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Jayhawks still searching for early-season Lagerald Vick

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The Jayhawks try to pull it together during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks try to pull it together during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Count Kansas basketball coach Bill Self in the group of people wondering what exactly has happened to KU junior Lagerald Vick during recent weeks.

Vick, who exploded during the early portion of the season and actually was leading this team in scoring at around 18 points per game toward the end of the non-conference slate, has cooled off considerably since the start of Big 12 play and is not making nearly the kind of impact he was early nor operating as the same kind of on-the-court presence he had been either.

On paper, Vick's numbers don't look all that different nor are they alarming. He's still averaging 14.1 points per game (fourth on a team that features five players averaging double figures) and is third on the team in minutes played at 33.1 per game, just 0.6 minutes behind Svi Mykhailiuk.

So, clearly, the Jayhawks need Vick out there and, given the fact that they now have won five in a row since falling to Texas Tech, he evidently is doing enough right to help this team win.

But many of those wins have been nail-biters and the belief in most circles is that if Vick were just playing and producing closer to his early-season form, those down-the-wire thrillers might have been comfortable victories.

Heck, a case could even be made for Kansas being unbeaten in Big 12 play if Vick were playing closer to his ceiling. His two-point, two-rebound disappearing act in 34 minutes against Texas Tech was by far the low point of his season. And if he just had hit his averages in that game, KU likely would have had a shot to win.

Because Vick has been underwhelming lately and other Jayhawks have been coming on — namely Malik Newman, Udoka Azubuike and, of course, the arrival of newcomer, Silvio De Sousa — we have not had any opportunities of late to talk with Vick to find out what's changed for him in terms of production. He's a tough nut to crack, though, so even talking to him might not provide answers.

And it's almost impossible to tell from the outside looking in exactly what's going on. At the outset of every recent KU game, Vick has looked locked in, bouncing up and down with the kind of swagger you'd expect just before the opening tip and staring at opponents with that confident-bordering-on-cocky grin before the game tips off.

But he's just not playing with the same kind of tenacity and attack-first mentality. And Self, slowly but surely, is starting to point that out.

“We were playing four against five,” Self said of his offense after the Baylor victory. “I hate to say that, but Lagerald and Marcus (Garrett) didn't do anything offensively. Marcus tried to get in there and stuff, but he missed some easy shots and really wasn't a factor. And then, in a game like that, where we've been playing four guards all year long, you'd think a junior (Vick) would be able to get in there and make a play or just force help or do something and we were never able to do that. It was ugly. And hopefully we can correct some things moving forward.”

After scoring 21 points in KU's Big 12 opener — a road win at Texas that capped a stretch of six games in double figures out of the past seven at the time — Vick has reached double digits in scoring just once in the last six games. And even that was a barely-got-there, 10-point effort against K-State.

In that time, Vick is averaging just 7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game — half of his scoring average for the season and nearly two full rebounds fewer than his average — despite playing nearly the same number of minutes — 32 minutes per night during this recent outing vs. 33.1 mpg for the season.

Self's not saying he needs or expects Vick to hit 20 points every night. But he is saying that he has to be more of a factor and wants him to use his skill set to make the defense uncomfortable and make plays for other Jayhawks.

“The way that we've been designed to play with four guards is to be aggressive and attack,” Self said. “And (vs. Baylor) we had one guy out there that never put us in a position to put the defense on their heels. And I think that makes us easier to guard.”

Because KU has not lost these games, it's hard to be too critical of Vick especially given the fact that he has played so many minutes in each win and had stretches where he came up big.

But after subtly critiquing Vick's funk and hoping for better days ahead after recent outings, Self went a little stronger following last Saturday's three-point Baylor victory, a clear sign that Self is still in search of the right buttons to push to get Vick back to form.

“Physically, we’re just getting whipped,” said Self after last weekend's Baylor game. “Lagerald’s getting his ass kicked every day.”

The quote did not end there. Self went on to call out Udoka Azubuike, Svi Mykhailiuk and the KU guards while praising the effort put out by freshman Marcus Garrett.

But the fact that Self used the strongest language on Vick is an indicator of the expectations the KU coach has for one of the few veterans that KU has — and needs — on this roster.

It's not hard to see that a return to normal by Vick not only would make the Jayhawks much tougher to beat in their chase for that 14th straight Big 12 title but also when the postseason rolls around. Especially when you consider that Newman has started to turn a corner and Azubuike continues to develop as an unstoppable offensive force.

There's still plenty of time for Vick to get that early-season magic back. The only question is, will he?

Comments

Allan Olson 1 year, 12 months ago

So, now that you don't have Malik to kick around anymore, here's Vick in your sights. I have a different take on our offense's woes...Marcus Garrett's total inability to challenge the defenses in the B-12. No perimeter threat and a poor free throw shooter. This leaves defenses the luxury of playing 5 on 4. When Vick was hot earlier, Garrett was not playing as many minutes...so defenses were forced to a 5 on 5 scheme. KU would have routed Baylor if Garrett and Dok made more than 33% or so of their free throws. Marcus is a much more advanced defender at this stage and we're still short on overall experience, so he's truly needed Then why not have him become the second "BIG" and focus on his inside moves and rebounding?

