As he left the Bankers Life Fieldhouse locker room for the last time on Tuesday night, Kansas freshman Devon Dotson walked with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face.
Thrilled to have overcome some understandable pregame butterflies to help lead No. 1 Kansas to a 92-87 victory over No. 10 Michigan State in his first college game, Dotson talked with reporters in the hall about all of the elements of the Kansas victory.
And to every dose of positivity and praise that Dotson heaped on his new teammates he quickly added one simple disclaimer — “we can definitely improve.”
Over and over, about himself and his team, Dotson uttered the subtle reminder that, as good as he and top-ranked Kansas looked at times in the win over Michigan State, there was still plenty of work to do and so much room to grow.
With tough games against big time opponents dotting the schedule throughout November and December, Kansas might have to do some of its growth in some more tough environments like the one it saw on Tuesday in Indianapolis. But Dotson, as much as anyone on the roster, seems superbly suited for that reality.
Consider exactly what the freshman point guard did in his first 33 minutes as a Jayhawk. And forget about the 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting — 3 of 5 from 3-point range — because I’m not sure that his point production is even in the Top 3 reasons Dotson is so valuable for this Kansas team.
Defense is. And he played a mean brand of it on Tuesday night.
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston, a junior who definitely has breakout potential — and also had Dotson in his face all night — coughed it up five times and shot just 3 of 10 from the floor.
Not all of that was Dotson’s doing. But he and his three steals and insanely quick feet and hands were responsible for a huge portion of Winston’s problems, and that kept the MSU guard and the Spartans’ offense from looking comfortable for much of the night.
But it wasn’t just the fact that Dotson enjoyed digging in and harassing Winston that made his defense a problem. It was how quickly he turned that defense into offense, pushing the pace after steals and running right down the throat of the Michigan State defense whenever possible.
Kansas coach Bill Self talked after the game about a conversation he had with Dotson about being an extension of the coaching staff on the floor. And don’t doubt for a second that if Self’s 55-year-old body could still get out there, he would want to play exactly the way Dotson did throughout his Kansas debut — tough, tenacious, unrelenting and with a smile.
“I mean, that’s what he said, to put pressure on the defense,” Dotson said matter-of-factly after the victory. “And that’s what I like to do.”
Dotson shot the ball better than most people probably expected on Tuesday night, particularly from the outside. Dotson himself was not surprised he had his jumper working, — “because of the amount of work I’ve put in on my shot” — but it’s already clear that his biggest strength is finishing at the rim.
He already has flashed that drive hard, slide-by-a-defender, underhand scoop shot off the glass while falling down a bunch this season and seems to have perfected it.
He’ll deliver plenty more of those as the season rolls on, but it’s his defense that could be the most valuable weapon for this Kansas team.
Think about it. If Dotson can do, in his first ever game, what he did Tuesday night to one of the better and more experienced guards in the country, imagine what he can do to players he’ll face who aren’t quite as talented and experienced as Winston after he gets a few more games under his belt and those nerves slowly start to morph into more confidence.
Dotson is a worthy heir to the Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason III stranglehold on the point guard position at Kansas. And he’s already started to show why Self said this preseason that he believed the freshman point guard could wind up being “a great one.”
“This was a huge game, great atmosphere, it was a great first game,” Dotson said after the win. “And I was happy to be a part of it.”
Isaac “Mackey” McBride plans to waste no time making his commitment to the Kansas men’s basketball program official.
McBride, a 6-foot, 180-pound combo guard from Little Rock, Ark., who orally committed to KU last month, Tweeted on Thursday night that he would sign his letter of intent at Noon next Wednesday.
Wednesday marks the first day of the early signing period, which runs through Nov. 21, and the No. 109-ranked player in the 2019 class according to Rivals.com will not even need more than 12 hours to put pen to paper, officially making him a Jayhawk.
McBride said the signing would take place in the Baptist Prep High School gymnasium.
McBride averaged 24.5 points, 4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a junior and is looking to have an even bigger senior season while fine-tuning his game for the jump to Kansas.
