New York — The answer to the mystery question of who would start at the 4 for Kansas was sophomore forward David McCormack.
It turned out to be a good move.
In 29 minutes of Tuesday’s 68-66 loss to Duke at Madison Square Garden, the 6-10 forward who started the final 13 games of his freshman season delivered 6 points, 13 rebounds and two steals.
Meanwhile, Silvio De Sousa, the Jayhawks’ other option at the 4, played just eight minutes total and looked a step slow and uncertain throughout his time on the floor.
Both players seemed to get an even shot at putting their stamp on the game early.
After being out there for the opening tip, McCormack played the first 3:26 before giving way to De Sousa for his turn.
In roughly the same stretch of time, De Sousa failed to record a stat, other than one of KU’s 28 turnovers, and he finished with 3 points, four rebounds and three turnovers for the game.
Although McCormack was the better second big man for the Jayhawks in this one, his play does not necessarily answer the lineup question for Self and company.
“He did an admirable job for the most part,” Self said of McCormack. “But we’ve got to figure out how we stretch the floor with two bigs in the game because that wasn’t effective tonight at all.”
No. 3 Kansas drops 68-66 decision to No. 4 Duke
The Jayhawks still played a handful of minutes with four guards — Marcus Garrett, Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson all played some at the 4 against Duke — and they had their share of success with that look.
In fact, most of De Sousa’s minutes in this one came at the 5 position, in relief of Udoka Azubuike, where he enjoyed some success as a true freshman while helping lead KU to the 2018 Final Four.
Kansas senior guard Isaiah Moss did not play during KU’s loss to Duke on Tuesday.
“He could’ve played tonight,” Self said after the loss. “But I thought it wouldn’t be worth the risk.”
Moss, who has been bothered by an injured right hamstring throughout the past couple of months did warm up with the Jayhawks during pregame shoot-around and did everything possible to test the hamstring to see if he could go.
Self said last weekend that he wanted to see Moss go full speed in practice on Sunday in order to play him.
The decision to hold him out was not made until after Tuesday’s shoot-around.
With KU hitting just four of nine 3-pointers in Tuesday’s loss — compared to eight of 24 for Duke — it’s clear that the extra weapon from the outside could have made an impact.
“If we play four guards, you’ve got a guy out there who’s a legitimate college shooter,” Self said. “He’s only been healthy one day since we started practicing. I’m hopeful that in another week or so we can actually see him.”
The seating chart for Tuesday’s Champions Classic featured nearly 70 NBA scouts and executives on hand to watch a handful of players who soon will be drafted into their league.
According to the latest 2020 mock draft from ESPN.com’s Jonathan Givony, Tuesday’s doubleheader featured nine players who will be picked in next summer’s NBA Draft.
And that’s just the 2020 draft class. All four teams featured underclassmen who likely will be selected in future drafts.
Givony’s 2020 draft included just one Jayhawk, point guard Devon Dotson, who he had pencilled into the No. 39 pick in the draft’s second round.
Newcomers in awe
Although he played in plenty of big games a season ago, Tuesday night’s clash was the first taste of the Champions Classic for KU sophomore Ochai Agbaji.
Agbaji, who had planned to redshirt but landed in the lineup last season because of injuries, said he remembered the feeling of going through warmups and watching his teammates play in the opener against Michigan State last year.
Needless to say, this year’s game was a much different and more enjoyable experience for the Kansas guard who finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 38 minutes on Tuesday night.
“This is what I came here for,” Agbaji said of Tuesday’s showdown. “To play at the highest level, compete at the highest level, against the best teams on the national stage.”
Added freshman Jalen Wilson, who played two minutes and missed his only shot on Tuesday: “To start the season off in Madison Square Garden against Duke just sets up what Kansas is about. You know, we don’t run from anybody, we play anybody we need to and I’m pretty sure we’ll probably see them again sometime in March.”
This and that...
KU opened the season with a loss for just the second time in 17 seasons under Self. The last time was in 2016, when KU lost to Indiana in Honolulu and followed that up with a win over Duke in Madison Square Garden a few days later... KU is now 4-5 all-time in the Champions Classic after watching its three-game winning streak in the event end... Self is now 3-4 all-time against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, 3-2 while at Kansas... Duke now leads the all-time series between powerhouse programs, 8-5, which includes a 2-1 mark in Champions Classic games... Former KU golfer and defending U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland sat on the floor near midcourt for Tuesday’s game.