Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 70-67 survival victory against Baylor on Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Malik Newman was terrific and the Jayhawks got to the free throw line 34 times. The problem was, they missed 13 times when they got there and finished with a 40.4 percent shooting clip after starting the game by making the first seven shots they attempted. Had it not been for Newman's superb effort, both early and late, this easily would've been in the low C range.
There should probably be some kind of compete factor in this grade from now on because even though the Jayhawks are only taking baby steps toward becoming better defenders, they are becoming much better at competing and grinding out possessions, which means almost just as much. KU limited BU to 30 percent shooting in the first half and 40 percent for the game. But the Jayhawks also fell asleep in the second half and let Baylor turn a 13-point deficit into a six-point lead. Some big stops when they had to have them were huge, though, and kept this grade above average.
Udoka Azubuike was merely OK but not great given his 4-of-11 shooting night from the free throw line. And Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa gave the Jayahwks very little off the bench. Bonus points here for KU at least gaining some closure in the Billy Preston situation, even if it was not the closure it wanted. At least now KU will know definitively what it's big man rotation will look like the rest of the way.
Newman was terrific and Devonte' Graham flirted with a triple-double despite a 3-of-10 shooting night. But Svi Mykhailiuk did not have his best night, Lagerald Vick continued to be quiet and Marcus Garrett's 3-of-8 showing at the free throw line was more troubling than Azubuike's 4-of-11 mark.
Garrett is one of those dudes who is absolutely competing his tail off right now. But his numbers are not matching his effort. And Lightfoot and De Sousa combined for just eight minutes, meaning (a) they weren't all that playable and (b) they didn't really do much when they were in there.
It might sound odd, coming from KU coach Bill Self, but one of the biggest challenges facing the current Kansas basketball team is how to incorporate more big men into the offense.
Go ahead. Take a moment. It's important to have your head on straight before reading further.
Yes, the coach who has done more with power forwards and centers on the offensive end than just about anybody during his college coaching career is at a point in this wild and crazy modern era of small ball and guard-heavy offenses that he actually is in search of new ways to put two big men on the floor at the same time and have them both produce and benefit the Kansas offense.
A big reason for that is the presence and emergence of freshman forward Silvio De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound specimen who joined the Jayhawks a few of weeks ago and has played four and seven minutes in his first two games with the team.
Only a couple of times in that 11 minutes did De Sousa actually post up and ask for the ball. But there's more of that ahead, according to Self. And the KU coach flat-out said he was “excited” about the idea of incorporating De Sousa into the offense and having the newcomer out there alongside 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike, KU's fourth leading scorer (14.5 points per game) and the nation's leader in field goal percentage (.781).
“It's hard to practice a way that you know you're not going to play for three weeks,” Self said, referencing the wait for De Sousa to become eligible after transferring from IMG Academy at semester. “So he comes in. We didn't say, 'OK, we're going to play two bigs now,' because we knew he wasn't going to be ready to help us for a period of time. I think he's at the point now where we can get him more minutes.”
What that means exactly is a work in progress and remains to be seen. But with KU's big man rotation now up to three players, instead of just two, Self can tinker with the idea of putting De Sousa and Azubuike out there at the same time, with sophomore reserve Mitch Lightfoot ready to back them both up. Or, at times, it could be Lightfoot out there with one of the two true bigs. That, of course, will be dependent on matchups and how each player is performing. But all of a sudden, KU does at least have options.
Although he may not elect to start games that way or even play more than 10-15 minutes per night with the new look, the whole idea is more in line with what Self expected would be the case before the season even began.
Back at Late Night, when asked about his team's outlook for the season, Self said he envisioned playing big 70 percent of the time. A couple of weeks later, that number dipped to 50 percent, but Self still maintained that he wanted to play big at least 20 minutes a game.
It hasn't happened. Really, it hasn't even been possible until now because the Jayhawks have operated all season with just two big men and have had to use Azubuike and Lightfoot as interchangeable parts — as much as a 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward can fill in for a 7-foot, 280-pound center, that is — instead of as complementary players.
Both have done an admirable job of holding down the KU frontcourt while waiting for help.
With help now on campus — and KU still hoping that Billy Preston will be cleared to play in the not-too-distant future; nothing new there, though — Self plans to get back to his old ways and run at least some of KU's offense through Azubuike and De Sousa instead of being so perimeter-oriented.