He and Blue Valley Northwest wing Christian Braun, a 6-6, 180-pound, four-star prospect ranked No. 112 in the 2019 class are the lone Kansas commitments to date. But the Jayhawks remain in pursuit of some of the top talent in the class, including five-star forward Matt Hurt (No. 5 per Rivals), four-star power forward Zeke Nnaji (No. 37) and four-star guard Cassius Stanley (No. 31), among others.
KUsports.com recruiting insider Matt Scott reported Thursday that a decision for Stanley, who is down to KU, Oregon and UCLA, could be nearing. And the recruitment for Nnaji has picked up substantially in recent weeks, as well. Both players visited Kansas the weekend of Late Night in late September.
Hurt, who has yet to make an official visit to KU but figures to for a KU home game later this season, almost assuredly will sign in the spring.
The others have until Nov. 21 to make a decision and sign their letters or else they, too, will have to wait until the regular signing period arrives next April.
Nnaji, who is down to a final six of Kansas, UCLA, Baylor, Arizona, Purdue and North Carolina. According to ZagsBlog.com, Nnaji, who already has used his five official visits, will make an unofficial visit to North Carolina on Nov. 16 and will announce his college choice a week later on Nov. 23.
It’s possible that Nnaji could sign his letter of intent on or before the 21st, before announcing his decision to the world.
In order to fully comprehend just how impressive Kansas' Quentin Grimes was in his KU debut on Tuesday night, one needs only to think back to the Josh Selby game.
You know the one I’m talking about — partly because it was so big-time and partly because there weren’t many that matched it after Selby’s debut.
In that one, a home victory over USC on Dec. 18, 2010, Selby exploded for a game-high 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench. All five of Selby’s makes came from behind the 3-point arc, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 26 seconds to play, and Kansas, ranked No. 3 at the time, improved to 10-0 after winning its first nine games of the season without the No. 1 prospect in the 2009 class, who sat out to serve a suspension.
Until Tuesday night, Selby still had the mark for most 3-pointers in a KU debut, dating back to records kept starting with the 1988-89 season.
Now, however, the record belongs to Grimes. The freshman guard hit six of his first seven triples during Tuesday’s 92-87 win over No. 10 Michigan State and looked absolutely unconscious doing it, catching and shooting almost without thinking about it throughout the first 25 minutes of the game.
Like Selby eight years ago, Grimes finished with a game-high 21 points to lead the top-ranked Jayhawks to victory.
Grimes’ final three makes came during a three-minute stretch to open the second half, and the Jayhawks needed all of them to hold off a stingy Michigan State squad that heated up in the second half and refused to go away.
The crazy thing about Grimes’ big performance was that it was almost impossible to predict.
Kansas coach Bill Self said flat-out that he was “hopeful” that Grimes and freshman running mate Devon Dotson would be ready for the big stage of the Champions Classic heading into the week. But given the way the 6-foot-5 freshman from The Woodlands, Texas, had played in KU’s exhibition games, there was no guaranteeing a big night.
In easy wins over Emporia State and Washburn, Grimes was timid at times, passed up a handful of jumpers, forced a couple more and looked nothing like the player he was on Tuesday night.
“I told Q (on Monday), I said, ‘Hey, I’ve screwed up a lot of good players early in their careers,’” Self recalled of a recent conversation with Grimes about being more aggressive.
“And he said, ‘Well, did they get out of it?’ And I said, ‘Every one of them.’ So I was glad he got out of it tonight.”
It was not just Self who had Grimes out of sorts during his first two unofficial college games. The Kansas coach had help from 16,000 of his closest friends.
“Playing in front of 16,000 people every night, I’m not really used to that,” Grimes admitted Tuesday, chalking up his slow start to that adjustment. “I never had played in front of that many people in my life.”
But having that experience under his belt and fresh in his mind gave Grimes a chance to settle in much more quickly in Indianapolis, despite the fact that both the building and the stage were bigger.
“I think we were both nervous,” admitted Grimes of himself and Dotson. “In layup lines, we got a couple shots up and it was good to get out there and make a couple shots early. … (I just) wanted to stick to the game plan and go out there and be aggressive.”
