Saturday, March 16, 2019

Benton Smith: Jayhawks not dwelling on negatives after 4-guard lineup comes up short

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) squeezes under the bucket past Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) and Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) for a shot during the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) squeezes under the bucket past Iowa State forward Cameron Lard (2) and Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton (5) for a shot during the first half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


Kansas City, Mo. — Over the course of the past few weeks, David McCormack morphed from being a large freshman who plays minutes here and there for Kansas into an effective and, at times, overpowering producer in the paint.

The Jayhawks entered Saturday night’s Big 12 tournament title game playing two bigs and doing so effectively because of McCormack’s timely emergence and how well he and Dedric Lawson began complementing each other.

The Cyclones, however, rendered that tandem unplayable with four offensive-minded guards — Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb,Tyrese Haliburton and Lindell Wigginton — giving KU’s two-big lineup more headaches than Bill Self could tolerate.

ISU forced the Jayhawks out of their typical style of play and won the conference tournament championship, 78-66.

Time to panic, right?

If the Jayhawks aren’t the ones forcing their opponent to adjust to them, that’s a bad sign entering the NCAA Tournament, correct?

Shouldn’t KU have figured out a way to thrive once the matchups made more sense, with McCormack off the floor and Marcus Garrett in his place in the second half?

Somewhat stunningly, none of the Jayhawks seemed too concerned about how the lineup adaptation never totally clicked versus ISU, which won the league’s postseason tournament for the fourth time in the past seven years.

McCormack played just 8 minutes in the loss — 1 in the second half.

“If you’re going to play big with that team,” Self said during his postgame press conference, “you’ve got to score inside. Because they put you at such a disadvantage if you’re going to play man-to-man. We knew that going in, and we didn’t score inside. I thought the best way — and it was the best way — was to spread it and drive it.”

The adjustment wasn’t as much about McCormack or anything he did wrong. It’s just that, as Self explained, when McCormack was on the floor, Lawson had to defend one of ISU’s guards when Talen Horton-Tucker wasn’t out there to stick Lawson on.

“That’s not good matchups for us,” Self said. “So I made a decision that we’re going to play small and try to drive it. We scored the ball so much better in the second half, and had the chance to score it so much better if we could’ve converted some open looks from 3.”

Self stressed that McCormack’s lack of involvement this night didn’t mean KU was about to go away from the powerful young 6-foot-10 forward.

“David’s still a starter and that stuff,” the coach reiterated. “They’re a hard team for us to match up with when Dedric has to guard a little guard.”

All of this made sense. Still, it remained surprising that Self wasn’t down at all about what KU got out of its four-guard look after making the modification.

There was no outrage or disdain. If anything, Self seemed happy with how the Jayhawks (25-9) played in the loss after ISU shot 48.1 percent from the field.

If you were expecting accounts of Self lighting up his players in the postgame locker room, you came to the wrong place.

“He wasn’t really mad at us throughout the game,” Lawson related, saying that the coach carried that same demeanor during his postgame message. “He was always encouraging and things like that. I wasn’t expecting him to be mad, and you’ve got to give those guys (ISU) credit. They played great tonight. They made shots, they made plays they needed to.”

Mostly, Garrett said after the final, the Jayhawks left feeling good about how they executed defensively.

“That’s what we kept saying during the game. ‘We just can’t get anything to fall.’ Layups weren’t going, shots weren’t going. But I felt like we were defending,” Garrett said. “If we would have got a couple of shots to fall, layups to fall, that lead would’ve been cut.”

Freshman Devon Dotson agreed that the switch-up to four guards should have made KU more effective defensively.

“Yeah, I would think so. I don’t think it translated necessarily in the second half. They made some tough shots. I’ll give them that,” Dotson said. “Difficult shots, they were getting some calls at the end that we didn’t get. You know, it was just our shots weren’t falling and they were hitting some shots, really.”

That seemed to be the message Self wanted them to absorb and it definitely worked.

Given how the regular season played out, the coach probably doesn’t want his players dwelling on the negative now, because they don’t have the margin for error that most KU teams do and the next loss they suffer will put an end to their 2018-19 season.

“He said this is the most excited he’s been about us all year,” Dotson said, “because he liked the way we competed and showed fight, because we really wanted this game. We just couldn’t pull it off. You know, it hurts. But we’ve got to focus on next weekend.”

In what city and on what seed line KU will open the NCAA Tournament won’t be known until the brackets are unveiled Sunday evening.

In the meantime, Garrett said the Jayhawks head into the Big Dance feeling optimistic about what’s to come, and confident they can make a four-guard lineup work for them if a matchup requires them to do so again.