“We're going to spend every day playing with two bigs, practicing with two bigs, and we haven't done that all year so it's going to take a while for the others to get comfortable,” Self said. “When teams pressure out, like West Virginia did, a lot of times your pressure relief is throw the ball to the big. We need to be able to do that more.”
Azubuike said after the West Virginia victory on Monday that he had been “constantly” talking to De Sousa in an attempt to help him along. And De Sousa said Thursday that Lightfoot had helped him the most of anyone thus far.
Clearly, getting to the point where they can play with two bigs is important to the Jayhawks and Self said he was thrilled, though not surprised, to see the trio working so well together in preparation for potential time together on the floor.
“I've always thought the more you care about others, the more it helps yourself,” Self said. “The more unselfish you are with your time and knowledge or whatever, all it does is come back to you. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case with Dok.”
Beyond that, Self said having another big body on the floor with Azubuike would open things up for both players. The biggest and most obvious way this would happen is by isolating one or the other in the post, while the other sets a high ball screen.
With deep position and space, the player posting up could take a quick pass from the guard using the ball screen from the other big man and have plenty of room to operate in a position that is less than favorable for defenders.
That action, and others like it, are all about execution, which is why KU remains a couple of weeks away from fully unleashing this idea while the guards and bigs continue to drill it and get comfortable operating this way.
“He would benefit from having another guy out there to take the pressure off him, and I think he probably sees that,” Self said of Azubuike. "I'm not in on their talks over in the dorm or anything like that, so I don't know to the extent, looks like to me Mitch has been the best guy to help Silvio, and you would think if Mitch helps Silvio that could impact Mitch more than it could Dok.”
How about how it might impact the rest of the team? Freshman guard Marcus Garrett offered an immediate answer to that question.
“A lot with rebounding,” Garrett said. “Two bigs will make it a lot easier to rebound than with four guards.”
And, to date, that has been De Sousa's biggest and most obvious contribution. Although he didn't grab one in four minutes against K-State, it was not for lack of trying, and he got three against West Virginia, two offensive. He seems to already understand that whether he's scoring points or not, he can make a difference on the glass.
“I think he's strong,” Self said. “I don't think anybody is going to push him around, so physically that is obviously a bonus.”
As for how De Sousa, who is used to being the biggest guy on the court, feels about the idea of teaming up on the floor with a true 7-footer who actually is bigger than him? Saying he's excited is probably an understatement.
“That would be crazy,” he said with a grin. “Udoka, like even during practice when I'm with him on the court on the same team, we just be going hard against the other guys and I think I would love to experience that in an official game.”
It's coming. Early February remains the unofficial target date, but don't be surprised if you see it sooner than that.
Hopping around the Internet on Tuesday while traveling home from covering KU’s wild and somewhat improbable come-from-behind win over West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, I found myself bumping into the same hot take from a variety of sports analysts and Kansas fans.
“We should’ve known it was dumb to doubt Bill Self,” they said.
Look, I’m firmly planted in the not-so-small camp that believes that any time Bill Self is on the sideline coaching a basketball team, said team has a shot to win whatever game it is playing, no matter who it is facing.
The guy’s a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the best coaches the college game has ever seen. And his record, and records, at KU figure to live for a long, long time and have taken an already elite program into another stratosphere.
I’m also in the camp that says it’s OK to doubt and question Self's teams. Anyone who was not doing so with this year's Jayhawks at some point during the past few weeks was not looking at a clear picture of what was going on in Lawrence.
Yes, the Jayhawks are 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12, with three tough road wins already to their name. And, yeah, Kansas is knocking on the door of jumping back into the Top 5 again after falling into the teens after a tough stretch in December.
But the Jayhawks also had real issues. And they may still have them.
They’re the same issues that dozens and dozens of other teams encounter year after year, so there’s no need for full-on panic. But they are issues. And they are real. And that’s at least a little rare by Kansas standards.
Just because the Jayhawks picked up a monster victory over a Big 12 rival in a building where they had not won in five years does not magically make the issues go away. Nor does it make anyone crazy for questioning whether Kansas had what it takes this year just a few days earlier.
Monday’s win over West Viriginia was all of the things Self wants his teams — and his victories — to be. Tough, mentally and physically. Fueled by defense, particularly down the stretch. And led by veterans who made the plays they had to make and set up their teammates to make the ones they couldn’t.
That recipe has led to 600-plus victories for Self and made Kansas the 13-time defending Big 12 champion that it currently is.