In doing so, Grimes finished his freshman debut with the fourth best 3-point shooting night in KU history. His six 3-point makes tied Malik Newman for that spot on KU’s all-time shooting list, with Newman’s lights-out night coming last March in the Big 12 tournament against West Virginia.
Newman, whose red-hot right hand played a huge role in helping Kansas reach the Final Four last season, hit just two 3-pointers in his Kansas debut a year ago, putting Grimes’ night into perspective.
Other former Jayhawks who delivered memorable moments from 3-point range in their first KU games include Xavier Henry, who drained 5-of-8 3-pointers against Hofstra in November of 2009, and Burlington sharpshooter Tyrel Reed, who made 3-of-4 vs. Louisiana Monroe in November of 2007.
While Grimes already has added his name to the KU record books, don’t expect the dandy debut to go to his head. In addition to being happiest about picking up the win, Grimes appeared to enjoy the team element of Tuesday’s victory as much as any of his individual achievements.
“My first college game out there, just being able to play with these guys in a real game and seeing how we fought and (didn’t let) them take the lead back down the stretch,” Grimes said when asked what the victory meant for this team. “I really felt like these are guys I can go to war with, for sure.”
The Bankers Life Fieldhouse public address announcer, who routinely referred to Kansas junior Udoka Azubuike as “Udoka Azu-boo-koo” throughout the first half of KU’s 92-87 victory over No. 10 Michigan State, was not the only one who elected to call the KU big man by a name other than his own on Tuesday night.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also joined in the fun.
Asked after the loss to the top-ranked Jayhawks why he elected not to foul Kansas — specifically, Azubuike, who entered the game as a career 40.7 percent free-throw shooter and 3 of 7 (42.8 percent) vs. Michigan State — Izzo pointed out, in no uncertain times, that the Spartans employed that exact game plan.
“Well, we were fouling Kansas,” Izzo began.
That’s when he, too, referenced Azubuike by a different name.
“We had some foul trouble,” he continued. “But it was a (six)-point game and we were going to try to foul, you know, Shaq. But he's got to get the ball. They were warning me about you can't just go grab him, you can't do this and that.”
“Shaq,” of course, is NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who famously was the first player to experience teams fouling him intentionally on a regular basis in order to send him to the free-throw line.
Hack-A-Shaq was the name given to the strategy, which later was utilized on half a dozen other NBA big men, and teams first began experimenting with the Hack-A-Dok strategy at the college level last season.
During his 19-year playing career, O’Neal shot 52.7 percent from the charity stripe and never finished a season higher than 62.2 percent.
That reality, along with their mammoth size, has drawn the occasional comparison between Azubuike and O’Neal. And Izzo, like others before him, said it was in the MSU game plan to employ the strategy if necessary Tuesday night.
“When Shaq got the ball, we fouled him in the last two minutes,” said Izzo, again using the nickname for KU's big man. “But those other guys are all pretty good free-throw shooters. And, you know what, we cut it to three with 34 seconds left and we had two chances to cut it to two.”
KU coach Bill Self, who is on record saying he does not like the idea of taking his best players out of the game at the end — and said it again Tuesday night — did ultimately take Azubuike out with 19 seconds left. But he said that was for defensive purposes and had nothing to do with Azubuike’s free-throw shooting.
Regardless of how he shot at the line or what name he was called or by whom, Azubuike’s season debut featured a lot to like.
In addition to playing hungry and with more energy than he showed most of last season, Azubuike was wildly efficient on the offensive end and his KU teammates kept throwing the ball to him whenever possible.
“That’s two big bodies banging on each other (Azubuike and MSU’s Nick Ward),” Self said. “So there were no easy baskets. He didn’t get any angles. He had to score through him.”
Coming off of a record-setting field goal shooting season a year ago, the junior from Nigeria did just that, making seven of 10 shots from the floor on Tuesday while blocking four shots and drawing six fouls.
Several of his offensive post moves showed a polish that did not exist a season ago, as Azubuike scored via his signature monster slams, but also flashed a soft hook shot with both hands and used his improved footwork to get easy baskets, as well.
