Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 90-84 overtime victory over Dayton on Wednesday in the Maui Invitational title game.
• Everyone in KU’s rotation looked up for the challenge of going back and forth in an uptempo game against a very talented Dayton team, even though the foes were playing for the third time in three days. KU didn’t turn the ball over until nearly 12 minutes into the competitive final. But five empty possessions due to giveaways, as well as a stretch of five straight missed shots, in the minutes that followed kept the game close. Dayton led 37-36 at halftime.
• KU wisely used the paint to its advantage against a Dayton team without much of an interior defensive presence. The Jayhawks’ bigs and guards alike converted inside throughout the first half, when KU scored 20 of its 36 points on layups and dunks.
• The Jayhawks shot 56% from the floor, went 4-for-11 from 3-point range, and finished with 52 points in the paint.
• When Obi Toppin, the Maui Invitational’s breakout star, took his first breather 7 minutes into the championship game, he hadn’t scored or even taken a shot. That matchup and how KU’s stronger wings defended Dayton’s star big man — too talented on the perimeter for KU’s bigs to check him defensively out there — would go a long way in determining the game’s outcome.
KU kept Toppin without a field goal attempt until the 5:45 mark of the first half, when he rushed a 3-point try. With KU regularly doubling Dayton’s best player on the catch anywhere near the paint, Dayton had to rely on its role players.
Toppin finally got used to the defensive look late in the first half, scoring 7 points in the final 5 minutes before the break. He finished with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting and 9 rebounds.
• Dayton’s lineup of capable 3-point shooters proved to be a problem immediately for KU. The Flyers knocked down each of their first 5 attempts from deep. They shot 8-for-18 on 3-pointers in the first half, helping them enter the break up 1 point.
Jalen Crutcher tied the game at 73 with Dayton’s 15th 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation. They made just 1 more in OT, finishing 16 of 33.
• Throwing a half-court zone at Dayton in the second half caught the Flyers off guard for a few minutes. But the Flyers recovered a few minutes after a timeout, and found open 3-pointers to knock down, building a 63-58 lead.
• The slow start that has plagued Udoka Azubuike at times this season wasn’t a problem in the tournament’s title game. The 7-footer checked out with 7-plus minutes left in the first half, due to a second foul call on him, with 9 points.
Azubuike missed a couple of good looks on jump hooks near the midway point of the second half, but the big man barely had any other issues when he caught the ball inside and went 12-for-15 in the paint.
KU played through its big man in crunch time with a high profile tournament crown up for grabs. Azubuike dominated in the post in overtime in particular, in perhaps the best game of his career (29 points, 3 rebounds, 4 blocks).
When KU had to get a stop in the final 30 seconds of regulation, it was Azubuike who protected the rim after getting beat off the bounce for a swat that might have saved the game.
• David McCormack had some similar opportunities to Azubuike in the first half but couldn’t find more than one basket in the first half.
One of McCormack’s better plays came in the second half while defending on the perimeter and coming away with a steal, leading to a timely layup, with Dayton up 8 before the turnover.
• Two quick whistles against Marcus Garrett in the first half threatened to undermine KU’s chances against the talented Flyers, especially since Garrett was guarding Toppin. But Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji were up for the job of keeping Kansas in a rhythm. Dotson continued his Maui trend of blowing by defenders off the bounce and Agbaji defended Toppin when Garrett sat.
Although the junior guard came out aggressive offensively in the second half, twice driving for layups, he also committed two fouls, giving him 4 with more than 18 minutes to play.
Garrett returned with 8 minutes left and went back to attacking and rebounding. He also made it easy for Azubuike to find him for a game-tying layup late by flashing to the opposite block when the center got doubled. Then Garrett fed Azubuike for a go-ahead, and-one bucket inside that put KU up 3.
A ridiculous reverse layup off the bounce from Garrett (18 points, 7 rebounds) gave KU a 5-point lead in the final minute of OT.
• Dotson didn’t mind putting the entire team on his back as the Jayhawks aimed to bring a Maui title home with them on Thanksgiving Eve. The too-fast sophomore point guard blew by Dayton defenders to seek out lay-ins and trips to the foul line, making him a highly efficient scorer in a high stakes game.
Scoring a career-high 31 points, Dotson’s confidence with the ball in his hands kept the Jayhawks from buckling whenever Dayton got hot. And his 5 steals, 4 assists and 6 rebounds made for an impressive outing for the guard.
• The major knock against Agbaji was his shooting in the first half, when he went 1-for-7 and missed three 3-pointers. His work on the glass and as a passer and defender kept him on the floor and in his coaches’ good graces, even if he took a couple ill-advised shots.
• The Flyers’ bench sprinted out of the gates, looking far more productive than KU’s, with 15 first-half points, to KU’s 0. Isaiah Moss didn’t get up a shot in 15 first-half minutes. Silvio De Sousa committed an offensive foul/turnover shortly after checking in.
Dayton’s subs outscored KU’s 23-3.
• Tristan Enaruna got a chance to contribute in an intense second half, after Garrett’s foul troubles made playing the freshman wing a must. He scored his first basket on a 3-pointer and at times spelled Agabji as the defender on Toppin.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 71-56 win over BYU on Tuesday at the Maui Invitational.
• An ugly first-half stretch for the Jayhawks’ offense kept the semifinal tight during the opening 20 minutes. KU missed 8 shots in a row and went close to 6 minutes without scoring during one stretch.