But those things were not present during many of this team’s first 16 or 17 games this season. At least not consistently.
The fact that they surfaced in a must-have moment and a hostile environment on Monday night only makes it easier to see 13 Big 12 titles in a row turning into 14. But it doesn’t make anyone wrong for wondering — or, to borrow a buzzword, doubting — Kansas in the days and weeks that came before it.
As good as Monday’s win was, this team still has questions. Depth is one of them and likely will be the rest of the way. Defense is another. And durability makes three.
If the Jayhawks the rest of the way can answer those questions — and even still a few others — in the resounding manner they did on Monday night, they’ll win this thing running away and be poised to make another run at a No. 1 seed on the road to the Final Four.
If they can’t, which, in some ways is to be expected, then the race is on and the questions will remain.
Either way, there’s nothing wrong with doubting Self or his Jayhawks. Especially when the doubts are warranted and based on real issues.
Heck, I don’t even think they mind. It’s not that often that a KU player can utter the phrases, “Nobody believed in us” or “No one picked us to win,” and have them be true. But that was what KU sophomore Udoka Azubuike was saying after Monday’s victory, and doggone it if he wasn’t right.
Maybe all that doubt wasn’t such a bad thing for Kansas after all.
In case you missed it while trying to figure out how the 10th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team found a way to get out of West Virginia with a victory on Monday night, let’s take time to look back at the Kansas bench.
Particularly Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, who, for the first time all year, gave the Jayhawks a pair of viable big man options off the bench and had the kind of impact on a game that Bill Self always has demanded and expected from his big men.
With Udoka Azubuike dominating when he was out there, but only able to play 20 minutes total because of foul trouble, Self’s Jayhawks needed someone to step up. Another night like Lightfoot had at TCU would have been nice and the Jayhawks basically got it.
Together, De Sousa and Lightfoot combined for eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes, which, in conjunction with Azubiuke’s line of 10 points and nine boards, gave the Jayhawks (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12) a wildly productive total of 18 points and 17 rebounds from its lone big man position.
Remember, on a team that plays four guards the majority of the time, there are just 40 big-man minutes per night for the Jayhawks to pass out. And Self’s trio made the 38 they played in this one count in every way imaginable.
“Mitch was great,” Self said. “But you could also throw Silvio in that group, too. In 18 minutes, they get eight and eight. Silvio’s not ready to play in the second half of that game. But I thought he did give us some decent minutes in the first half. And it was good experience for him. For our big guys to get 18 and 17 in the game, I would’ve sold out for that before the game started for sure.”
Looking at it another way, what that trio was able to do surpassed what WVU big man Sagaba Konate did everywhere but the blocks column. Konate finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes but also was a monster in the paint, rejecting five Kansas shots on the night, with all five coming in a first half dominated by West Virginia and three of the five coming on transition dunk attempts by Kansas.
Despite continuing to be turned away by the 6-foot-8, 260-pound WVU sophomore, the Jayhawks stayed confident and kept attacking.
“We tried to go at him,” Self explained after the victory. “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down at least attacking rather than being soft. When Svi (Mykhailiuk) went in and tried to dunk it and Marcus (Garrett) went in and tried to dunk it, I thought they were good plays. I just thought he made a better play.”
Said Mykhailiuk, when asked if they expected Konate’s dominance at the rim in the first half: “Not really. I would say we just did some stupid things. It was two-on-one and we tried to dunk when we should’ve just dumped the ball and it would’ve been easy points.”
Like Self, Lightfoot was more inclined to tip his cap to Konate rather than blame KU’s decision-making.
“Man, he’s a great player,” Lightfoot said. “Obviously has that knack for blocking shots. (Texas’ Mo) Bamba and him, those are some great shot blockers. The big thing for us was you had to decide to go at him. You have to realize if you go at him, it’s going to make him a little more timid and get some fouls on him.”
Eventually, that worked as Konate and WVU coach Bob Huggins had to negotiate the Mountaineers big man playing with four fouls for the final 5:17 of Monday’s victory. In fact, from the time Konate picked up his fourth foul at the 5:17 mark to the end of the game, the Jayhawks outscored the Mountaineers, 16-6, with a handful of drives to the rim and big rebounds in the paint playing key roles for Kansas.
None was bigger than Lightfoot’s rebound of a Lagerald Vick miss in the final minute, in which Lightfoot corralled the loose ball and immediately went back at the rim to flush a dunk that put the Jayhawks up three with 48 seconds to play.