“He’s our first option,” Self said of Azubuike, who finished with 20 points and three rebounds. “Even though Dedric (Lawson) may lead us in scoring, everybody will tell you we want to play through Dok as much as possible. ... He scores the ball, but the thing he doesn’t do is rebound the ball like he should. But I thought he played very well.”
Tuesday night’s 92-87 Kansas victory over Michigan State at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis evened KU coach Bill Self’s career record against MSU coach Tom Izzo at 7-7.
But there’s so much more to Self’s latest accomplishment than just moving his win total vs. Izzo from six to seven.
Self now has winning streaks alive and well against four of the five other active college basketball coaches who have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The only one to avoid Self’s propensity for streaking is Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, and even he lost his last meeting vs. Self, last season in Miami.
Counting that KU win over Boeheim and the Orange in the big picture of Self against his five Hall of Fame counterparts, the Kansas coach now in his 16th season in charge of the Jayhawks, has put himself on the winning end of every head-to-head series with the elite of the elite in college basketball — one against Boeheim’s bunch; three in a row against Mike Krzyzewski and Duke; three in a row against John Calipari and Kentucky; three more against Roy Williams and North Carolina; and two in a row over Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Wow,” Izzo began in his remarks following Tuesday’s loss. “Give Kansas credit. They played better than us.”
Self’s last loss to any of the five programs came at the hands of Izzo, whose Spartans defeated the Jayhawks, 79-73, at the Champions Classic in Chicago in 2015. During his 15-plus seasons leading Kansas, Self owns a 15-9 record against those five Hall of Fame coaches.
Self and the Jayhawks will look to make it four straight over the Wildcats later this season, when KU returns to Lexington, Ky., for the Big 12-SEC Challenge on Jan. 26, 2019.
Here’s a quick look back at Self and KU's most recent victories against college basketball’s Hall of Fame coaches.
• vs. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse — Self is 1-1 at KU
Dec. 2, 2017 — Devonte’ Graham goes off for 35 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including seven 3-pointers, to lead the Jayhawks past the Orange in front of Pat Riley at American Airlines Arena in the shadows of South Beach.
Last loss: 89-81 (OT) on Nov. 25, 2008, in Kansas City, Mo.
• vs. John Calipari, Kentucky — Self is 4-3 at KU
- Nov. 14, 2017 — It was far from pretty, but there was a certain amount of appreciation for the way the Jayhawks battled through a bad shooting night and grinded out a victory at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
- Jan. 28, 2017 — The Jayhawks’ first trip to Rupp Arena in a dozen years ended in victory, when Frank Mason III,Graham, Josh Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk and others grabbed a hard-fought 79-73 victory in the Big 12-SEC Challenge over the likes of Malik Monk, D’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo.
- Jan. 30, 2016 — This was the Wayne Selden game, where the KU junior scored a career-high 33 points in 44 minutes of a 90-84, overtime victory over the visiting Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse.
Last loss: 72-40 on Nov. 18, 2014, at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis
• vs. Tom Izzo, Michigan State — Self is 4-4 at KU
- Nov. 6, 2018 — Tuesday’s game featured four Jayhawks in double figures, including freshmen guards Quentin Grimes (21) and Devon Dotson (16). Udoka Azubuike (17) and Dedric Lawson (20) did the damage down low for the Jayhawks, who led by as many as 17 before hanging on down the stretch.
- March 19, 2017 — Top-seeded Kansas knocked off No. 9 seed Michigan State, 90-70, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Tulsa, Okla. Detroit native Jackson, who picked KU over MSU during his recruitment, led Kansas with 18 points and sent the Jayhawks styling into the Sweet 16.
Last loss: 79-73 on Nov. 17, 2015, at the Champions Classic in Chicago
• vs. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke — Self is 3-1 at KU
- March 25, 2018 — With a trip to the Final Four on the line, the Jayhawks and Blue Devils needed overtime to decide their most recent meeting. Mykhailiuk’s defense on future lottery pick Marvin Bagley was a huge storyline, but Malik Newman’s red-hot shooting led the Jayhawks down the stretch and in overtime and earned Kansas a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.
