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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Biggest X factor for Kansas basketball is biggest player

Kansas center Udoke Azubuike sits with skins team players Alec Sievert, left, Brady Johnson and Andrew Nelson during Ben McLemore and Andrew Wiggins' Kansas All-Star Basketball Camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.

Kansas center Udoke Azubuike sits with skins team players Alec Sievert, left, Brady Johnson and Andrew Nelson during Ben McLemore and Andrew Wiggins' Kansas All-Star Basketball Camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.

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Identifying an X-factor on any given roster makes for a fun exercise. Many seem to believe Carlton Bragg qualifies as the X-factor for a Kansas basketball team that spent an intense week working its way into shape.

Bragg showed an extremely soft shooting touch, an ability to feed the low post from the high post, and a knack for offensive rebounding. Considering how limited his playing time was he showed a lot of confidence for a freshman in an elite program.

But I don’t see him as the X-factor because it’s pretty easy to approximate what sort of production the Jayhawks will get from the 6-foot-10, 240-pound power forward from Cleveland: Better rebounding and shot-blocking than Perry Ellis, every bit as a good a jump shot that he’ll be able to get off more easily, but not armed with many ways to score because he has neither Ellis' blow-by dribble nor his polished post footwork.

It will come as a surprise if Bragg veers far from an average of 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. And it doesn’t take much imagination to project a standout freshman season from Josh Jackson, a terrific talent who plays with an aggressive confidence.

Freshman center Udoka Azubuike, on the other hand, doesn’t fit quite so easily into any projection window. His ceiling is even higher than Bragg’s, but it’s not as easy to guess how close to Big 12 competition. He turned 17 just eight days ago. On the other hand, he's so physically advanced for his age.

So far, the 7-foot native of Nigeria blessed with a 7-foot-5 wingspan is showing encouraging signs. In the past, his weight had been listed as high as 300 pounds. He has trimmed to 280 pounds and received praise from coach Bill Self for his Boot Camp effort until a groin injury sidelined him.

Azubuike appears fully invested in improving and never gives off the vibe that he views college as an unfortunate detour on the way to the NBA.

His 26-point camp game in June included eight dunks and 13-for-15 shooting from the field. Those pickup games don’t always translate to more structured, intense Big 12 battles, but the fact that he relished playing inside and hammered the rim with so much power means he's not likely to try to audition perimeter skills for NBA scouts, as Cheick Diallo sometimes did last season.

Nothing from a 12-minutes-per-game backup to a first-team All-Big 12 center would qualify as shocking, which makes him the X-factor for a deep Kansas team with a nice blend of youth and experience, size and skill.

Comments

Noah Oone 5 years, 10 months ago

I understand your point Tom, but Udoka is a little raw and will need to work on his understanding of Self's defensive philosophy.

In my opinion, the entire bench (Svi, Vick, Udoka, Coleby) are the X factor. We pretty much know what everyone else can do. The problem is we don't really know what Vick can do under game pressure, or how consistent Svi will be.

That said, the most important aspect of a final four run this year is on the defensive end, and that starts with Frank and Devonte. They need to be Napier+Boatright this year in order for this team to go far.

Mick Allen 5 years, 10 months ago

Those U Conn guards are a good comparison. Both were spectacular when U Conn won its last championship

Humpy Helsel 5 years, 10 months ago

Well, as the old saying goes in basketball, "you can't coach 7' height or 7'5" wing span." As with all of the new players, what translates from high school/pick up games to the big bad bright lights? More than likely, this year is a development year, getting some quality minutes year, and next year he takes center stage. To paraphrase Landen, it's not just about size, it's about how you use your size.

Robert Brock 5 years, 10 months ago

I doubt if Azubuike plays more than seven to ten minutes per game. Wait till next year.

Michael Bennett 5 years, 10 months ago

Robert Brock I agree. As much as I'd love to see him play 20-25 minutes a night, this is Bill Self we're talking about. He's returning the starting center from last year, so like most freshman bigs at KU Udoka will be pretty limited in minutes.

Joe Wolf 5 years, 10 months ago

Raw or not, the Big 12 is not a particularly large conference down low. WVU lost Devin Williams, and Texas is now without the massive Ridley, Ibeh combination on the block. Landen is most likely the best center in the Big 12 this season, if he can pick up where he left off last spring, but even with him on the roster, I could see Azubuike getting some decent minutes as a matchup nightmare. Will he get in foul trouble? absolutely. Will he be a disruptive force on both sides of the ball? I'm leaning towards a hard yes.

I don't predict he'll be a revelation like Joel was, but I think he'll be too much of a force to relegate to less than 10 minutes a game.

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