“I wanted to dunk it,” said Lightfoot when asked if it was one of the best plays of his life. “I hope the picture’s cool. But it was good, it was exciting and I’m glad we could get that dub.”
As for De Sousa’s role, it was equally as important even if not quite as noticeable. Just two days after looking slow and unsure during his four-minute debut against Kansas State, the 6-9, 245-pound newcomer played seven first-half minutes, scored the first bucket of his KU career — on a nice post move and aggressive take to the rim — and grabbed three rebounds, two offensive.
“We (knew) this game was not going to be a lot of running plays,” Azubuike said. “They play press and all that stuff. So, right before the game, I kind of told him (De Sousa), ‘It’s just like high school now. You just have to go and just play your game. It’s going to be a scrap game, it’s going to be an up-and-down game and you just have to go out there and be aggressive.’ And he did.”
Still young and figuring things out in his own right, Azubuike said he has spent a little extra time of late trying to help De Sousa get comfortable.
“I’ve been talking to him constantly,” said Azubuike before being asked if he yet had felt the benefits of De Sousa’s presence. “I mean, in practice? Yeah. But he’s still learning how to play basketball in college and all that, but it’s always a relief having Silvio.”
Monday night, it was Silvio in relief who helped the Jayhawks survive the Mountaineers and avoid a fifth consecutive loss in Morgantown.
Time will tell what that win and these performances from KU’s big men will mean for the rest of the Big 12 race. But Azubuike, who said his sore back was better but still not yet 100 percent, already had a pretty good grasp on the importance and magnitude of a performance like Monday’s before leaving WVU Coliseum.
“Beating West Virginia on their home floor, that’s a big step for us,” he said. “That gives us confidence going forward for the next game.”
More news and notes from Kansas vs. West Virginia
- Mountain of a comeback: Jayhawks stun West Virginia, move atop Big 12 standings
- Tom Keegan: Jayhawks far more effective with Azubuike on the floor
- Notebook: WVU’s Harris earns start despite reprimand; Self wears Huggins’ pullover
- The Keegan Ratings: Graham leads comeback, tops ratings at West Virginia
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Pressing on: Jayhawks rally for rare victory at West Virginia
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 71-66 comeback win over West Virginia on Monday night in Morgantown, W.Va.
Let’s not confuse things here. The Jayhawks were good — real good — when they had to be down the stretch but not for the full 40 minutes. The Jayhawks’ first-half offense was sub-par at best and featured far too many unforced errors and bad shots. But, again, KU’s veterans came up big late, with Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham willing their team to victory to ensure they did not go winless in Morgantown during their Kansas careers.
KU’s defense was arguably as good as it has been all season, especially when factoring in the degree of difficultly in this one. Not only did the Jayhawks force the Mountaineers into 35.7-percent shooting in the second half, but they also turned the Mountaineers over, competed hard on the glass and came up with crucial stops at game point. Kansas forced several deep, contested jump shots by WVU and made the Mountaineers earn just about everything they go in the final 10 minutes of the game. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the Jayhawks did the best job of playing to the scouting report that they had in a long time and it paid off big time.
Udoka Azubuike was the best player on the court.... when he was on the court. In just 20 minutes of game action, Azubuike proved to be a major factor on both ends and showed off his ever-evolving offensive game and increasingly aggressive mindset on the glass early on. The only thing keeping this from reaching the A range was Azubuike’s silly fouls. Nearly all of his five fouls were of the foolish variety and having him on the bench nearly cost Kansas. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined to give some solid minutes in relief when Azubuike sat. The KU frontcourt is far from a finished product — and still could benefit a great deal from getting Billy Preston back — but efforts like Monday’s gave you a glimpse of what it could be when things are clicking.
It was a mixed bag for the KU backcourt from start to finish, with Graham and Malik Newman having rough nights to start and then came up big late and Mykhailiuk was pretty much in the same boat. Even the back-to-back turnovers by Mykhailiuk late in the second half were deemed acceptable because they came at the end of serious effort plays on his behalf. Lagerald Vick, who did not start because of a bit of a sluggish attitude during Sunday’s practice, hit KU’s first bucket of the night but then missed the next five 3-pointers he took and missed a block-out on a missed free throw in the final minute that could have been devastating. All in all, the fact that they found a way to win in Morgantown and did so by mixing enough offense with tough D gives the KU backcourt the B grade.
Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined for eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes, numbers that Self said he would have sold out for before the game from KU’s second big man spot. Add in there the 36 minutes veteran minutes Vick played, even if they weren’t all good, and you’re looking at an above-average outing for KU’s thin bench.
So now that the Silvio De Sousa saga is over — don’t worry, you can still get your NCAA delay fix via the Billy Preston situation — it’s time to take a closer look at exactly what De Sousa might be able to bring to the Jayhawks’ rotation during the next couple of months.
If you’re basing your read entirely on what you saw from De Sousa in his four-minute debut against Kansas State, you’re probably not all that optimistic about his role. And who could blame you?
In those four first-half minutes of last Saturday’s one-point thriller over K-State, De Sousa recorded just two stats — one foul and one turnover — and did not appear to be fully ready for basketball at this level.
How could he be, though? That’s a heck of a spot to get your first taste of major college ball and anyone expecting him to be anything but average at best was dreaming a little bit.
Although his minutes did not hurt Kansas in the long run — K-State did, however, turn a 21-13 deficit into a 21-21 tie from the time De Sousas checked in to the time he returned to the bench — De Sousa looked a little less than ready for action.
In comparison to everyone else on the floor, De Sousa moved at a slower speed and pace. It wasn’t that he was physically slower than everybody, he just did not react as quickly to things that were happening around him and that made it look as if he was turned down instead of turned up.
Again, that’s understandable for a young man who, just a few weeks ago was playing against — and dominating — the top high school competition out there.
But even with the mistakes and the low motor and all of the thinking, those four minutes of rest that De Sousa gave Udoka Azubuike no doubt were valuable. Even if his skill set doesn’t come around or catch up and he’s only able to be a big body to give Azubuike a few minutes of rest here and there, that still could have great value for this Kansas team.
With that said, I watched De Sousa closely during the minutes he was on and off the floor — these debuts and such always fascinate me — and I found five ways in which De Sousa was better than the overall picture projected.
Here’s a look:
1 – De Sousa pays attention and takes instruction well
Whether you’re talking about coaches yelling at him from the bench or talking to him while sitting next to them or from his teammates on the floor, De Sousa appears to be in all-ears mode and does not have an ego that’s too big or too cool for school to listen to what others are telling him. He clearly respects the been-there-done-that status of his coaches and teammates and is trying to soak up everything they can tell him while trying to keep his head from spinning out of control at the same time.
2 – De Sousa’s footwork & positioning on defense is pretty good
You might not have noticed it because he didn’t block any shots into the fifth row or rip down any one-handed rebounds, but De Sousa moves well and takes up a lot of space in the paint on the defensive end. He clearly already understands the emphasis KU coach Bill Self puts on defense and is out there trying to please his coach with max effort on the defensive end every trip down. I thought it was funny when the officials had to tell him on a couple of different occasions to keep his hand off of the K-State player posting up. De Sousa loved to wrap his right hand/arm around the waist of the player to give him a better chance of keeping him contained. That was something he either got away with in high school or didn’t need to do. Either way, they won’t let it fly here. It was pretty blatant. He just needs to use his strength and feet to hold his position.
3 – De Sousa is a natural at walling up
Speaking of defense and positioning, I thought De Sousa flashed a tremendous ability to wall up — exactly what it sounds in that he slides in front of an offensive player, stands tall and puts both arms straight up in the air to make it harder to shoot over him — on a few occasions during his short stint on the floor. One came with his man trying to score against him and at least one or two others came with De Sousa in the role of help defender, sliding over to cut off the drive and getting as big as possible to make the K-State player think twice about proceeding. It’s a subtle advantage and a skill that’s not that difficult to execute. But it is hard to master and I think De Sousa has tremendous potential there, which should help him give KU a defensive presence until he frees his mind to the point where he can use his athleticism to do work as a shot blocker.
4 – De Sousa is a good presence in the post
He did not show it on the possession where he got sped up and then fired a pass to no one out of bounds, but I thought the more telling part of that play — and the other times when De Sousa posted up on offense — was that his teammates showed no hesitation in looking to throw it down to him. They obviously have seen what he can do in practice and know that he can help them a ton if he can do some of that in games. So as long as he can continue to establish good position, which he got vs. K-State, it appears as if his teammates are going to at least continue to look to give him the ball, which gives KU a much-needed second player they can throw the ball to on the block when they need a bucket. Now he just has to work on slowing down a little, playing more under control and going strong to the rim, where he can draw fouls and get to the free throw line if nothing else.