Even though KU had the bigs to potentially outmatch BYU inside, the Cougars often made it difficult for the Jayhawks to get the ball in their post players’ hands. So points were hard to come by as KU shot 2-for-9 on 3-pointers in the first half and only attempted three free throws.
• The high-percentage looks for KU increased in the second half, and the Jayhawks’ passing influenced that shift. Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike each dished an assist as KU opened the second half 7-for-10 from the floor.
KU shot 53.1% from the field in the second half and only turned the ball over 4 times in the final 20 minutes to pull away.
• The importance of KU’s defensive work outside the 3-point line became evident quickly versus BYU, with the Cougars getting up 5 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes. BYU routinely worked the ball around to seek out open looks and the Cougars showed no hesitation to fire away when they found an open man.
BYU went 3-for-9 in the opening 10 minutes, and KU was fortunate that some of the Cougars’ good looks didn’t fall. The Jayhawks spent the better part of the next several minutes limiting BYU’s 3-point opportunities. But a late half flurry — 2-for-5 in the 3 minutes leading up to halftime — cut into KU’s lead.
The Cougars shot 5-for-17 from deep in the first half (29.4%) and 38.5% from the floor.
• BYU missed its first 10 3-point tries in the second half, as KU got out to a comfortable lead. Some were open, on some KU’s defense deserved at least a little credit for the shots not falling. The Cougars only made 9 of 33 (27.3%) from long range in the loss.
• Even though much of the BYU offense is built around back cuts and passing, the Cougars turned the ball over 20 times and scored just 18 points in the paint.
• KU only got two made shots at the rim apiece out of its biggest players, Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack in the first half.
The Jayhawks made sure to change that in the second half, with layups and dunks from the two bigs helping KU build its first double-digit lead.
• McCormack found a rhythm as a scorer, putting up a team-high 16 points, while showing some touch as KU advanced to the Maui Invitational final and a matchup with Dayton.
• Ochai Agbaji did much more than put up points (14), but the sophomore did a bulk of that work, too, in a low-scoring game.
Agbaji’s rebounding and passing came in handy, but so did his his hustle.
• Devon Dotson (13 points, 5-for-16 shooting) took it right at the BYU defense off the bounce early, proving his handles and speed in the open court could be a problem for the Cougars. But some missed layups by the point guard kept him from destroying BYU the way it seemed he might.
Even so, Dotson had one of his better distributing nights, racking up 8 assists.
• Marcus Garrett’s workmanlike approach to the opening minutes of the second half allowed KU to build its biggest lead of the game up to that point, before the first media timeout. Garrett’s passing, driving, defense and even a 3-pointer turned a tie game into a 38-31 KU lead.
• With Isaiah Moss off offensively, KU got little production from its subs. Moss knocked down his first attempt, a 3, of course, in rhythm but couldn’t replicate that moving forward. He finished the win shooting 2-for-8 from the floor.
Still, Moss is a good fit for the KU offense’s spacing and flow, and the Jayhawks’ lead grew when he was on the floor.
• Silvio De Sousa barely played until the game was all but over (3 minutes).
Tristan Enaruna wasn’t creating as much as he can offensively.
Moss (5 points) was the only member of the bench who had scored much of the night. But Christian Braun finished an alley-oop pass on a break from Dotson in the final minutes and Enaruna hit 3 of 4 free throws.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 93-63 win over Chaminade on Monday at the Maui Invitational.
• Down 5-0 early to de facto host Chaminade, the Jayhawks regrouped quickly enough, taking their first lead on their first made 3-pointer, 10-7, from Ochai Agbaji, who had been in a noted slump.
That shot seemed to ignite the Jayhawks and/or loosen them up, with an Isaiah Moss triple to follow. Devon Dotson connected on a 3 of his own shortly after amid a 17-0 outburst.
• The Jayhawks spent most of the night — afternoon if you’re on island time —dominating the way they should in this type of matchup. They shot 55% from the floor, helped greatly by their 50 points in the paint and 36 points off turnovers.
• KU handled the Swords’ half-court zone defenses well, with patience and passing leading to high percentage looks.
• Kansas proved more than reliable from 3-point range, going 12-for-29.
• KU’s defense wasn’t great early, but good enough to keep its opponent from playing cleanly. Chaminade helped the Jayhawks build a comfortable first half lead by turning the ball over far too often. KU got credit for 5 first half steals but the Silverswords turned it over 16 times in the first 20 minutes.
When Chaminade was actually taking care of the ball, its guards were driving and getting more layups than Bill Self would like to see. Chaminade shot 48% from the floor in the first half — but KU led 47-27 at the break.
• The Swords finished with 27 turnovers and shot 7-for-21 on 3-pointers.
• Even though KU had the obvious size advantage inside with Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack, neither played particularly well in the first half against the Silverswords’ mostly perimeter-based lineup. Azubuike checked out with nearly 13 minutes left in the first half and wouldn’t return until after intermission. He turned the ball over twice, fouled twice and didn’t attempt a field goal in 7 first-half minutes.
The 7-footer came out intent on doing much more with his time on the floor in the second half, with a pair of layups and two overpowering dunks in the the first 7 minutes, en route to 15 points.
• McCormack only played 8 minutes in the first half, with one offensive rebound and a couple of buckets being his largest contributions.