Dale Rogers 1 year, 12 months ago

I think Matt is spot on. He's not picking on anyone, he's pointing out weaknesses that obviously have solutions. If it takes a media kick in the rear to help get it going, I'm fine with that.

Barry Weiss 1 year, 12 months ago

My theory is that Vick's athleticism is challenged more by the tougher conference players and size so his numbers will naturally come down. I still do think he needs to turn in up more. Allan makes a good point on Garrett. You have to love his defense, but man, he is one of the biggest offensive liabilities KU has had in the back court that I can ever recall. When he receives a pass on the perimeter, you can watch ALL of the teams we've played immediately back off him and go help another defender. Defenses practically beg him to take a shot because they know it is the best gamble they can make. Hope he can develop his offensive game, it needs it just as bad as DoK's free throw shooting.

Marcia Parsons 1 year, 12 months ago

Wasn't Garrett the one who exploded for 30 points or something when they were playing overseas? He plays now with NO confidence in his shot.

Ryan Zimmerman 1 year, 12 months ago

Where is Cunliffe? Is Garrett THAT much better? I keep hearing "Garrett isn't a shooter" every time he gets the ball outside the arc. So what does he bring that Cunliffe doesn't?

Todd Hill 1 year, 12 months ago

No Defense, no floor time. Yes. Defense. Garrett has 2-3 possible steals a game. He just can't finish them. Cunliffe is never in position for a steal or especially rebounding.

Craig Alexander 1 year, 12 months ago

Unfortunately Todd is absolutely right on this one. When it matters in games, you need stops not somebody that has a ton of athletic ability. I hope Sam puts the defensive piece together because if he could stay in the game due to his defense, I really believe the offense would pick up too.

Tony Bandle 1 year, 12 months ago

Vick almost looks like he's afraid to make a mistake, so he dishes off or sits out on the perimeter. Out of KU's 9 man rotation you have four current offensive non-factors, Lightfoot, De Sousa, Garrett and Cunliffe, thus all the more reason for Vick to force the action and participate.

Our best chance of victory each night is to pump it into Dok, hit our threes, play tough D, crash the boards and, for God's sake, hit 70% of our free throws.

Allan Olson 1 year, 12 months ago

Pump it into Dok? What about the three defenders around him most of the time. Remember the Washington game! Dok's a dunker not a scorer. Pass the ball to him outside the lane and he'll just pass it back. DeSousa and Cunliffe are too green at playing defense right now. We need some routs to get those two some real playing time. Lightfoot is the pick of your litter.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 12 months ago

If there are three guys on Dok then guess how many open guys there are on the perimeter that he can pass to? Passing into the post isn't always about getting a post shot, it can be about getting the defense to rotate to open up other opportunities.

Allan Olson 1 year, 11 months ago

Excuse me, never said he could not pass back. Said the others cannot complete passes to him surrounded by defenders. And he's never even looking for a pass unless he's within 3/4 feet of basket. Have you even seen him throw a pass back to a teammate for an open 3 pointer?

Nick Rushton 1 year, 12 months ago

Can't remember the time I was this down on one of our players. Vick's offense is bad, but it's not just that, his all-around game is in shambles too. I re-watched the WVU game and Vick was an absolute walking zombie out there. He didn't try to box out at all, had low energy, and was constantly getting beat on D. Honestly it made our win there even MORE impressive. I honestly don't understand why Self even puts him on the floor.

However something very interesting happened against Baylor. Vick was his normal zombie-self the first 37 minutes of the game. But then....in a moment....Devonte pulled him aside and gave him a good talking-to. From that point on, he turned up his energy, boxed some guys out, and actually made a difference in the game. It was simply amazing. Thank you Devonte!!!!!!

KD Krase 1 year, 12 months ago

Did Marcus Garrett ever score in high school? He looks like he is afraid to shoot even layups. His defense must be great or why is he playing at all?

Allan Olson 1 year, 12 months ago

Marcus was last year's Gatorade, Texas player of the year. The knock on him in H.S. was him not being strong on defense.

Craig Jackson 1 year, 12 months ago

Sam was to be the second coming, Vick shows glimpses of stardom, Garrett is a shot putter. We are missing a pure shooter off the bench. We always lack a pure shooter off the bench. Other than the first half of first halves, Svi peters out and cant hit consistently in second halves, our shot chart suffers, and we go 0-20 from the field. Love HCBS commitment to D but wish he would find some 6 ft kids who do nothing but shoot. Phil Forte have a 7th year of eligibility? Heck there were a lot of them in ol Robinson Gym on a Friday afternoon! Pining for the fiords, I guess!

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 12 months ago

This has been a problem in junior league I'm coaching. We're too busy doing scrimmages, repeating set plays, but no time for one-on-one coaching for player development. I wonder if our coaching staff does have player development specialist. Director of Student-Athlete Development: Quartlebaum - is he responsible for Dok FT improvement? or teaching Vick to dribble drive with cross-over, for example, or show Garrett how to dribble drive dunk ala Svi? If the staff has already done it, my bad..

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