5 – De Sousa stays engaged on the bench
This sort of ties into that first one, with De Sousa being a willing learner, but I glanced over at him quite a few times during his time on the bench and noticed a player paying serious attention to what was happening on the floor. He appeared, naturally, to be watching Azubuike whenever possible and also asked coaches and teammates questions during the action.
I’m not trying to sugar coat De Sousa’s debut as anything but a night to forget, statistically. But, if you’re willing to look past the obvious, there were definitely some early signs of ways the 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man could help this Kansas team sooner rather than later.
You all have heard Self’s timeline for when he thinks De Sousa might be comfortable. So give him those two or three weeks to get there and keep an eye on all of the things mentioned above while you wait.
Much like with Azubuike, I think this is a player who will show rapid progress every time you see him.
Whether we see him much in Morgantown, W.Va., tonight or not is a whole other question. But if we do — and I could see it given WVU’s size and ability to hit the offensive glass — I’d bet on two things: (1) It’ll be earlier in the game to steal a breather for Azubuike, who will have to be huge tonight for KU to have a chance; and (2) He’ll look better than he did two days ago.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 73-72 Sunflower Showdown victory over K-State on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks shot 49 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent from 3-point range and made 15 of 17 trips to the free throw line, a fact that brought to mind a strong percentage (88.5) and a solid number of trips. That includes 9-of-10 in the second half and 54.2 percent field goal shooting in the final 20 minutes. There were a few too many bad possessions and, outside of Azubuike's 8-of-9 shooting, no one really shot it that well. But it is a team game and, as a team, the Jayhawks' offense was good enough to get it done on Saturday.
Extra points for getting a stop at game point, which made up for an at-times tough day on the defensive end. It wasn’t all bad, though. Far from it. KU was better on the boards, forced turnovers early to fuel transition and got six blocks, five of them coming from Udoka Azubuike.
Azubuike had one of his best games in a while, finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. Beyond that, he routinely did work early in the shot clock to get deep position and that made him much tougher to stop and led to a bunch of easy buckets for the big fella. It wasn’t a great day for his running mates, but the mere fact that Silvio De Sousa actually suited up and checked in is worth a small bump in the frontcourt grade.
There were points in this one when both Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk were the best players on the floor. There also were times when the K-State guards out-toughed and out-played all of KU’s guards. Guess that’s what happens in a one-point game. Svi and Graham were good enough to earn an A and Lagerald Vick delivered two HUGE 3-pointers late. But Vick again struggled to get going and Marcus Garrett and Malik Newman did not have their best days.
With Newman back in the starting lineup and Garrett back on the bench, the scoring punch potential from the KU bench went down. And that showed, with the Jayhawks getting four points all day from its non-starters. Both buckets were big, though, and the bench players, when they were out there, did their part to try to keep Kansas in control. Overall, the bench played a small role and did not do much on the stat sheet.
While waiting oh so patiently — or the complete opposite — for news about freshmen forwards Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston, Kansas basketball fans have been put through the wringer with a variety of potential timelines, key dates and big moments.
Today could be another one.
When asked Friday morning before practice if there was any news in the status of De Sousa and/or Preston, KU coach Bill Self said simply, "I think it's going to be a great Friday. TGIF. We've been waiting for Friday all week. Check with me at 5 o'clock. Who knows?"
What that means — or if it actually means anything — remains to be seen, but you can bet KUsports.com will be checking back at 5 p.m.
My gut feeling is that if Self's comments do, in fact, mean that there is news coming, it is highly likely that the news will be about one or the other but not necessarily both. If that read is right, the smart money is on the news — again, if it comes — being about De Sousa.
Now that we've passed into the afternoon portion of our day here in the Midwest, the 5 p.m. timeline is just a few hours away.
So stay in touch without KUsports.com throughout the day and certainly at 5 p.m. and after for any and all updates we can provide on this ongoing situation.
While you wait, be sure to take our latest quiz, which tests your knowledge about De Sousa and Preston and be eligible to enter to win a $25 VISA gift card.
Hey, at least the waiting could be worth something this time!
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said before Friday's practice that he was not sure who would start at KU's fourth guard spot during Saturday's 11 a.m. Sunflower Showdown clash with Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse.
Recent progress shown by sophomore Malik Newman has put him back in the mix along with freshman Marcus Garrett.