He would have a much more emphatic attack of the offensive glass as KU was rolling late in the second half, and his two-handed follow rattled the backboard. Within a few minutes he added two more baskets inside, getting him to double digits for the game.
• KU guards Dotson and Marcus Garrett helped get the heavy favorite out in front, as they did a good job of attacking the paint early, combining for five of the team’s first six successful trips to the rim.
Dotson’s speed meant he kept getting layups and he could have gotten more if KU needed them.
• Ochai Agbaji's shooting slump didn't travel to Maui. The sophomore shot 3 of 5 from deep in the first half, a good sign for sure, even if all 11 of his points came before halftime.
• Garrett was a distributor (7 assists) and disruptor 4xx steals) continuing to shine as an ideal role player.
• KU’s guards stood out in the first half and then gladly let the bigs take the spotlight in the second half as KU cruised.
• Once Moss joined the fray in the first half, KU began to roll. His shooting made him an ideal floor spacer for the offense and the Jayhawks took off once they went away from their two-big look.
Moss provided 13 points off the bench and drained 3 of his 4 3-pointers.
• Tristan Enaruna was off the mark much of the game, starting 0-for-5 from the floor before knocking in KU’s 11th 3-pointer of the rout. The freshman again made himself valuable with his passing and defense, though, regardless of his shot outcomes.
• Silvio De Sousa’s minutes were limited. He scored all 4 of his points in the first half.
One spot in the Kansas basketball team’s starting lineup is subject to change. For now.
It’s mostly been David McCormack occupying the position up front, next to Udoka Azubuike, for the No. 4 Jayhawks. However, Bill Self isn’t opposed to going with Silvio De Sousa in his two-big starting lineup either.
A few weeks into the season, McCormack has started three games and De Sousa one as Self figures it out. But the coach said during his weekly press conference on Thursday he’d prefer to have the matter resolved rather than keep switching back and forth.
“I’ve always thought our best teams we all knew who was starting and who was coming off,” Self said. “I would think that that would be the case.”
Almost thinking out loud about the merits of both McCormack, a 6-foot-10, 265-pound sophomore, and De Sousa, a 6-9, 250 junior, Self remarked that McCormack has been the better of the two overall a mere four games into the season.
“But the way the game ended the other day,” Self went on, providing a counterpoint to his previous statement, “Silvio helped us win. And what he did defensively maybe nobody else on our team can do quite as well as what he does, what he did.”
De Sousa played the final 5:44 of KU’s win over East Tennessee State earlier this week, coming up with a steal, two blocks and a defensive rebound, as well as three baskets in the paint, as KU’s lead improved from 5 when he checked in to 12 by the final buzzer. De Sousa finished with 8 points and a rebound in 9 minutes off the bench.
That same night, McCormack, who twice this season has led KU in rebounds — 13 versus Duke and 11 adjacent Monmouth — only played 12 minutes and contributed 4 points and 3 rebounds as the starter.
“I really don’t have a preference,” Self said of which of the two bigs starts, adding he would see how practices go in the days leading up to the Maui Invitational before deciding which big would open KU’s next game on the court. “You know, it’s coach speak: it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes. But I know players don’t necessarily buy into that 100%, nor really should they — though I know it is important to some.”
The good news for Self, as well as the Jayhawks, is that it’s hard imagining two players better suited to handle this situation than McCormack and De Sousa. Their off-court personalities are similarly good natured and they both are high-energy competitors when they’re on the floor, making them uniquely equipped to keep battling for playing time without griping or second-guessing.
“They’re great teammates, great guys,” KU sophomore point guard Devon Dotson said. “Unbelievable personalities.”
This Kansas team has a minutes crunch up front, because Self isn’t playing two big men exclusively, even though that’s how every game so far has begun. For long stretches, the Jayhawks roll with four guards and one big. And most of the time that one big man is Azubuike, the 7-footer with the career 74.6% field goal percentage.
“It’s been a grind for those two,” sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji said while praising McCormack and De Sousa. “They have great attitudes every game. Having that when they don’t have the opportunity to play (as much as they’d like) is always good for our team.”
Self said both McCormack and De Sousa “deserve” to play more. So far this season McCormack is averaging 16.7 minutes while De Sousa has only played 11.1 minutes a game.
“But so much of it’s going to come down when you look at it to just a skill set and size standpoint, what we do well may not be exactly in line with what the other teams do well,” Self said of the four-guard KU lineups that eat into potential minutes for the two bigs in question. “So it will be game to game in many situations.”
McCormack might be the team’s best rebounder. De Sousa might be the best offensive rebounder and shot blocker — though none of KU’s three bigs plays like a true rim protector. Both can run the floor, bruise opposing frontcourt players and deliver the type of energy that can swing games.
That shouldn’t change when Self ultimately decides to start one over the other. If all goes according to plan, they can even be interchangeable energy players whenever needed. Their coach even likes the idea of being able to use playing time as a motivator for both.
“The reality of it is I think it does put an extra oomph in them when they get out there, knowing that if it doesn’t go great then somebody else probably can sub in,” Self said. “And if they play well it may limit your future opportunities, at least in that particular game.”
It’s easy to envision both McCormack and De Sousa as a starter or an ideal reserve big man. When one of them becomes the official owner of a starting position, the other shouldn’t feel neglected.
