What will Kansas look like without Josh Jackson on Thursday?
Wednesday morning, word came down from KU coach Bill Self that Josh Jackson would miss Thursday’s Big 12 tournament opener to serve a one-game suspension for his role in mismanaging a traffic incident back in February.
While the news certainly did Kansas no favors in the eyes of the public, particularly those who are becoming more and more curious about just what is going on with the Jayhawks and their off-the-court issues, it also dealt a blow to the KU basketball team, which now will try to advance to Friday’s semifinals without its second leading scorer and all-around most talented player.
Legal questions and concerns aside, the biggest question many want answered now is this: What does this Kansas basketball team look like without Josh Jackson?
In a few words? Much the same, just not as talented.
Self told the Journal-World on Wednesday morning that sophomore guard Lagerald Vick would start in Jackson’s place against the winner of tonight’s TCU-OU game at Sprint Center. Given KU’s depth at the position, with starters Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk all still available, the Jayhawks still figure to go with their four-guard look most of the time.
Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr., has shown progress in recent weeks and his minutes certainly could increase, perhaps even climbing above 20, if Bragg shows up and plays well on Thursday. And Vick, who has played 21 minutes or more in seven of KU’s last eight games, figures to see his time on the court climb into the 30s with Jackson in street clothes.
Playing without Jackson is not an entirely new adventure for this Kansas team. Throughout the season, but especially early on, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Detroit has struggled with foul trouble and been forced to sit on the bench for long periods of time in several games this season.
Most notable among them was a 12-minute showing at TCU back on Dec. 30, when Jackson never got into the game and Vick played 34 minutes in his place.
Coincidentally, KU could very well be facing that same TCU team on Thursday afternoon, which not only would give Vick a little extra confidence — he scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line) in KU’s December victory over TCU — but also provide the rest of the team with some confidence, knowing they can get by the Horned Frogs without their freshman All-American on the floor.
Jackson was much better in two games against OU, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 30 minutes in the win at Oklahoma and with 11 points and 12 rebounds (along with 8 turnovers) in KU’s home victory over the Sooners on Feb. 27.
KU’s biggest concern about not having Jackson on the floor is probably on defense. Because of his length and ability to hit the glass, Jackson has helped Landen Lucas handle several tall and talented front lines this season. Mykhailiuk and Vick, at 6-8 and 6-5 are both capable of doing the job, but neither does it quite as well as Jackson.
“I can if I need to,” said Mykhailiuk, earlier this season, when asked about guarding opposing big men. “But also we have Josh. Me, Lagerald and Josh are like 6-8, 6-5, 6-8, so we can if we have to.”
Asked to share the biggest keys to guarding big men instead of checking guards, Mykhailiuk pointed to quickness as the key.
“Just try to get in front so they don’t get the ball, run from both sides, just try to confuse the guy with the ball,” he said. “You use that (quickness) to get in front faster.”
If he’s caught in the post with a big man backing him down, Mykhailiuk said deception was the key at that point.
“You just need to give distance, let ’em feel you and then just back off sometimes so they don’t know where the contact is,” he said.
Believe it or not, Jackson has played fewer than 30 minutes 12 times this season. Only two of those have come in the past 12 games, however, so not having him in the lineup likely will seem strange at times.
But it’s possible that Jackson’s absence — though not coming in a way that anyone in the program would want — could actually go a long way toward helping this team in the long run.
Not only will Jackson get an extra day of rest, but Mykhailiuk, Vick and Bragg also will be counted on more heavily, a reality that, if they deliver, should take their confidence up a notch entering the rest of the weekend and into the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case scenario? Kansas loses without Jackson and the whole team gets a few extra days of rest while waiting for Selection Sunday.