Topeka — Between Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot, manning the paint should be a non-issue for next season’s Kansas basketball team.
There’s no doubt the Jayhawks’ bulky frontline of 6-foot-8 to 7-footers will be one of the team’s substantial strengths.
But who among their KU teammates are capable of providing the team with reliable 3-point shooting in 2019-20?
It’s a question that might not totally be answered until some of the program’s newest members prove themselves worthy of playing time.
This past season, 3-point shooting was more of a mixed bag for Kansas than a dependable source of offense. KU shot 260-for-743 on 3-pointers (35%, ranking 143rd in the nation) over the course of its 26-10 campaign. What’s more, this coming season, with the 3-point line moving back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for Division I play, KU will be without its three most productive shooters from the 2018-19 roster.
Lagerald Vick, who only played in 23 games before leaving KU in early February, made a team-best 66 3-pointers on 145 attempts (44.5%). Quentin Grimes shot 54-for-159 (34%) and Dedric Lawson was 35-for-89 (39.3%). Of course, Grimes, after testing the NBA Draft waters this spring, withdrew his name from professional consideration and entered it into the NCAA’s transfer portal, while Lawson, as expected, decided to stay in the draft following his redshirt junior season.
Taking a stab in June at which Jayhawks will be asked to carry the 3-point load in November through March, the list of candidates is both obvious and alarmingly succinct: Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji.
Dotson, who connected on 33 of 91 3’s (36.3%) as a freshman, becomes the de facto top returning shooter for the Jayhawks. Agabaji, who played in only 22 games in his debut season, wasn’t too far behind, knocking down 23 of 75 3’s (30.7%).
Kansas may need much more 3-point production from both guards during their upcoming sophomore seasons. Agbaji said while speaking with reporters at Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp this week that measures already are being taken with that in mind.
“Our coaches really emphasize how much we’re in the gym shooting,” Agbaji said. “And when we go to workouts later, that’s what we’ll be doing, just getting shots up — bigs, too — and all of that. Shooting’s definitely something we’re going to focus on in this offseason.”
Good thing, too. Beyond Dotson and Agbaji, the Jayhawks don’t have much proven fire power in place for the 2019-20 season. Dotson and Agbaji account for 56 of the combined 72 made 3-pointers among KU’s returning players.
This past season, Marcus Garrett shot 12-for-49 (24.5%), Lightfoot converted 2 of his 10 3-point tries (20%) and walk-on Chris Teahan went 2-for-5 (40%). Neither McCormack nor Azubuike as much as attempted a 3. Nor are those two bigs expected to transform into 3-point shooters between now and November.
So from whose hands might some additional 3-pointers originate?
“Right now it’s so early you can’t really tell,” Teahan admitted. “Everybody’s going to be working hard, and I think everybody’s going to be getting their shots up and we’ll continue to progress. But if I need be out there to shoot, then I’m going to be ready for it.”
All three incoming freshmen in KU’s 2019 recruiting class have a chance to contribute in this area of need. And while 6-9 forward Tristan Enaruna, 6-6 wing Christian Braun and 6-foot guard Issac McBride all arrived on campus earlier this week, they’re still miles away right now from demonstrating they can make up for KU’s dearth of shooters.
“I think they all can stroke it,” Teahan said of the trio of freshmen. “I think it just depends on whose day it is and if they can shoot consistently.”
Agbaji also pointed to Braun and McBride in particular as potential 3-point threats in the season ahead.
“I would hope to see that Marcus has developed a little bit some moving forward,” Agbaji added of Garrett, a career 25.5% 3-point shooter 69 games into his college career.
Even teams capable of dominating inside need some trustworthy shooters to space the floor. Perhaps Braun, McBride and/or Enaruna can emerge in that role. Or maybe head coach Bill Self and his staff will fill one or more of the team’s current three open scholarship spots with someone who can knock down shots on the perimeter.
At this stage of the offseason, though, only two Jayhawks could be considered sound options from downtown.
“You haven’t really seen any in-game competition stuff,” Teahan said, when asked to identify KU’s surefire shooters, “so that’s kind of hard to say. But I trust Devon and I trust Ochai, because I’ve seen them shoot the ball.”
Even so, will KU have enough shooting overall?
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Agbaji contended. “I’m confident in all my teammates to hit shots and all of that. I think we’ll improve and we’ll definitely be better.”
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.
Wichita — In the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament it seemed that not one discussion of Kansas versus Penn could go by without someone referencing the success of the Quakers’ second-ranked 3-point defense.
Penn opponents, anybody who follows either team closely could surely recite, only made 29.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc before Thursday’s first-round game at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Jayhawks didn’t rely upon 3-pointers in defeating Penn, 76-60, but they did prove more effective with their long-range looks than most foes of the Ivy League champs.
In knocking down 7 of 17 from 3-point distance, Kansas (28-7) moved on to the second round having converted more 3s than 17 previous Penn opponents. Only six Quakers foes all season shot more accurately than the Jayhawks (41.2 percent).
KU’s first successful 3 came on its first attempt, off the fingertips of junior Lagerald Vick, less than three minutes in. But seven consecutive Kansas 3-point misses — from Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham (3), Vick (2) and Svi Mykhailiuk — followed over the course of the next 10-plus minutes, contributing to a 21-11 Penn advantage on the scoreboard.
Nerves might have contributed to the 1-for-8 start, but senior Mykhailiuk credited the Quakers (24-9) for executing their game plan, as well.
“They wanted to run us off the 3-point line, and they did a pretty good job of that today,” Mykhailiuk said after hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers. “Sometimes when Devonte’s going downhill, or Malik or Lagerald or me, they’ve definitely got to help. And then if they help we’re just trying to find the open man.”
Amid KU’s string of misfires, Graham (29 points) told his teammates to keep the 3-pointers coming.