“I hope they both know that I see them as both being starters,” Self said. “As far as I’m concerned we’ve got six. And I hope they view it that way, as well.”
Whether it’s McCormack or De Sousa who locks down the starting spot, it’s a non-issue for Kansas. The Jayhawks will be fortunate to have one of them as a backup.
De Sousa might be perfect for the sixth man role. Flying for alley-oops, battling for offensive rebounds and bringing activity to the defensive end of the court makes De Sousa the type of player you can count on to bring some punch to the floor, and that’s a difficult commodity to find in college basketball.
The more De Sousa plays with the type of liveliness he showed in crunch time versus East Tennessee State, the more his minutes will go up, too, even as a reserve.
The Kansas basketball team knocked down double-digit 3-pointers in a pair of early November victories. However, it doesn’t sound as though Bill Self is expecting the Jayhawks to have that type of output every time they take the floor.
They were nowhere near that territory in their third win of the season, when KU’s shooters combined to make just one of their 14 long-range looks in a win over East Tennessee State.
It was the worst 3-point shooting night for KU since March of 2015, when the Jayhawks went 0-for-8 in a Big 12 Tournament win over TCU.
So the combined 7.1% 3-point shooting from Devon Dotson (1-for-5), Ochai Agbaji (0-for-4), Marcus Garrett (0-for-2), Isaiah Moss (0-for-2) and Tristan Enaruna (0-for-1), might be a little concerning for Self, right?
“No, no. You know, guys, we’re going to be like this,” Self said after a 75-63 win. “That’s who we are. We’re not going to average making — what are we averaging making, more than 10 3’s a game? That’s not real. But making one’s not real either.”
Four games into their nonconference schedule, the Jayhawks (3-1) are 29-for-79 (36.7%) from long range. In a small sample size, they’re now averaging 7.3 3-pointers a game on 19.6 attempts.
The way Self described KU’s shooting, though, it would seem he doesn’t anticipate the 3-point arc becoming a source of consistent offense this season.
“We can be a team that can shoot 35 percent from 3, 36 or 37 if we shoot it well. But we can have some bad nights, because we’re streaky,” Self said. “Certainly those nights you need to throw it inside, and fortunately we were able to do that.”
Indeed, KU slobber-knocked ETSU in the paint, 54-24. But future opponents will play better transition defense and do a better job of keeping Udoka Azubuike from getting as many touches inside.
Then what? At some juncture of the season, KU will have to knock down 3-pointers to win a game, whether it’s those actual shots making the difference or their ability to connect opening up the floor by stretching the defense and giving Azubuike space to catch and finish.
A career 39.6% 3-point shooter, graduate transfer Isaiah Moss shouldn’t have many nights like his 0-for-2 outing versus ETSU. He had a great open look from the right wing that rimmed out near the 11-minute mark of the first half. Almost 10 minutes later he got an even better view of the hoop from the left corner but missed again.
Moss played too loose with the ball in the second half, with two poor turnovers, to stay on the floor. That’s something the 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago will have to rectify. KU needs him on the court, playing within the flow of the offense and taking the type of open looks he should keep getting off drive and kicks from Dotson, Garrett and Enaruna, or from defenders clogging the paint to limit Azubuike.
The season is too young to project what type of shooting years sophomores Dotson and Agbaji and freshman Enaruna will have. But banking on either Dotson or Agbaji to make a leap as an effective outside shooter would seem premature. Dotson shot 36.3% as a freshman, and Agbaji finished at 30.7%.
Meanwhile, Garrett, a junior, is a career 25.7% 3-point shooter.
If none of those three returning rotation players improve from long range, it may fall on Moss — and maybe Enaruna (3 for 6 this season) — to make defenses respect KU’s shooting.
Most of KU’s 3-point attempts versus ETSU could be charted as good offense. Percentages even indicate that more of those very same shots will fall on other nights.
Only one failed 3 designated as a truly bad decision. Agbaji forced one on the wing and had it promptly smothered by his defender, a rare blocked 3-pointer.
A few others were debatable to marginal. Dotson, who already had made one, took a higher degree of difficulty 3 off a ball screen, leaving a step-back attempt short. The sophomore point guard also dribbled into a missed 3 up top, late in the first half, with a defender sticking to him and 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
In the second half, with ETSU surging off of its 3-point makes, Dotson went for another 3 he could have easily passed up. Dotson hadn’t even used a dribble on a catch in the left corner but settled for a contested try with 17 seconds on the shot clock. Dotson’s fourth and final miss came at the top of the key, with 5 seconds on the shot clock and a little more than 2:00 to play. After using a ball screen from Garrett he settled for an NBA range 3 with a hand in his face instead of driving to create a better shot for himself or a teammate, or perhaps drawing a foul.
Every other KU 3-point try at least made sense within the offense and the moment. KU’s lone make was a quick catch-and-shoot for Dotson off a simple pass out to the perimeter from David McCormack at the foul line. And 8 other KU misfires looked similar, in that they wouldn’t qualify as a bad shot.
Though Garrett missed both of his tries, each came in rhythm and with the defense sagging off of him. They were good attempts he’ll need to continue to take with confidence. Even Enaruna’s air-balled 3 in the final minutes looked natural and open as he caught a pass and elevated. The execution was where he was lacking.
