Thursday, March 24, 2016


Tom Keegan: Lucas pivotal player in battle of the bigs

Viewed through the legs of Kansas Jayhawks forward Hunter Mickelson, forward Landen Lucas pulls up for a shot before forward Jamari Traylor during practice on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Viewed through the legs of Kansas Jayhawks forward Hunter Mickelson, forward Landen Lucas pulls up for a shot before forward Jamari Traylor during practice on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.


— NBA scouts will scribble furiously, tracking signs of flaws and potential strengths of several of the players competing in tonight’s South Regional semifinal pitting No. 5 seed Maryland against top seed Kansas University. projects four Maryland players, all starters, going in the first two rounds of the NBA Draft: 22. freshman center Diamond Stone; 33. sophomore point guard Melo Trimble; 43. senior small forward Jake Layman; 50. junior power forward Robert Carter.

The same website projects three KU draftees: 34. reserve Cheick Diallo; 39. Wayne Selden Jr.; 58. Perry Ellis.

Yet, the most pivotal player in tonight’s talent showcase just might be the last player to make his way off the bench into the lineup as a permanent starter. Kansas center Landen Lucas can’t be found on any mock drafts, but if he keeps playing the way he has of late, he’ll make his presence felt by future pros.

Maryland ranks as the fourth-tallest team in the nation and the tallest in the Sweet 16. They start three players (Carter, Layman and Stone) who measure 6-foot-9 or taller. The Terps also feature wider bodies than the Jayhawks.

Lucas, a fourth-year junior from Portland, Ore., who didn’t join the starting lineup until midseason, represents KU’s best chance to compete with Maryland in the paint.

If Lucas can produce another big game on the boards, play rugged defense without encountering foul trouble and block a shot here and there, it’s difficult to envision a path to victory for Maryland, which isn’t as dangerous in transition as Kansas.

Lucas never has been one to shy from a challenge, which explains why he chose to compete for playing time at a school noted for recruiting multiple elite big men on an annual basis. It explains why he never stopped trying to crack the rotation when lesser competitors would have transferred to less talent-rich environments to make it onto the court.

“They’re very talented,” Lucas said. “They have a lot of bigs with great size, very skilled around the hoop. They’re good. It’s going to be a fun challenge. We’re going to be going at it. There’s definitely a lot of talent on both sides. It’s going to be fun.”

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Lucas doesn’t have a cocky bone in his 6-10, 240-pound body, but he doesn’t lack confidence, either. It has grown at the same rate as his production.

“We like hearing how much talent they have because it’s a challenge to us to go out there and show how good of a team we are,” Lucas said.

He has produced double figures in rebounds six times, including a 12-rebound effort with three blocked shots in the second-round victory against UConn. His top back up, senior Jamari Traylor, was scoreless in 28 minutes in the two tourney games in Des Moines, Iowa. More important given his role, Traylor totaled 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in the two games.

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“There are blocked shots and then there are BLOCKED SHOTS,” Lucas said. “It’s the way Jamari blocks shots that makes them contagious.”

Freshman Carlton Bragg Jr.’s ability to pull his man away from the hoop and his improving offensive rebounding could come in handy in stretches. Depending on foul trouble, freshman Cheick Diallo (nine points, four rebounds, a blocked shot against Austin Peay) might even get a call, even though he didn’t play vs. UConn.

Diallo said he improves daily in practice.

“I never let it go,” Diallo said. “I develop my game. I develop my post moves. I develop my shooting. I never let down just because I’m not playing a lot in games.”

Podcast episode

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Tournament experience, even though it came against an Austin Peay squad that in no way resembles Maryland, can’t be a bad thing in the event Diallo is needed.

“As coach said, ‘Cheick, go!’ I was not even nervous,” Diallo said of the Austin Peay game. “I was so excited to play.”

As a freshman, Cole Aldrich had a coming-out party against North Carolina. Might Diallo have his against Maryland?

If Lucas can avoid foul trouble, another area of improvement, Diallo might not be needed.

During Big 12 play, Lucas had five consecutive games in which he committed four or more fouls. He has committed three or fewer fouls in eight of nine games heading into tonight’s.

“Really, it’s just getting a sense early on what kind of game it’s going to be from the refs,” Lucas said. “So you have to adjust quickly. On top of that, if their guards get into the lane, just try to stay vertical. They’re letting us play if you can stay vertical. That’s big for me. If they initiate the contact, that’s a big emphasis this year, it’s not a foul on you. You can absorb as much as you can as long you can stay vertical. Then try to time it and get the ball (block the shot) later on.”

Lucas doesn’t need to score a point to play a huge role in a victory. He can have a huge impact on the game by not letting Carter and/or Stone have big games on the boards and the scoreboard.


Dirk Medema 6 years, 6 months ago

Landon gets Stone or Dodd, and Perry will be on Carter.

Wayne on Layman could also be significant.

The real issue will be as Coach says, do we (Mason & Graham) keep them from becoming comfortable. If that's yes, then everything falls into place when they struggle initiating their O and their size advantage is meaningless. If no, then it will be a long evening.

Cameron Cederlind 6 years, 6 months ago

So the best photo we have of Lucas is between Mickelsons legs.

Robert Brock 6 years, 6 months ago

Paging Cheick Diallo - you may be called on to step up!

Jay Scott 6 years, 6 months ago

What this game will largely come down to is this. Who do the officials believe is more legit among the bigs? NCAA officials are somewhere between awful and evil at handing out fouls to post players. Jeff Withey as a (redshirt) junior couldn't stay in a game. Suddenly, as a senior he had learned so much more about how to guard legally that he was almost never whistled.

Complete garbage. It's the biggest problem with NCAA hoops. Fouls are awarded by reputation and tenure, or lack of it.

If the officials believe that Ellis and Lucas are more deserving of preferential treatment based on their tenure, Kansas will win. If Maryland gets the benefit of the doubt, the Jayhawk depth will be tested. Sadly, that's what far too many games come down to.

The third variable in this paradigm of course is, are the Dookies playing. All Blue Devils are worthy of being treated as seniors.Shooting twice as many FTs is a given.....

Kent Richardson 6 years, 6 months ago

I absolutely hated Juan Dixon. He was unconscious against KU in our F4 loss. Cole was more BB polished than Cheick and he was able to impose his will on a shorter center against North Carolina. If Cheick can just get the boards and guard in his stretches tonight I will be happy. They will go at Cheick and Bragg, especially, as all teams have done the last 7 or 8 games. Bragg needs to score when he is in to keep some semblance of even Steven.

Perry will have to be AA again and no hiding for Wayne. If we cannot knock down threes it could be curtains.

Chad Harris 6 years, 6 months ago

Again Kansas will win by double digits. It will be a hard fought game, but it will happen.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 6 months ago

I feel like Stupid Michael - I'm scared!

Craig Alexander 6 years, 6 months ago

It worked the last game so feel free to be scared!

Scott Smetana 6 years, 6 months ago

If Lucas gets into foul trouble (likely), I'm betting Mickelson plays a huge roll tonight. We'll need his defense and size. I just hope his super lack of minutes the past 2 months hasn't made him too rusty.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 6 months ago

Melo Trimble is the most important player in this game. Get him out rhythm early and watch the TO's pile up along with KU's lead.

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