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Self still searching for ways to give Graham a break; but KU's schedule makes it tough

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Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after the Jayhawks' 88-84 win, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena.

Kansas head coach Bill Self congratulates Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after the Jayhawks' 88-84 win, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 at Schollmaier Arena. by Nick Krug

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is facing a dilemma. But it’s one for which there actually is an easy answer, even if it’s not an answer he likes.

The question of how much to play senior point guard Devonte’ Graham — and how much to rest him — has hovered over this Kansas team throughout the season. But as much as Self would love to give his leader a few more minutes of rest each night, the 10th-ranked Jayhawks’ current reality does not allow for it.

“We can’t play without him right now,” said Self following a 38-minute, 28-point performance by Graham during Saturday’s 88-84 road win at TCU. “We need Malik (Newman) to be able to play that (backup point guard) position for us or somebody to play that position for us. It may not be. This may be the hand we’re dealt and the hand he’s dealt all year long.”

Graham, who leads the Jayhawks (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12) in just about every meaningful offensive category, has played 38 or more minutes eight times this season and all 40 on three separate occasions. That includes a current stretch of three consecutive 38-plus-minute outings.

A deeper look at those numbers reveals a trend that produces visions of Graham playing more big-minute games in the future not fewer. Six of Graham’s eight games of 38 minutes or more came against current Top 50 teams in the KenPom rankings. The two that weren’t? A one-point win at Nebraska and KU’s first loss of the season against Washington.

Twelve of KU’s final 16 regular season games come against teams currently ranked in the KenPom Top 50, including six in a row after Tuesday’s 8 p.m. home clash with Iowa State, which ranks 103rd.

It's not as if the extended playing time is exactly hurting Graham's bottom line. His past two games — 27 points in 40 minutes vs. Texas Tech and 28 points in 38 minutes against TCU — have produced his third and fourth best point totals of the season and he has now scored 23 points or more in three consecutive games.

Regardless, the difficulty of what lies ahead, along with the already-high usage and the nasty spill Graham took late in the win over TCU, appears to have Self even more dialed in on trying to figure out a way to lighten Graham's load.

“We may have to play zone or something to, I hate to say this, rest on defense,” Self said. “Or run a different offense where maybe he can rest on offense some because he’s worn out.”

Graham’s not the only one.

“Svi (Mykhailiuk) told me (Friday), ‘Coach, I’ll play better if I play 27,’ because he’s playing too many. And he knows it,” said Self of his senior sharp shooter, who joined Graham in topping 20 points and 38 minutes in Saturday’s win. “Here he is, he has to play 38 because no way you can take him out.”

Self has tried throughout the season to find an answer for back-up point guard but no one has emerged with any kind of consistency that would lead Self to believe he is reliable.

Newman has been given the most chances to run the show, both with Graham in the game and on the bench, but the Mississippi State transfer has not shown Self what he needs to see to entrust him with the backup job on a full-time basis and has slipped into a mid-season funk during recent weeks. And junior Lagerald Vick, who, at times, has been KU’s best player off the dribble, is not a natural point guard by any means.

“Let’s just call it (what it is),” Self said. “Malik is struggling. And Lagerald’s had a bad week. So, if we can get those guys going (that would help). I don’t think we can get much more out of Devonte’ and Svi. We’ve got to get more out of those (other) guys.”

Comments

Michael Sillman 9 months, 1 week ago

Don’t you just have to swallow very hard and pick some times in each game to keep Graham and Mykhailiuk on the bench to rest regardless of what happens on the court? I remember Williams pulling all his starters on bad nights in favor of a mix of back ups and walk-ons. Most of the time that group more than held their own.

Eliott Reeder 9 months, 1 week ago

Roy did that out of frustration with his starters’ performance, not to rest them.

Ashwin Rao 9 months, 1 week ago

That is what it is. Graham is our 2017-2018 version of Mason. We need winners like them to run the team. This shows how the one-and-done players have not actually helped us on average... mostly because of off-field issues. Mason is my clear #1, and Graham is my #2. Not sure who will take up the role next year!

Dale Rogers 9 months, 1 week ago

Wasn't Marcus Garrett a point guard in high school?

Aaron Paisley 9 months, 1 week ago

Garrett isn't ready yet. He makes too many bad passes and turns it over too much playing off ball. He'll get better, but he's more suited in an off ball role.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 9 months, 1 week ago

Prior to the season Self said he'd be disappointed if Newman didn't have an All Big 12 type of season. That clearly hasn't worked out as expected. Unless we get both Preston and De Sousa eligible soon I don't see much of a break for either Svi or Graham any time soon.

Len Shaffer 9 months, 1 week ago

I don't know if he's capable of playing PG, but every time I've seen Cunliffe I've been impressed. Maybe he can start playing a little more and at least give Svi some rest.

Michael Sillman 9 months, 1 week ago

Agreed that Cunliffe appears ready for a bigger role than currently being given by the coaching staff.

Matt Tait 9 months, 1 week ago

Offensively, he is. Defensively, not quite. There's a lot out there that Self sees on the defensive end (or doesn't see) that the rest of us can miss.

Cunliffe looks great on offense but needs to take care of things on the other end to see his minutes go up.

Joe Ross 9 months, 1 week ago

  1. Who is Malik Newman? How did this guy land on the roster at Kansas? (Ill have to say this because someone is bound to take this literally: this is both a rhetorical question and one made knowing full well what the answer is. His performance is simply awfully surprising. Emphasis on "awful-").

  2. Frank Mason played 36 minutes a game last year. If Cuncliffe and Garrett can between them provide 40 minutes (BOTH averaging a half a piece), we could get some rest for these guys. Garrett might already be there.

  3. Preston and De Sousa becoming eligible would help reduce Graham's minutes. Rather than playing 4 around 1, they could go to the traditional 3-2. Graham play the 1, Svi-2, Vick-3, subbed by Newman, Garrett, Cuncliffe. Incidentally this would also rest Doke.

Layne Pierce 9 months, 1 week ago

Joe

Great idea on 3-2. I am intrigued by the idea of some kind of offense that reduces the demands on point guard, what could that be? I

If we think about it, we have 1 true center, 1 true point guard. Newman is going to have to get it going. Frankly, there is something wrong there. don't know what, but something. Bill Self does not misjudge talent that much. Remember when Newman led the team in scoring in Italy, and how well he even looked first couple of games. If he's not hurt physically, then he is mentally. Get a good sports psychologist on board. Strangest thing is he drives so out of control, like he does not believe he will get fouled, if he makes a move, and he also shoots a three or drives all the way to the hoop, supposedly he always had a very good short jump shot. This is something Svi needs to do once in a while to keep from getting charges, we can't have Doke and Svi foul out of the same game.

Frankly, Devonte and Svi are getting it done. They have raised their game. Now the other guys are gonna have to raise theirs, otherwise, no way we win the 14th. I still believe it's possible

RCJ

Joe Ross 9 months, 1 week ago

i actually think employing a team psychologist or a hypnotist would be beneficial for Malik Newman and a couple of the other guys. LOVE your idea!

Robert Brock 9 months, 1 week ago

Newman was always a point guard until he went to Mississippi State and now at KU. It has been apparent that Self wanted Newman to learn to play without the ball - as a deuce- and it was awkward and uncomfortable making the switch. Now, Self says that he wants Newman to play the point (where Newman had a history of “doing too much”, sloppy play).

Newman may be a wee bit confused by Coach Self.

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