Once Agbaji (5-for-20 on 3’s this season) works his way out of his little funk, it’s easy to see KU’s shooting becoming presentable or better on most days. Three-pointers have a funny way of being contagious sometimes, whether they’re dropping or rimming out. If Moss is his normal self and one of the other guards knocks down a couple, KU could be just fine in a lot of games.
As Self referenced, the Jayhawks shouldn’t be this far off the mark again. Dotson said something similar.
“There’s going to be some nights like that. But we’re going to be fine. In practice we knock them down,” Dotson added. “We’ve got to bounce back.”
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 75-63 win over East Tennessee State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks dominated in the paint throughout their final tuneup before the Maui Invitational, where they had a 54-24 scoring advantage.
But they weren’t nearly as effective from outside, which kept the game close. KU shot just 1-for-14 on 3-pointers. Devon Dotson knocked down one early, but he and everybody else in a KU uniform spent the rest of the night off the mark.
• KU’s 15 turnovers qualified as a concern, as well. With 9 giveaways in the 2nd half, coupled with some ineffective shooting as ETSU surged, the victory didn’t exactly feel like a certainty.
• Ultimately, KU shot 56% from the floor in a win, indicative of how well the Jayhawks finished inside (14-for-19 layups, 7-for-7 dunks).
• The Jayhawks filled up the blocks and steals column versus ETSU, with eight swats and 14 swipes.
• They also held the visitors below 40% shooting from the field — 23-for-60 (38.3%). And ETSU shot 9-for-30 from deep.
• Limiting the Buccaneers, who had some length and athleticism on the floor, to 7 second-chance points helped assure KU of a win, too.
• Recently the at times clumsy looks between KU’s starting two bigs, Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack, made the offense difficult to watch when they shared court time. On this night, early on they looked far more functional together. Azubuike’s passing has been more impressive this year, and he worked in tandem with McCormack on a couple of occasions early. Even though KU didn’t stick with the duo for long they looked more suitable than usual.
• Before long, Azubuike became unstoppable offensively — other than the free throw line, where he shot 1-for-4. In the second half in particular, Azubuike made sure to take advantage of how ETSU covered him and sought out devastating finishes, which also ignited the crowd and gave his teammates energy.
• McCormack only played 12 minutes and finished with 4 points and 3 boards, while Azubuike went for 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.
• Devon Dotson (19 points, 6 assists) came out hot and allowed the Jayhawks to get comfortable by scoring, passing and making sure KU got transition looks.
• Marcus Garrett (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) wasn’t an ideal backup point guard when Dotson had to sit with some foul trouble early in the second half.
• Ochai Agbaji, while able to deliver on a high degree of difficulty reverse layup, continued to be in a little bit of an offensive slump early in the season, going 2-for-8 overall and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
• Silvio De Sousa had been on the floor about 8 seconds when he went up high to finish a slam off a pass from Dotson and inject some energy into the lineup.
A starter in KU’s rout of Monmouth, De Sousa was back to a reserve role and entered at the same time as two other potentially superb subs, Isaiah Moss and Tristan Enaruna.
Moss was the only one truly off, coughing the ball up a couple of times in the second half and missing his two 3-point attempts.
De Sousa played the final 5-plus minutes at center and was credited by teammates and Self alike as a major reason KU prevailed. The junior big put up 8 points, but also blocked three shots and gave an electric fast break finish in a tight game late.
Enaruna proved trustworthy and able to do a little of everything, with 4 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
Some college basketball coaches go to their bench begrudgingly. The starters start for a reason and when they rest it’s out of necessity.
Few coaches can turn to one reserve, let alone two or three, and trust that something positive is about to happen as a result.
But Bill Self might be in that enviable position before long, a rare coach able to look down his bench and see a variety of subs he would even gladly insert into the starting lineup in a pinch.
And if Tuesday night’s matchup with East Tennessee State was any indication he’ll need that to happen sooner rather than later.
Too often the No. 4 Jayhawks needed team leaders Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike to save them in a 75-63 victory.
They have capable bench players who should spend most of this season making Dotson’s and Azubuike’s responsibilities feel less burdensome.
Silvio De Sousa, Isaiah Moss and Tristan Enaruna were simultaneously the first backups to check in versus the Buccaneers. And the moment the trio hit the floor together it was easy to convince yourself a bench lineup with those three would give any team in the country problems.
At his best, De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 junior from Angola, is all energy all the time. Especially in a reserve role, as he was in the Jayhawks’ bon voyage victory before they head to Maui, De Sousa can exert himself with no boundaries, nor worries about wearing down.
His instant impact showed up the moment he stepped onto the floor, a little fewer than six minutes into the first half. Devon Dotson ran a pick and roll with De Sousa and the big threw his right arm up as he headed toward the paint, indicating he wanted the lob. Dotson delivered, and so did De Sousa, flushing it through.
KU’s lead went from three to nine in a hurry with its best bench players influencing the flow. Enaruna made his presence felt next, utilizing those long arms of his and turning a swipe on one end of the floor into a layup for himself on the other.
Moss was the only one of the three not to score in the first half. But after his 21 points in 15 minutes showcase game against Monmouth, it’s hard to doubt him as an impact backup.
A 6-5 senior who already graduated from Iowa, Moss isn’t perfect. He might even need a reminder on an out of bounds set from time to time about where to line up. But it’s still November, and he is a veteran who will have all that figured out sooner rather than later.