- Nov. 15, 2016 — The Frank Mason game. With his face plastered on the outside of Madison Square Garden, the KU point guard got his senior season off to a wild start, knocking in a jumper in the final seconds to help KU knock off No. 1 Duke, 77-75, at the Champions Classic in New York City.
- Nov. 12, 2013 — Dubbed a Champions Classic battle between potential No. 1 overall picks Andrew Wiggins, of Kansas, and Jabari Parker, of Duke, the Jayhawks picked up their first victory in three tries at the early-season showcase via a 94-83 win at the United Center in Chicago.
Last loss: 68-61 on Nov. 23, 2011, in Maui Invitational title game
• vs. Roy Williams, North Carolina — Self is 3-0 at KU
- March 24, 2013 — One of the more forgettable, KU-Carolina matchups came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament just down the road in Kansas City, Mo., where top-seeded KU knocked off No. 8 seed North Carolina, 70-58, despite trailing by nine points at halftime. Kansas City native Travis Releford exploded for 22 points and eight rebounds and KU big man Jeff Withey added 16 points and 16 rebounds to push KU into the Sweet 16.
- March 25, 2012 — With a spot in the Final Four on the line in St. Louis, Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and Withey led the Jayhawks to an 80-67 win over a UNC team missing point guard Kendall Marshall. The second-seeded Jayhawks held top-seeded Carolina scoreless over the final 3:58, blowing open a tightly contested game that carried the weight of the world with every basket.
- April 5, 2008 — The first meeting between Kansas and North Carolina since Williams’ departure five years earlier was dominated by a KU team that went on to win the national title. Facing the Tar Heels at the Final Four in San Antonio, KU built a 40-12 lead and never looked back en route to knocking off Memphis two nights later for the program’s first NCAA title in 20 years.
Last loss: Self has not lost to Williams while at Kansas
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 92-87 win over Michigan State on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Any time you hang 50 points on a Tom Izzo coached team in a single half, you’re doing something right. The thing about KU’s offensive night was that they did not even fully click. KU shot lights out from 3-point range most of the way and was pretty good in transition and smart in the execution of their game plan to pound it inside. KU's offense struggled to close, but if there’s one thing that should scare the daylights out of KU’s future opponents, it’s that this team scored 90-plus against Michigan State and could have played better. Still, hard to give KU anything other than an A for a night like that.
KU’s transition defense was bad early and the Jayhawks benefited from a bunch of Michigan State missed shots in the first half. KU was active in its half-court D and forced a bunch of Michigan State turnovers, as well. Still, when Kansas had a chance to bury the Spartans with defense, they never quite threw the final punch, forcing the offense to carry the team to victory. KU’s D will get better and the Spartans are a solid, veteran team. But this was nothing more than a slightly above-average effort on the defensive end, with a few too many easy buckets given up and fouls handed out.
Udoka Azubuike had a monster few minutes early and then kind of disappeared. Those minutes were huge in KU hitting the Spartans with an early run to gain separation and featured Azubuike blocking three shots and playing with the kind of hunger KU’s coaches want to see from him at all times. Dedric Lawson had a quiet night and ended up with a ridiculously good line of 20 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists. Both will get better and give more consistent effort, but what they showed in this one will win Kansas plenty of games this season and both will be absolute matchup nightmares for so many teams Kansas will face.
Lagerald Vick had a rough night offensively, Marcus Garrett was off pretty much everywhere and K.J. Lawson did about what you would expect him to do. So why an A grade for this category? Because freshmen guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson were flat-out terrific. Both shot it well, looked comfortable and proved that the big stage is something they very much enjoy. They weren’t without their share of mistakes, too, but there’s no way KU would have won without their play tonight.
Self played 10 guys and the five non-starters all had decent moments. Mitch Lightfoot flashed improved skills in the post and hustled as per usual. David McCormack gave KU a few decent minutes with the bigs in foul trouble. And K.J. Lawson and Marcus Garrett both gave Kansas enough so Self could sub out Grimes and Dotson a little. It was not a stellar night for the Kansas bench by any means. But the mere fact that Self always had someone to turn to no matter who picked up a foul or a silly turnover was new territory for Kansas and the Jayhawks used it to their advantage well enough to keep Michigan State at arm’s length most of the night.
