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Lightfoot, McCormack finding footing in new-look KU basketball rotation

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Kansas's Mitch Lightfoot (44) watches as TCU's JD Miller, right, collects a defensive rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

Kansas's Mitch Lightfoot (44) watches as TCU's JD Miller, right, collects a defensive rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. by Tony Gutierrez

There’s a funny flow for how injuries impact athletics that kind of falls in line with that idea of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.

Take the case of current Kansas junior Mitch Lightfoot as a good example.

Buried on the bench despite a significant role in 2017-18, including starting KU’s first two games in the NCAA Tournament, Lightfoot was quickly starting to look like a man running out of opportunities.

He received back-to-back DNPs during a home victory over Iowa State and a road loss at Kentucky in January — Lightfoot, as a sophomore, played 17 combined minutes against those teams during the 2017-18 season — and played single-digit minutes in the three games that came before those.

Not only was his time limited, but what he was being asked to do when he was on the floor was limited, as well.

Nothing ran through Lightfoot, of course. Then again, that’s nothing new. And, with Kansas at one point favoring more of a 4-guard approach, his minutes on the floor — and those given to freshman David McCormack — generally amounted to the coaching staff saying, ‘Hey, Dedric Lawson needs a rest so go try to help us survive until we can get him back out there.’

Nothing wrong with that, of course. Lawson’s an All-American candidate and the kind of player you want on the floor as much as possible. But if you’re competitors like Lightfoot or McCormack, that role might have left a little to be desired.

But then Marcus Garrett, one of KU’s most reliable players and one of those four guards, suffered a severe high ankle sprain and Self and company had little choice but to return to their 2-big-man lineups and see what happened.

What happened was a major resurgence for the always-confident Lightfoot and a significant step forward for McCormack.

In the past two games alone, that duo has combined to play 73 minutes — 34 in a win over Oklahoma State and 39 in Monday’s win at TCU — and delivered 14 points, 23 rebounds and 7 blocks during that time. That amounts to an average of 7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game and that’s pretty good production from the 5 position that’s out there playing next to a guy like Lawson, who is averaging 19.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game himself.

Beyond the numbers, which KU certainly does not mind but does not always need, Lightfoot, and to some degree McCormack, have brought something much more important to the floor during KU’s most recent wins.

“The things that he did are the intangible things that this team needs as much as anything,” Self said of Lightfoot’s recent outings.

Competing for every rebound, whether he gets it or not. Defending the paint with a sense of pride. Not backing down from anything or anyone. And giving everything he’s got every time he’s out there.

Those were the contributions that extended minutes have afforded Lightfoot the opportunity to provide. And his pride, effort and intensity have rubbed off on the rest of the team, including McCormack.

“You should look at them as a whole, don’t look at them individually,” Self said of Lightfoot and McCormack. “If you combine the intangible things that David and Mitch do, that’s 35-40 really good minutes that we got from that position (against TCU), just like we did against Oklahoma State. On a night when Dedric wasn’t as sharp as he’s normally been, we needed those other guys to come through and they did.”

The area where that showed up the most was on defense, where TCU center Kevin Samuel finished with just 4 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes on Monday night, a far cry from the 12 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes he put on Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse back in early January.

“Samuel wore us out here,” Self said. “And both of those guys did such a good job on him (Monday) that he wasn’t nearly as effective.”

While Garrett is expected back soon and even though senior Lagerald Vick feasibly could return from his leave of absence, don’t expect Self to go full bore back to the 4-guard lineup when his roster is closer to full again.

Lightfoot and McCormack have come through when Kansas needed them. Both bring the toughness and physicality that this team needs. And both have proven in recent weeks that, when given real minutes, they can deliver.

“Coach does a great job of getting us opportunities,” Lightfoot said recently. “He’ll get you in there when it’s important. That stems from freshman year. He put me in games when other coaches might not have put me in and you’ve got to take that opportunity and make the most of it.”

There are a lot of players doing that for Kansas these days. And that could be the reason that this team is starting to come together.

Lightfoot and McCormack will get another shot at an encore performance at 3 p.m. Saturday, when shorthanded West Virginia comes to Allen Fieldhouse.

Comments

Edward Daub 3 months, 1 week ago

Mitch better pull a vacuum on that mouthpiece and draw it back in!

I was surprised at the description of Mitch as "always confident". In my opinion, he seems to lack confidence on the floor. "Always positive" - yes , "Always upbeat" - yes , "Always team first" - yes!

As for McCormack, he plays like a wherling dervish, all arms and legs at this time. But, he is definitely oozing with blossoming potential. Just needs more seasoning!

A depleted WVU Roster (Ahmad and Harris dismissed) should supply a recipe for his continued success. Rock Chalk!

Terrence D Cernech 3 months, 1 week ago

Mitch Lightfoot is a JAYHAWK!!!!! That says it all when speaking about his role on this team. McCormack would do well to approximate what Mitch does for now. In a couple of years he may well show that he is NBA bound. Playing hard and with abandon whenever they are on the floor will be a difference maker the rest of this season. All season we have known that the front court has been without a mentor or how to be a Jayhawk and hard-nosed and determined to overcome. This team needs to look no further than Lightfoot. Although he may lack that supreme OAD talent of some,if the rest of the team expends the energy and heart that Mitch does their talents will be very apparent. (e.g., Agbaji).

Dirk Medema 3 months, 1 week ago

"In the past two games alone, … delivered 14 points, 23 rebounds and 7 blocks ... That amounts to an average of 4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game"

Last I checked, 14 / 2 = 7, not 4, but excellent point.

The other thing that's beneficial about them is that the O doesn't need to run through them, and they don't need to be on the low block clogging the lane to be effective. Realistically, they would seem most effective if they were constantly moving from 1 perimeter screen to the next, before crashing the boards. It would seem that crashing the boards from the arc would also make it more difficult for their defender to box them out. 11 R from the 5 spot is by far the best thing they bring.

Definitely agree with the "whirling dervish" comment. It would seem that the arms and legs flailing would work against both from the lack of body control as well as the referee's perception related to fouls. He's big enough he should be more of an OL/brick wall with all his energy channeled through his lower body.

Matt Tait 3 months, 1 week ago

Fixed. Thanks! Too many numbers & too much math for me... English guy. Not math & science!

Layne Pierce 3 months, 1 week ago

Not giving up any easy buckets, and fouling, when it§s necessary. That is 10 fouls of "not to our team you don't". That is something that has not been there before. Taking charges, fouling hard, when its necessary, that is hard nosed play, and it's something this team has to have.

So far KState has shown a lot of that, and that is why they are still ahead, but there's plenty of opportunties left for them to loose. They are not a juggernaut, but they are good, and so is Tech and Iowa St, and TCU, so there's a lot of bball still to be played, and a lot of possibilities.

RCJH

Steve Zimmerman 3 months, 1 week ago

Producing only 7 pts per 35min is not efficient at all. I have higher hope for Mitch & Dave. 1 dunk in 70min total is ridiculous. Sure 11 rebounds, 3.5 blks sound good but offensive wise, they're wasting how many possessions not being productive during that time? Yeah, i know some of you would love to say they're supposed to do what coach asks them to do.. Mitch plays better but Dave's potential is enormous, he just needs to slow down and not to equate playing bball to volleyball. He just needs a one-on-one drill.

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