Enaruna is an ideal utility wing. He doesn’t just shoot. Or just defend. He gladly does a bit of everything. The freshman, like the older Moss, blends in on offense. Enaruna can even create off the bounce. Late in the first half the versatile wing from the Netherlands attacked from the left side of the floor, spun to get in the paint and then threw a pass no one except Udoka Azubuike saw coming, freeing the 7-footer for an uncontested dunk.
In crunch time, De Sousa soared in transition while filling in for Azubuike at center. He caught a lob from Dotson off a sprint that rocked the fieldhouse. Shortly after, he blocked a 3-pointer when those shots in particular from ETSU were the ones narrowing the gap.
In the final two minutes, De Sousa twice wisely caught a lob high and returned to the floor instead of forcing an off balance attempt, and he went right back up for a lay-in each time. After the first one, he ran down the floor on defense to block a shot.
“He was great,” Dotson said of the junior big man in the game’s final minutes. “He made some great hustle plays and got his hands on a lot of balls out there, so he was very active. He helped us out a lot down toward the end.”
Azubuike agreed: “After I got subbed because I got tired he came in and brought energy and pretty much helped us win the game.”
Self, of course, thought Azubuike (21 points) was KU’s best offensive player against ETSU. But the coach also said De Sousa had as much to do with the win as anybody on the roster.
“He hadn’t had a chance to play. I put him in and defensively he was terrific,” Self said of De Sousa. “Blocked maybe three shots in the last five or six minutes and then had one great finish. That was probably the best play of the game,” Self added of the big man’s race in transition for an alley-oop. “It was good to see, because he really hasn’t had a chance to contribute in a way I know he’s capable of and he knows he’s capable of.”
With KU up five points and 5:44 left to play, Self subbed in De Sousa for Azubuike.
“I just think that he trusts me and he wanted to see what I can do,” De Sousa said of the opportunity. “I personally think he wants to try to test me.”
After De Sousa, who scored 8 points on the night, contributed a steal, two baskets, and was credited with two blocks and a rebound during the final minutes, he thought he performed pretty well on that test.
“I think I got a 90,” he said. “That’s a good test for me.”
It’s way too early to call KU’s bench unit a great one. It wouldn’t be true at this stage of the season, either. ETSU outscored KU’s bench 19-14.
When the game felt a little tighter in the second half, after ETSU sliced into KU’s double-digit lead, Moss turned the ball over a couple of times, blowing transition opportunities.
“I think he got a little out of whack,” Self said of Moss, who had 2 points in 17 minutes. “He didn’t make a couple open looks and then his ball handling in the second half was real poor… Isaiah’s got to be better with the ball. He was just too careless.”
Plus, Moss needs to be — and can be — KU’s 3-point specialist. The Jayhawks finished the night 1-for-14 from deep and Moss missed his two tries.
Enaruna, who scored 4 points and added 4 assists and 4 rebounds, air balled a wide-open 3 with KU up 11 in crunch time, too.
We don’t even know if all three of KU’s best substitutes will spend all season in their current roles. Yet they’re so promising as three jolts of energy off the bench that they should think of themselves as players who need to be as reliable as Dotson and Azubuike — even if they don’t play as many minutes.
They bring so much to the table between them that they should be a solution game in and game out, and not a problem.
Give them time. By late January leads won’t be in jeopardy with these three on the floor together. And deficits will erase rather than grow larger.
Don’t bury this Kansas basketball team’s two-big lineups just yet.
Bill Self hasn’t. It doesn’t even sound like he has bothered locating his shovel.
KU’s head coach wants to see more evidence of what combinations of Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa can do for the No. 5 Jayhawks before he gets too caught up in what they haven’t a couple of games into a long season.
“Right now” Self is sure to emphasize — meaning he doesn’t necessarily believe the statement will be true in the future — KU’s offense is better with four guards on the floor. It may be more a sliver of optimism than stubbornness that has Self waiting to watch it all play out.
The reasons to stick with two bigs are obvious. If it works, KU should theoretically be able to maximize its rebounding and rim protection, while also having larger bodies to set screens for various offensive actions and sets. The idea would be that the Jayhawks get such a boost in those areas that there’s a net gain outweighing the negatives that accompany playing two bigs.
And the most obvious unwelcome results could come on the defensive end of the floor. College basketball lineups are more perimeter-oriented now, so if Self has two of his three largest bodies on the court at the same time, either McCormack or De Sousa will have to defend someone who plays more like a wing when KU opponents have four-guard lineups. (Seven-footer Azubuike won’t be the one asked to pull that off.)
Think about Self’s KU teams through the years, since he came to Lawrence in 2003, and consider what usually inspires him to pick one player over another or one lineup combination over another. It’s defense. Self cares about that and the toughness associated with playing it more than how many more 3-pointers the Jayhawks can hoist with four guards.
Just as issues currently exist offensively for this roster when KU rolls with two big men — neither McCormack nor De Sousa can help space the floor as shooting threats — there are factors on the defensive end of the floor that could eventually lead Self to pivot and stick with one post player.
“Our two bigs — which are true bigs, it’s not like they’re really tall guards or perimeter 4-men — our bigs are all big,” Self said of what makes playing two of them at once risky at times for KU’s defense.
“How are we going to guard ball screens? If we switch,” Self added, “can one of those guys — Silvio or David — stay connected and be a good perimeter defender? And if we don’t switch how do we get back to shooters?”