Our final installment of the 2018 He Will, He Won’t, He Might series brings us to Kansas sophomore Charlie Moore, a point guard who transferred to KU from Cal and sat out last season but finally is ready to play again.
Monday’s news that Ochai Agbaji plans to redshirt and Silvio De Sousa’s uncertain status made those entries unnecessary this season.
There’s nothing unnecessary about Moore’s status on this roster, though. Although Moore might not quite fit the full profile of a starting point guard at Kansas for Bill Self — Self has said he’d like to see Moore play better D — there’s no question that the sophomore fills a couple of important roles for this team.
For one, he’s a good ball handler and has good vision and a knack for setting up teammates in good spots.
For two, he’s a smooth 3-point shooter and rarely hesitates to pull the trigger when he catches in rhythm and is open.
All of that, and more, will help Moore find a role on this team, even if he’s not the primary ball handler or starting point guard.
Here’s a quick look at a few other ways Moore might impact the 2018-19 Jayhawks.
He Will – Lead the team in 3-point percentage
Moore’s biggest challenger here is probably KU forward Dedric Lawson, who has a terrific stroke and only figures to shoot three or four 3-pointers a game.
But in terms of a player who will be asked to take a bunch of 3-point shots, Moore could very easily end up leading the Jayhawks in 3-point percentage when it’s all said and done.
Self has said on a few occasions that Moore is more of a scoring guard than a pure point guard and he’s never looked shy about pulling the trigger.
Beyond that he has a smooth release, good balance on his jumper and seems confident in the shot every time he lets it go.
As a freshman at Cal during the 2016-17 season, Moore made 45 of 128 3-point attempts for a 35.2 percent clip. He’ll need to improve on that to lead this team in 3-point shooting, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to do it.
I’ll say the attempts come down a hair and the makes stay around the same. Maybe 43 (that’s barely one a game) for 111, for 38.7 percent.
He Won’t – Be a great defender, but that won’t stop him from competing
Moore’s an offensive player. And he’s a crafty scorer with a good jumper and a pretty smooth all-around offensive game.
He’s not a lockdown defender. But he likes to compete like he is.
Who knows if it’s his Chicago roots or what else it could be, but Moore is not one to back down from a challenge and he won’t be afraid to get right up in the face of opposing ball handlers in an attempt to make life miserable for them.
Sometimes, that will benefit Kansas. Other times, Moore will pay a price for the aggressive play. But regardless of how well he plays defensively or how much he improves throughout the year on that end of the floor, you can count on the Cal transfer competing every night and being willing to give all he has.
All we need to see now is just how much he has and how much that will help KU’s defense. The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining how many minutes Moore logs this season.
He Might – Be on the floor in crunch time
As mentioned above, Moore’s a reliable ball handler and a good free throw shooter. Those traits alone could get Moore on the floor late in games when the Jayhawks find themselves in tight contests, looking to close things out.
During KU’s two exhibition games, we only saw Moore out there with freshman point guard Devon Dotson for five or six minutes combined. But I definitely think there’s a chance they’ll play together much more than that as the season progresses.
And those minutes at the end of close games could be a place where they both belong on the floor to protect a KU lead and close things out at the free throw line.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2018:
It’s been an interesting start to his Kansas career for K.J. Lawson, who played a monster role at Memphis alongside his brother, Dedric, before transferring to KU in April of 2017.
From living in the shadow of Dedric, who has received a ton of preseason praise and was talked about a lot even while he sat out during the 2017-18 season, to being the best player on the floor in small spurts and leading the team in rebounding during an exhibition trip to Italy last summer, Lawson has been a tough book to read so far.
And it certainly appears to be that way heading into the regular season.
Depending on who you’re talking to, a case could be made both ways for Lawson. Some believe he should play big minutes and possibly even in the mix to start. Others believe he’s an end-of-the-bench kind of contributor and still more land somewhere in between those two extremes.