“We can't keep missing,” he figured.
A Mykhailiuk 3-pointer from the right corner 3:51 before halftime, when he baited Caleb Wood into the air and then took a hard step to his left to rise up and fire, seemed to put KU’s shooters back on track. Including that open make, the No. 1 seed made 6 of its final 9 from downtown.
Penn’s relative success in defending the arc came in not allowing KU guards to attempt as many 3-pointers as they’re used to. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks averaged 9.4 makes a game on 24.7 tries, and hit 38.2 percent.
KU coach Bill Self said his team bailed Penn out early by taking too many contested shots.
“Defensively, they don't pressure, but they make it hard to get all the way to the basket, and then they do do a good job of contesting the 3-point line,” Self said.
Only Mykhailiuk, Graham (3 of 8) and Vick (2 of 4) made 3-pointers against Penn. Newman missed both of his looks. Considering KU entered the tournament with a 40.3 percent 3-point shooting mark and averaging 10.1 makes a game, Quakers coach Steve Donahue actually applauded his players’ perimeter defense in defeat — pointing to the fact KU only led by eight with less than seven minutes to play in a pro-Kansas building.
“Defense was awesome,” Donahue said. “Got them to shoot 18 hard 2s, something we preach. Got seven 3s for a team that makes 10.”
Kansas connected on just 1 of 5 2-point jumpers outside of the paint in each half but found 28 points off layups and dunks in the victory.
“They pack it in so well,” Graham said, “it’s hard to actually get into the paint. And the bigs, they switch up how they guarded off the ball screens, so they keep you thinking and keep you on your toes. We was just trying to keep getting downhill and make plays.”
It took some effort, but the Jayhawks drove with persistence and eventually found the open looks — sometimes inside, sometimes outside — they needed to advance.
KU will face No. 8 seed Seton Hall on Saturday. The Pirates held North Carolina State to 11-for-30 3-point shooting in a 94-83 win. Seton Hall entered the tournament with a 33.4 percent 3-point defense (98th nationally).
Kansas City, Mo. — Perennial league champion Kansas improved to 13-6 all-time in the Big 12 tournament semifinals on Friday, with an 83-67 victory over rival Kansas State at Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks only shot 44% from the floor and allowed the Wildcats to hit 53.6% of their shots in the second half, but advanced to the conference championship game for the sixth time in nine seasons.
Here are five stats that stood out — four good for Kansas, one not — in the Jayhawks’ semifinal victory over K-State.
Offense recovers in crunch time
A better opening to the second half would’ve helped the Jayhawks avoid putting the game’s outcome in danger, but they did manage to close the game appropriately.
A key Marcus Garrett steal and layup made sure of that. The freshman’s timely bucket ignited the Jayhawks, who converted 8 of their final 13 shot attempts over the course of the final 10 minutes. Up to that point, Kansas had made just 3 of 12 from the floor in the final half.
Suddenly energized after a lethargic stretch, especially for postseason basketball, KU’s players finished off the win by following Garrett’s lay-in with more high-percentage looks:
- 2 putbacks by Silvio De Sousa
- 2 Malik Newman 3-pointers
- A Lagerald Vick dunk
- Another Vick bucket
- A Mitch Lightfoot jam
Those baskets turned a 2-point Kansas lead into 12 before the Jayhawks spent most of the game’s final 2:00 at the foul line, going 8 for 10.
Controlling the glass
For the fourth time in the past six games, Kansas out-rebounded its opponent. Not bad for a team that did the opposite in 15 of 16 games before that.
The Jayhawks won the battle of the boards, 37-30. Even more impressive, though, they only let K-State gather 5 offensive rebounds on 32 missed field goals. The Wildcats only managed 2 second-chance points.
Big 12 opponents averaged 14.3 second-chance points a game against Kansas in the regular season and each of KU’s past eight foes scored at least 10 points in that category.
De Sousa’s 8 defensive boards led the team, and Newman secured 5 on that end. Both Devonte’ Graham and Garrett added 4 defensive rebounds.
Power of the 3-ball
For the 16th time this season, KU made 10 or more 3-pointers.
By knocking down 11 of 28 (39%) versus K-State, the Jayhawks improved to 14-2 when scoring at least 30 points from beyond the arc. K-State, meanwhile, made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range (15%) — the fewest makes and worst percentage by a KU opponent this season.
Both Newman (5 of 8) and Svi Mykhailiuk (4 of 8) routinely exploited the Wildcats for leaving them open.
Bench (and former sub) scoring
Between KU’s four regular members of the starting five, each contributed double-digit points in Friday’s win.
But Kansas nearly had three more players join Newman (22), Graham (15), Mykhailiuk (12) and Vick (10) in double figures.
A starter in just 4 games this season, Lightfoot added 8 points for the Jayhawks, who also picked up 8 points apiece from backups Garrett and De Sousa.
Newman carried the load offensively, but every other member of the rotation found opportunities to score, too, giving Kansas some balance in its distribution, making the attack less predictable.
No resistance in the paint
KU typically fares well inside or at least goes toe to toe with opponents in terms of making baskets around the hoop.
The Jayhawks averaged a +7.5 points in the paint margin during the regular season (+2.2 vs. Big 12 foes) and even outscored Oklahoma State by 10 inside without Udoka Azubuike in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
However, the Jayhawks lost the battle for the paint against K-State. The Wildcats scored 42 points inside, matching the most by any KU opponent this season.
Confident in taking their chances against Kansas bigs Lightfoot and De Sousa, the Wildcats finished with a 42-28 advantage in points in the paint, stimulated by Makol Mawien’s 29-point explosion, 16 of which came at the rim.
You know West Virginia will try to inflict even more damage against KU’s interior defense in Saturday night’s Big 12 title game.