All of those defensive actions and reactions become simpler when KU has four guards on the court. So KU’s coaches have kept working with McCormack and De Sousa to see if they can make enough improvements as defenders outside to make these not so modern lineups worthwhile.
“In defense of those guys, they’ve never done it before,” Self said, noting as he often has in the season’s first week-plus that Azubuike, McCormack and De Sousa really all are centers at heart. “Silvio’s never played on the perimeter, and David’s never played on the perimeter. This is new to them, as well.”
Neither McCormack (listed at 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds) nor De Sousa (6-9, 245) is going to transform into the type of versatile 4-man defender Self loves — think Josh Jackson. But they aren’t so awful that Self has abandoned any hope of them getting better out of their element.
Self, if so inspired, will blast a player for not performing up to the coach’s standards or call one out for being “soft” in some way, shape or form. But he didn’t say anything close to that during his weekly press conference on Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
Instead, Self said this of McCormack and De Sousa as perimeter defenders: “I think they’re getting better at it.”
Junior guard Marcus Garrett, often lauded by Self for his basketball IQ and defense, said during the team’s closed practices he sees McCormack and De Sousa improving. When screens call for one of the bigs to switch, Garrett shared, he sees both taking pride in “actually guarding on the perimeter.”
“Just staying in front of the ball when they get a switch. Just don’t let a guy just make one move or play with the ball and go right by him,” Garrett gave as examples. “I’m starting to see them move their feet and actually being active once they switch on a guard.”
It obviously doesn’t always go according to plan. Asked whether one of the bigs ever has to guard him outside and how that goes, Garrett just tried to hide a grin and didn’t need to provide any details that would make a teammate look bad.
Even if the improvements McCormack and De Sousa have displayed during practices have been minor in the near week since matchups with perimeter-oriented UNC Greensboro led Self to play four guards for 35 minutes, the fact is Self wants KU’s two-big lineups to work.
It’s doubtful any combination of KU’s two bigs will become so overwhelming that going large will turn into the Jayhawks’ sole identity this season. But the goal should be flexibility. And having some of that on the defensive end of the floor always comes in handy in March. Round by round, one never knows what matchups the bracket might spit out. Ideally, Kansas will be able to adjust and feel comfortable with two bigs defending or just one.
So think of the longterm and defensive upside if Self seems more patient with two bigs than you figured.
The attrition began in boot camp, when one reserve guard, Issac McBride, left the program on his own accord. Then came another blow to the Kansas basketball bench on Friday night, during the first half of the season’s second game, when freshman forward Jalen Wilson broke his left ankle.
That depth and wealth of talent the No. 3 Jayhawks boasted entering the preseason suddenly looks significantly thinner than anyone, including coach Bill Self, expected a little more than a week into November.
With Wilson expected out of the lineup for at least three months, the significance of every bench player in the rotation just got magnified.
At least a couple of them already look qualified to sub in and provide more than a breather for the starters.
Graduate transfer Isaiah Moss and freshman wing Tristan Enaruna accounted for all 17 of KU’s bench points in a 74-62 victory over UNC Greensboro. But Enaruna, who also secured five rebounds and dished a couple of assists, said he and Moss can provide more than shooting and floor spacing.
“I think something we can bring is a lot of ball movement, dribble drive to create for others,” Enaruna said of the bench duo. “Just involving everybody else who’s on the floor and making everybody else better.”
Both blended in ideally on offense when Bill Self opted to use four-guard lineups for all but the opening few minutes of the home opener. Moss eased into his KU debut (he missed the loss to Duke with a hamstring injury), almost going out of his way to fit in and keep the ball moving. But his natural instinct to catch and shoot showed up in the second half, and the 6-foot-5 former Iowa guard knocked down 2 of his 6 3-pointers.
Enaruna, who went 1-for-2 from deep and scored his other two baskets inside, one off a knifing drive and another on the offensive glass, expects Moss to be a staple of KU’s four-guard lineups.
“He’s a really important dude, because he really forces the defense to guard the perimeter,” Enaruna said of Moss. “Obviously he’s a great shooter. Probably the best shooter we have. So I think he’s going to help us out a lot on the perimeter with kick-outs and all that stuff, which opens up a lot for the bigs.”
Neither Enaruna nor Moss played hurried or lost, and as the Jayhawks continue to develop in this early stage of the season and beyond, Self will need both of them at their best.
“They’ve got to be important. We’ll keep starting two bigs, I’m sure. But they’re going to be important and so is Christian Braun,” Self said of KU’s third perimeter sub. “They’ve all got to play. We’re down to nine guys. If you say we’re going to play four guards, well, we’re down to six players that can play those four guard spots. So all of them are going to have to be important players for us to keep moving forward.”
At some point this season, the bench unit might include David McCormack, if Self rolls with four guards from the opening jump. For now the only big in the bunch is Silvio De Sousa, a junior still trying to find his rhythm, energy and spot in the rotation.
If Self does green light a four-guard look, either Moss or Enaruna is the most likely addition to the starting lineup. But as Self said, that would leave only one of them and Braun as KU’s guard options off the bench.
“Losing Mackey (McBride) early, we didn’t anticipate that,” Self said. “And then this, with Jalen, that’s certainly not what we thought would happen. So Tristan and Christian are going to be real important. Isaiah, we kind of know what we’ve got. When he’s healthy, he’s done it before. But those two will be real important to our success.”