Time will tell exactly how it all shakes out for Lawson. And it’s entirely possible that some unexpected factors could change and/or contribute to his role, which could change often throughout his KU career.
But from all indications, Lawson fits in well with this team and his teammates and is a hard worker who has a ton of confidence. That can only help his cause.
Here’s a look at a few other predictions for Lawson’s hard-to-project season.
He Will – Have the hardest time finding a regular spot in the rotation
Azubuike, Dedric, McCormack, Lightfoot and potentially De Sousa. Those are your KU big men and it’s hard to see Lawson, who is a good rebounder and can play big, finding minutes in the front court ahead of any of those guys.
Dotson, Grimes, Garrett, Vick, Moore. Those are your KU guards (not even counting potential redshirt Ochai Agbaji) and all of them bring things to the program that warrant consistent minutes.
So where does Lawson, who considers himself a guard, fit in that mix?
It’s so hard to say. And it likely will be heavily dependent on circumstances surrounding the entire bunch.
Lose a guy to injury for a couple of games or weeks? Lawson could see an uptick in playing time. Have one of those nights where nobody brings good energy, nothing’s going right and KU just doesn’t have it? Lawson could be a spark off the bench who brings critical energy and scoring to the court.
Outside of those kinds of scenarios, though, it’s hard to envision a steady, 15-minutes-a-game type of role for the older of the two Lawson brothers who is younger in terms of eligibility because of past injuries and redshirts.
He Won’t – Approach the numbers he averaged at Memphis
For all the reasons mentioned above and the overall talent on the Kansas roster, it’s next to impossible to imagine Lawson coming anywhere close to the numbers he put up at Memphis, which were so solid.
In 42 career games for the Tigers, Lawson averaged 11.5 points and 7 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game from 2015-17.
That included totals of 12 points and 8 boards a game in 34 minutes during the 2016-17 season.
It’s the minutes as much as anything that will make it hard for Lawson to pick up those kinds of statistics. It’s just not at all likely that the 6-8, 210-pound sophomore will play 30-plus minutes a game at KU.
He Might – Be one of the bigger matchup problems in the Big 12
If there’s one reason for Lawson — in spite of all that was written above — to lobby for real playing time, it’s because of the matchup problem he poses for opponents.
He’s super comfortable on the perimeter, which can be tough for guys six, seven or eight inches shorter than him, and also isn’t afraid to crash the glass and do what he has to do to play inside.
Like his brother, who has a great shooting stroke and benefits from his 6-9 frame on the perimeter, Lawson also has no trouble getting shots off from behind the arc because very few guys who can challenge his shot are quick enough to check him on the perimeter.
That might not merit 20 minutes a game but it could come in handy in spurts and may make Lawson a very valuable situational player for this loaded Kansas team.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2018:
Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji’s first taste of the Champions Classic will have to wait a year. In fact, it looks like it will be another 12 months before Agbaji actually suits up for the Jayhawks.
Kansas coach Bill Self on Monday afternoon told the Journal-World that the freshman guard will redshirt the 2018-19 season.
Agbaji, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound athlete from Oak Park High in Kansas City, Mo., signed with the Jayhawks late and has had redshirt talk surrounding his name since he committed to KU last winter.
Late last month, at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City, Mo., Self indicated that Agbaji could be a redshirt candidate simply because the KU backcourt is loaded with depth and talent.
Agbaji has said throughout his time with the Jayhawks — including as recently as last week after KU’s exhibition victory over Washburn — that he would do whatever the coaching staff thought was best for the team. And Self has said that the athletic guard who, in limited minutes, has looked smooth, confident and more mature than your average freshman, is too good of a player to waste a season by playing just a few minutes a game.
"This kid's got some intangibles,” Self noted back at KU media day on Oct. 10, listing length, explosiveness, attitude and toughness. “I don't want to make any bold predictions, but he's going to be a guy that's going to start a lot of games and play a ton of minutes and score a ton of points here. It just may not happen immediately for him. (But) I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t pan out to be one of the best 30 or 40 players in his class.”