“We’ve got four guards that can play, too,” Garrett said. “I just felt like (the Cyclones) were making every shot at the end of the clock, and they were getting the fouls.”

Maybe it’s for the best that Self didn’t blast his players for coming up short. It’s possible they wouldn’t have handled it well. It’s far better to massage their psyches than tear them down at this juncture.

The result certainly can’t be viewed as a positive one, considering KU beat the Big 12’s Nos. 6 and 10 seeds the previous two days and then, at times, looked overmatched by the 5 seed in the final.

But the vibe from Self during the postgame and the players in the locker room was, without question, a positive one.

“Of course,” Garrett said. “I felt like we got better this tournament. And that’s what we needed this tournament for, just to get better going into the NCAA Tournament.”


Jaston Archie 3 years, 8 months ago

Smh, this sounds like a AA meeting, there is absolutely no reason to be positive or hopeful. This team sucks, they’re retarded and cant shoot. I expect a first round loss or definitely second round

Luke Kading 3 years, 8 months ago

This team doesn't "suck", but by our spoiled standards yes, they do leave quite a bit to be desired. Can't say I'm a big fan of this version of the 4 guard lineup because there are just not enough shooters. Sure, they were struggling to score in the first half, but until Dotson sat with his 2nd foul it was a back and forth game. They really cannot afford him to be in the bench. Also can't afford to have Dedric Lawson to miss bunny after bunny. Happens all the time and it's so frustrating. He gets his numbers, but if he has to shoot 20 times to get 20 points this team is in huge trouble, and that is happening alot lately.

Also, what has happened to Agbaji? He looks like a shell of the player we saw a month ago.

Bville Hawk 3 years, 8 months ago

Well, I hate to second guess a HOF coach, but this team has been it's worst this season when playing Dedric and 4 guards and it's best when playing Dedric and another big. Coach says we didn't score with 2 bigs but D.Mc had 4 points (2 for 2 from the field) in 8 minutes. Coach panicked and went 1 and 4 without giving the 2 big lineup much of a chance.

Driving the ball is a BAD strategy for this team because we don't have anyone besides Dotson who can consistently finish. This isn't last years team where you had Devonte, Malik, and Svi who could all finish. Any game where we choose to play 4 guards and drive the ball we are probably going to lose.

I think Marcus is a nice player but he is a tremendous liability on offense in that he can't consistently score from anywhere. The other team can put their slowest, poorest defender on him and make him go left and he is shut down offensively.

In the early rounds of the NCAA tourney we will play teams with no player taller than 6'8", prepare for an early exit.

Jesse Trombla 3 years, 8 months ago

Our team sucks and is retarded? Go back to your AA meetings. No reason to be positive and hopeful? Get back on the bottle then. I do not understand why real fans blast the Jayhawks on their own site and offer no constructive criticism or positive outlook. Ive seen it increasing lately. We are a true blueblood with more history and recognizable faces than some countries have. As a diehard fan, I understand this is a down year. Its ok to have one bad year after having The Streak top out at 14(!!!!). We lost many key players at key times and the NCAA unfairly overshadowed us all season and will continue to do so in coming seasons. And now "HCBS to the Bulls" rumors start swirling as well. However, even if we bow out in the second round, I will still be proud to be a fan of the best basketball program on Earth. This is my team, whether up or down, good or bad, right or wrong, this is my team. I dont mind criticism (its great when done right), but check your insults and downright negativity at the door please. This is a tough enough season to watch already RCJH

Jeff Kallmeyer 3 years, 8 months ago

“He said this is the most excited he’s been about us all year,” Dotson said, “because he liked the way we competed and showed fight, because we really wanted this game".

Huh, I guess was watching some other game and thought it was the Jayhawks... the game I saw, we got totally out hustled by a team that wanted victory a lot more than we did. Self is getting soft with age and it's showing up in his players.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 8 months ago

I'm no sports analyst, but look at our players - the way they shoot (recruiting or development coach lessons learned??):

  • Charlie's 3pt: he flicks his wrist without pushing the ball up
  • Marcus' 3pt: no wrist flicking, he takes the ball from down low instead
  • Ochai's 3pt: his legs are not straight up
  • Grimes' 3pt: his shooting palm is too flat

These days, no teams will win without 3pt shooting!! Yeah, fool's gold is no fool. I'd say, wait till Braun and McBride are in KU uniform. We will have higher % shooting 3s and jumpers.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 8 months ago

Charlie Moore has underperformed this season, but part of that may be due to a lack of minutes and attempts. When he “fired at will” in Pac12 play, he shot 35% from 3.

His Freshman season at Cal, he took nearly 4 attempts per game, but in this inaugural season at KU he’s taking less than 1 attempt, while playing less than half of the minutes.

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