KU’s bench unit could be electric with Moss and Enaruna coming in and scoring, driving and sharing the ball. But it sure doesn’t seem like they will both be reserves for long.
Shorter rotations aren’t a bad thing for basketball teams. A lot of college programs would love to be nine deep. The trick for KU is getting all the pieces to mesh together. And the most natural solution leads to a bench with basically two centers (McCormack and De Sousa) and two guards, neither of whom are point guards (Braun and either Moss or Enaruna).
Maybe Braun and De Sousa will play more in the future. But at the moment KU has a clear top seven that doesn’t include them. That all could change in an instant, or be more of a drawn-out process, depending on how both of them develop and adjust.
As KU looks for its best bench combination to materialize, Moss and Enaruna seem like players who can be trusted. Just don’t expect both of them to be 6th men all season.
Quick grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 74-62 win over UNC Greensboro on Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
• Hey, the Jayhawks only turned the ball over 10 times.
• Even though the giveaway issues that plagued KU against Duke dissipated, the offense didn’t exactly look crisp in the first half, when the Jayhawks shot 12-for-29 from the floor. In a perfect world, KU would like to play through its 7-footer, Udoka Azubuike, inside. But teams are game planning to take him away, and KU’s players still are in the process of figuring out how to best counter the defenses they’re facing.
You could see them getting comfortable in the second half.
• UNCG threw some half-court traps at KU sporadically and KU mostly responded with poise and executed, a good sign with the Spartans assertive in their attacking traps.
• UNCG came out planning to take 3-pointers and KU’s perimeter defense was passable enough early in the first half that the Spartans opened 1-for-9 from deep. It wasn’t sound throughout, though, and UNCG made 4 of its next 7 3-point tries. The Spartans didn’t neglect the paint, either, as they spent much of the first half outscoring KU inside and keeping the game tighter than the fieldhouse fans wanted to see it.
• As the Jayhawks actually took a sizable lead in the second half after a tight opening 20 minutes, their defense made it possible. UNCG missed 9 of its first 11 shot attempts after halftime.
• UNCG shot 38.7% from the field and 25.8% on 3’s.
• The Jayhawks, as expected, started Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack again. But with UNCG not exactly able to put long combinations on the floor, Bill Self went to four-guard lineups in the first half, as soon as he went to his bench for the first time, less than 5 minutes into the home opener.
Even though Azubuike became the primary big man with four guards surrounding him most of the night, he rarely overpowered UNCG down low, where he impacted the game most by securing rebounds (10). Finally, in the latter portion of the second half, Azubuike got to unleash one of his signature slams, a thunderous attack off a Tristan Enaruna pass.
• McCormack didn’t have many opportunities to find a rhythm as he spent the majority of the game on the bench (11 minutes played).
• Marcus Garrett scored 8 of KU’s first 10 points, and that’s because he was willing and ready to cash in from downtown when he was open, knocking in his first two tries. But he spent most of the rest of the night doing Marcus Garrett complementary things that don’t show up in a box score.
• Devon Dotson looked more in command with the ball in Game 2 of his sophomore season than he did versus Duke’s defense in the opener, as one would figure. And even though Dotson looked off on his first couple of shot attempts and didn’t score until the 11:24 mark, he would carry the Jayhawks offensively in the first half.
Not only did Dotson showcase one of his best offensive traits, drawing contact and getting to the foul line, he also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and scored on an offensive board, as he scored 14 of KU’s 36 first-half points.
The show didn’t stop in the second half, as Dotson kept adding to his stat line in every category, finishing with 22 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds.
• Ochai Agbaji missed some good looks at 3-pointers but finished 3-for-8 from downtown. He also looks like a guard you can almost count on for multiple steals every night.
• After a hamstring injury kept him out of KU’s season-opening loss to Duke earlier in the week, grad transfer Isaiah Moss was the first man off the bench versus UNCG. Though touted as a possible 3-point weapon for this KU team which needs someone to take on that role, Moss didn’t come out firing. The veteran guard from Chicago instead gladly worked the ball around the perimeter and eased into his KU debut, opting to fit in rather than force the issue and stand out.
Moss’s first basket in a Kansas uniform came a few minutes into the second half, when he was one of the Jayhawks’ starting five out of the locker room. Moss had a toe on the 3-point line, making his first bucket a long 2. A couple minutes later, an actual catch and shoot 3 drew an eruption from the crowd.
Moss played with a bounce in his step and with his 3-point stroke looks like an ideal 6th man — if not a starter down the road. He scored 8 points in 25 minutes.
• Freshman Tristan Enaruna again looked smooth as a ball handler and driver in just his second college game. KU only scored 10 points in the paint in the first half and the most impressive bucket from that bunch came from Enaruna, who sliced through the lane to finish on the left side.
One of the loudest crowd responses of the night came after Enaruna crashed the offensive glass in the second half for a putback and an old fashioned 3-point play.
• The minutes for Silvio De Sousa were hard to find as KU ran with four guards for the bulk of the night. His best play came when he swatted a shot as a driving guard tried to go right at him.
• The KU faithful barely got a look at freshman forward Jalen Wilson Friday night. He hadn’t been on the floor a minute when he hurt his ankle and had to be helped to the locker room by KU’s trainers to get checked out. He returned to the bench on crutches in the second half.