When he signed, Self compared Agbaji to former KU guard Travis Releford, who also hailed from the Kansas City area and redshirted during his Kansas career. And now, the two have even one more thing in common.
Before KU’s two exhibition games against Emporia State and Washburn, the extent of our look at freshman David McCormack had come during a couple of summer scrimmages and at Late Night.
In all of those, McCormack’s raw physicality, racing motor and impressive size made him stand out as the kind of player who could start, play 30 minutes, average a double-double and quickly become a fan favorite.
And all of that might still happen in time. In fact, I’d probably bet on it.
But there’s a difference between free-flowing scrimmages and structured games and if we learned anything about McCormack during the exhibition victories, it’s that he still has some work to do before he gets major minutes.
All of the things that attracted KU to McCormack on the recruiting trail are there and jump out at you the first time you see him. But adjusting to the pace of play, executing KU’s game plan and doing it with 10 other guys battling for playing time with him is a slightly different thing.
McCormack will get comfortable, his minutes will go up and he’ll have a couple of monster games. It just might take a couple of months for him to reach that point.
While we wait, here’s a look at what else you can expect from the 6-foot-10 specimen this season. And we’re reversing the order here for effect. Read on to find out why.
He Might - Lead the team in rebounds per minute
Kansas coach Bill Self has said he can’t remember having many players — if any — who go after the ball as hard as McCormack when it comes off the rim. And if you’ve been watching, you’ve certainly seen that from McCormack in the infant stages of his Kansas career.
Because starters Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike will command so many minutes ahead of him, and because KU still might look to go with a four-guard lineup 20-25 percent of the time, big minutes aren’t likely for the big man from Oak Hill.
But that might not stop him from ripping down a bunch of boards.
McCormack won’t play enough to lead the team in total rebounds and, because he’ll have a bunch of single-digit minute games, he probably won’t be able to lead the team in rebounds per game.
But rebounds per minute? That’s doable.
Look no further than Silvio De Sousa’s freshman season for evidence. In just 175 total minutes and 8.8 minutes per game, De Sousa recorded 74 total rebounds. That equals 0.42 rebounds per minute.
KU’s leading rebounder last season, sophomore Udoka Azubuike, finished with an average of 0.29 rebounds per minute — 252 boards in 848 minutes.
The stat itself doesn’t mean much either way, but for those who register on the high end, it does show that when they’re on the floor, they’re getting rebounds and that should be the case for McCormack.
He Won’t – Be a jerk about it when he knocks opponents to the floor
McCormack is one of the more impressive dudes on a very nice team. Kind, polite, well-spoken and good-mannered, the big man is at Kansas to go to school and play basketball and have a little fun along the way.
Winning, of course, is the most fun, and McCormack appears to have no problem fitting in however he needs to and being a great teammate in every way.
That persona should extend to his actions when it comes to sportsmanship. McCormack has the potential to be an enforcer in the paint for this Kansas team. He’s a brick wall and has good athleticism and nice timing in pursuit of rebounds and blocked shots.
But in those moments when McCormack puts a driving guard to the deck or knocks down a smaller opponent when the two are battling for a rebound or loose ball, he’s not likely to taunt or talk trash when the play is over. It’s back to business for McCormack, who always appears to be locked into what the team is running and pays close attention to instructions from the bench.
In time, a lot will become more natural and he’ll be free to just play. But until then, McCormack’s mind figures to be so fixed on being in the right spots and executing his assignments that he won’t have time or even think much about running his mouth.
He Will – Knock opponents to the floor
I know this isn’t something Kansas foes want to read or hear, but this prediction is inevitable.
McCormack’s simply too big, strong, broad and active to keep from hitting people.
And in addition to getting his money’s worth in the rebounding department when he’s on the floor, you can bet that McCormack will also get his money’s worth via the send-a-message, enforcer tag whenever this team needs it.
And on this roster, which features a bunch of good guys and smiling faces, it won't hurt to have that kind of presence on the paint, on the bench or anywhere else for that matter.
He Will, He Won't, He Might 2018: