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