 4 of his 3-point tries.
The big man’s passing proved useful, though, as Lawson dished 5 of KU’s 14 assists.
While McCormack started once again, he made little to no impact.
Devon Dotson attacked off the dribble, seeking out the paint whenever he could. Even when those ventures didn’t conclude with baskets or assists, his successful drives for paint touches forced the K-State defense to react, making the freshman point guard a critical cog for the offense.
Dotson produced 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting and hit 1 of his 5 3-pointers.
Fellow freshman Quentin Grimes was in catch-and-fire mode all night from beyond the arc, and shot 3 for 6 from deep on his way to 12 points.
Ochai Agbaji had a rare ineffective home game offensively, finishing scoreless in 16 minutes.
Lightfoot at points controlled the game while fueling a crucial KU victory. His energy and want-to were off the charts, making it easy for him to finish with the stat line: 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists in 31 minutes.
Marcus Garrett played 27 minutes in his second game back from his ankle injury and knocked in a couple of 3-pointers (one of them banked in).
KU’s bench outscored the K-State reserves 18-10.
Losing a starter for five games in February isn’t exactly ideal for a college basketball team.
It’s this time of year when a season has the potential to turn, for better or worse, and fine-tuning lineups and roles can set a team up for a March Madness run.
Considering recent personnel developments for Kansas, the past couple of weeks have gone about as well as coach Bill Self could have hoped, with the exception of the Jayhawks’ Feb. 5 loss at rival Kansas State.
KU lost starting guard Marcus Garrett to an ankle injury on the same day the team learned that the NCAA ruled big man Silvio De Sousa ineligible. And somehow, even without Garrett, who is averaging 28.8 minutes a game as a sophomore, Kansas is 4-1 since.
Now comes the tricky part, right? Garrett this week finally has been able to participate in practices as he works closer to a return. But when Garrett was out, freshmen Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji emerged as reliable producers for Kansas. What happens to the chemistry and flow and momentum when the Jayhawks are reintegrating Garrett into the rotation, possibly as soon as this Saturday’s crucial road test at Texas Tech?
KU can’t afford for its newest difference-makers, Dotson and Agbaji, to hit a snag at this juncture. How does the team’s dynamic change when Garrett is able to return?
Self has a two-word answer to that question.
Neither Dotson nor Agbaji should miss a beat when KU’s rotation gains some much needed depth with Garrett.
“That’s not Marcus' role anyway,” Self said of what Dotson and Agbaji have been able to provide of late. “Marcus should blend in better than ever now, because he should have more help around him."
Prior to Garrett’s injury and Lagerald Vick’s leave of absence, KU was probably asking too much of Garrett, an awesome role player, but not a go-to scorer by any means at this stage of his career. There was a four-game stretch in January when Garrett was averaging more than 10 shot attempts a game, beginning with his 20-point outburst in a home win over Texas.
The Jayhawks no longer need him to do that. They need Garrett’s defense, his ball handling, his ability to drive and dish, and his overall basketball IQ. But now anything Garrett provides in the scoring column will feel like a bonus. Dedric Lawson, Dotson and Agbaji have proven themselves as a trio of reliable scorers, and with Garrett’s team-first approach on the court, those roles might even become easier for them once he’s back.
Imagine if a player with the physical presence of Udoka Azubuike were returning at this point of the regular season, with March just days away. Sure, the Jayhawks would be ecstatic to have the 7-footer back, but an adjustment period would be necessary for involved.
Shifting back to lineups featuring the versatile Garrett, who can defend guards and bigs alike and even give Dotson some breathers at point guard, will be straightforward as soon as he’s deemed game-ready.
You never want to lose a starter and then plug him back in late in the season while hoping for the best, but doing so with Garrett will be painless for the Jayhawks.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 78-53 win over West Virginia on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.
To the Jayhawks’ credit they rarely let up or faltered in cruising to an afternoon victory. More importantly, they didn’t play down to their competition and looked like they were playing one of the Big 12’s lesser teams throughout, rather than making the types of mistakes that would benefit the underdog Mountaineers.
Kansas shot 53 percent from the field, went 8 for 20 on 3-pointers and finished with 17 assists on 28 baskets.
Great defensive activity in the first half, both inside and out, made sure the Mountaineers didn’t get comfortable.
WVU began the game hitting just 3 of its first 15 shots, as KU’s guards and bigs opened the afternoon locked in and ready to compete.
Kansas was able to gain its first double-digit lead less than 9 minutes in as the Jayhawks contested just about every shot WVU could manage to get up early on.
The Mountaineers turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and shot 7 for 28 in the opening 20 minutes, allowing KU to hit halftime in total control, up 43-16.
WVU finished the loss shooting 34 percent from the floor, with 24 turnovers.
It wasn’t a banner day for Dedric Lawson, but the Jayhawks didn’t need him to dominate, either. A ho-hum game by Lawson’s standards, KU’s typical go-to guy went for 14 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Lawson was engaged, he just seemed to willingly take on a supportive role with KU rolling.
Starting for the third game in a row and for the third time in his young career, David McCormack made his presence felt on the defensive end of the floor in the first half. McCormack (10 points, 4 rebounds) swatted 2 WVU shots in the opening 5 minutes.
The big man showed some promising footwork early on, too, taking what looked to be a possible turnover on the baseline under the basket, and working his way to a tough finish and layup.
The freshman trio of Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and Ochai Agbaji made a ludicrous start for Kansas possible with their efforts on the defensive end of the floor. Between ball pressure and staying assignment sound the Jayhawks’ guards kept WVU in check throughout the first half.
Dotson (15 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) picked up on Saturday right where he left off at TCU this past Monday, going for 13 points in the first half. With Dotson taking an assertive approach at point guard, it was easy for the rest of the Jayhawks to follow his lead.
Even when Agbaji (10 points, 3 rebounds) wasn’t scoring consistently in the first half, he made KU better offensively just by pushing the ball in the open floor when he could and driving hard into the paint against poor closeouts.
Grimes (4 points, 2 assists) missed all four of his 3-point attempts, but helped KU out a great deal with his perimeter defense and passing in the first half.
K.J. Lawson, like Dotson, kept his positive momentum rolling from KU’s road win in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier in the week.
K.J. (15 points, 3 rebounds) drained a 3 from the left corner on the way to 7 first-half points.
Mitch Lightfoot didn’t start but KU relied on its backup big man more than it did McCormack, and Lightfoot delivered his typical energy and hustle plays on both ends of the floor. Lightfoot (5 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks), with his activity, even if it was just coming through with a hard foul to make sure WVU didn’t get an easy basket inside, continued to be a vital part of the Jayhawks’ rotation.