“I told the team, when Malik plays well, he starts,” Self said, noting that he planned to talk to his team before making a decision. “He's a guy who can get us 14 or 15 a game. So when he plays well, he starts. The biggest thing for him to play well is confidence, so hopefully the (27 points in the) Iowa State game will trigger that.”
Regardless of whether Newman makes it back into the starting lineup or not — after starting the 11 of KU's first 12 games and coming off the bench for four consecutive Big 12 games, Newman started Tuesday's second half against Iowa State — the experiment with putting Garrett in his place appears to have worked. On a lot of levels.
“To me, and of course it's coach speak, but it's not who starts, it's who finishes,” Self said. “And you could look at our team and really say there's advantages to either one of them starting. It's nice to get some points off the bench and Malik provides us that opportunity.”
From Newman's perspective, filling the role as first man off the bench changed the way he looked at the game and his responsibilities.
“It opened up my eyes,” Newman said. “Let me know that there were some things that I wasn't doing that I should have been doing.”
As for how he handled the benching, Newman said he thought he took it well and focused in on remaining committed to the overall goal of whatever's best for the team.
“It's life, it's basketball. That's something that you can't pout about and make it change the way you play,” he said. “And I think I did a great job handling it.”
“I think his attitude's been really good,” he said. “Now, would he say a week ago that he was happy about that? The answer would be no. But Malik's a pretty realistic guy.”
Despite not starting the team's first four Big 12 Conference game, Newman's minutes have not suffered much. In his 11 starts this season, Newman is averaging right at 30 minutes per game. In the five games he has not started, that number dips to 25, bringing his average for the season to 28.3 minutes per game.
Both Self and Newman said they thought this thin team's need to have Newman on the floor helped him handle the two different roles he has played thus far.
“You'd have to ask him,” Self said when asked if he thought Newman had ever been coached as hard as he has been this season. “My personal opinion is I don't think I'm coaching him that hard. He's playing 30 minutes a game. There's a lot of people who would sell out for that. To me, coaching hard is, hey, you're not doing exactly what I want you to do, come sit by me.”
Newman has yet to experience that role for a prolonged period. And more games like the one he put in against Iowa State on Tuesday night, when he produced by playing hard and with confidence, likely will keep it that way.
In the middle of what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and cut-throat seasons of Big 12 Conference basketball, news out of Austin, Texas, served as a reminder that these teams, players and coaches all really like each other.
Just before Texas' upset victory over No. 16 TCU on Wednesday night, the Longhorns revealed that sophomore point guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia and was facing a health battle far more difficult than any conference basketball game ever could be.
“We had a meeting (Tuesday) night over in the dorm, and at that point we told our guys what the diagnosis was,” Smart told the Austin American Statesman after UT's 99-98 emotional double-OT win over TCU. “Leaving that meeting, we had guys that weren’t just in tears, they were wailing."
Jones, UT's second leading scorer who already missed a couple of games this season because of injury, may not be on the floor the rest of the way, but it's clear that he still will have an impact on the UT team and the rest of the conference.
“Yesterday, I know, was devastating for the University of Texas,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday morning. “But it was also for everyone else in our league. We wish Andrew a very speedy recovery so he can get back on the court as soon as possible.”
Several coaches in the conference have at least some idea of what Jones, Shaka Smart and the UT family are facing from their own past experiences with tough situations.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his program went through something similar during the not-too-distant past when the wife of former WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn went through her own fight with cancer and leukemia that had a profound impact on the Mountaineer program.
“It's terrible,” Huggins said. “We all need to do more to try to rid the world of this terrible disease. You feel so bad for the person inflicted, but you feel almost equally bad for the families. It's just a hard, hard thing to go through.”
Baylor's Scott Drew and his team had to deal with big man Isaiah Austin having basketball taken from him because of an eye condition. And that memory, along with firsthand knowledge of the kind of person Jones is, made the whole situation weigh heavy on Drew's heart.
“We recruited Andrew, his sister played here, love his family, love him and I know we were all devastated and taken back by the announcement,” Drew said. “Andrew's a fighter, always has been, and his family fights and he's going to beat this thing. He'll be in our thoughts and prayers and I text Shaka yesterday to let him know we'd be thinking of them because I can only imagine how difficult that would be to go through.
“It is a game, it's only a game, and sometimes we take it too serious when we're all blessed to have health and life.”