Jayhawks get 4-guard do-over to open NCAA Tournament


Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) gets in for a bucket as the Jayhawks watch during the second half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) gets in for a bucket as the Jayhawks watch during the second half, Saturday, March 16, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

On Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., shortly after Kansas lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, freshman point guard Devon Dotson sat in the Jayhawks’ Sprint Center locker room answering questions about what went wrong.

As he detailed both the positives and negatives of the defeat from KU’s perspective, Dotson emphasized that the disappointing result came with some important lessons, especially when it came to defending a team such as ISU, which plays four guards and one big man.

“They ran some stuff that I think got us tricked up a little bit, but for the most part, I feel like we can learn from this — how to defend four guards better,” Dotson said. “And how we can score on the other end easier when our shots aren’t falling. We can find other ways to get the ball in the basket.”

Thanks to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the Jayhawks don’t have to wait long for a do-over.

Five days after their four-guard counter failed to topple the Cyclones, they’ll take on Northeastern’s four-guard attack in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday afternoon.

Iowa State’s guards possess their specific strengths and weaknesses and it’s overgeneralizing to say the Huskies will challenge KU in exactly the same fashion. For one, Northeastern’s top four guards rely even more on 3-pointers. According to, among NU’s four starting guards, three take more than half of their shots from downtown, while the other came up just shy of that cutoff.

Jordan Roland takes 66.7 percent of his shots from 3-point range, Donnell Gresham Jr. comes in at 60.6 percent, Bolden Brace is at 58.7 percent and even Vava Puscia attempts 47.3 percent of his field goals from behind the arc.

After the brackets revealed KU (25-9) would play as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, head coach Bill Self was asked Sunday evening whether the previous day’s matchup with ISU would help the Jayhawks in any way against No. 13 seed Northeastern (23-10), the Colonial Athletic Association’s postseason champions.

"In theory, yes. But we prepared to play Iowa State with one walkthrough, so it wasn't like we practiced to play Iowa State,” Self noted. “We practiced last week for Texas, with actually a thought we would play Texas Tech (in the Big 12 semifinals, instead of West Virginia, which upset the Red Raiders). It will probably help more than it would hurt, but hopefully we'll be better prepared to be better at it with three days of practice."

Against Iowa State, KU began the game as it usually does, playing with two bigs, Dedric Lawson and David McCormack. But the Cyclones gave KU too many issues and Self went with four guards during much of the title game.

Don’t expect to see Self start Marcus Garrett in the NCAA Tournament’s first round just because Northeastern plays four guards, though. The Jayhawks figure to stick with two bigs to have an advantage inside offensively. And then if and when necessary they can play four guards and do so comfortably after having days to go over actions and strategies designed to overcome Northeastern.

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Before the Jayhawks had much time to get into scouting reports or watch video of Northeastern, Lawson indicated Sunday night KU could play with four guards or three against Northwestern in its tournament opener.

“Coach, he already talked about he’s been in the business a long time and he knows what it takes to win. So he basically talked about sometimes play two bigs, sometimes play one big,” Lawson related. “Whatever the case may be, we all just have to buy into that role and that scouting report.”

Should the game dictate that McCormack spend less time on the court and more minutes on the bench, the 6-foot-10 freshman won’t get his feelings hurt. He explained after KU’s loss to Iowa State why logging 8 minutes didn’t catch him off guard or greatly trouble him.

“We have a full understanding of knowing how the other team plays and that they might want to play small — well, not even might — they’re gonna play small. You’re a big man and when you want to play to the advantage of your team, you understand that. It’s not an individual sport. It’s about the team and what we can do to win,” McCormack said. “So the variation in minutes didn’t affect me.”

If McCormack is forced off the floor, it won’t be because of any shortcoming of his, but the result of Northeastern’s shooting and KU’s need to have Lawson on the court as much as possible.

Between 6-foot-1 redshirt junior Roland (.408 3-point shooter), 6-1 redshirt junior Gresham (.393), 6-5 redshirt senior Puscia (.401) and junior Brace (.415), the Huskies may prove to have the fire power to force an adjustment.

If KU spends any time using Garrett, Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and Lawson as its lineup, the Jayhawks are confident in that group, even though it couldn’t rally past the Cyclones this past weekend.

“I felt like we rebounded the ball good for having four guards out there,” Garrett said of one positive, after KU had a 41-36 advantage on the glass against ISU. “We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, and just learn how to defend at the end of the shot clock.”

Immediately after KU lost to a four-guard lineup in K.C., Lawson predicted the Jayhawks would handle any opponent of that ilk better in the NCAA Tournament.

“Just keep the competitiveness,” he said. “I think guys definitely competed. We keep that competitive nature we’ll be good.”

The Jayhawks obviously have the personnel to handle the Huskies, and by the time the game tips off on Thursday afternoon they’ll be well versed in what each member of the potential Cinderella team from Boston brings to the floor.

KU’s players seem confident. And they’re saying all the right things. Now they just need to prove that they absorbed the wisdom ISU’s four guards made available to them.


Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 8 months ago

If McCormack is forced off the floor, it won’t be because of any shortcoming of his, but the result of Northeastern’s shooting and KU’s need to have Lawson on the court as much as possible.

NU will likely play their 2 bigs. We can't afford not to have David on the floor. #30 will be a handful for Lawson. Their bigs can definitely fire 3s and we better be ready to defend the perimeter at all cost. Let's hope our 3s fall. That's my only hope.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 8 months ago

"NU will likely play their 2 bigs."

Northeastern will play their 2 bigs, just rarely together/at the same time. They each average about 20 mpg, or one whole game combined.

One of the big challenges is also that in addition to their G's being good 3 pt shooters, one of their bigs is also over 40% from 3. This IMO is a better game for Mitch than for David if we're actually going to use 2 bigs. He's got just a bit more perimeter game, yet can still go inside on O in particular. I'm guessing that Coach still starts David out of habit, and the hope that maybe they are a bit off their shot from deep.

After Saturday, let's hope any shots fall. Even FT's. Wasn't it just a day earlier that they were perfect from the line?

Dale Stringer 3 years, 8 months ago

It is a sad day when we are talking changing our lineup to matchup with Northeastern instead of them changing to matchup to us.

Chad Smith 3 years, 8 months ago

I guess my only concern is this idea that a 4 guard line-up is somehow a new idea for KU to deal with. Iowa State wasn't the only 4 guard team we faced, in fact several went 4 guard or smaller stretch 4 against us this season since they knew it was a weakness and we defended weaker against 3 point shooting. Teams not only shot better from 3 against us versus their season average, they also took more 3's against us based on scheme.

Granted, we have multiple days to try and strategize but realistically we are going to need the 4 spot, whether that's Lawson brothers, Dmac, or lightfoot, to defend the 3 and be able to grab some boards and stop drives to the basket. If you want a guard playing the 4 spot, that's fine, but I'd prefer it'd be someone who has some confidence shooting the ball.

Bj Cassady 3 years, 8 months ago

KJ needs more playing time, he is tall enough, shoots well enough.

David Howell 3 years, 8 months ago

Defending the 3 point shot ............ this should prove interesting. If the Jayhawk's get behind, the panic may set in !

Craig Carson 3 years, 8 months ago

if NE comes out on fire from 3, this game could be over since KU hasnt exactly shown the ability to catch fire from 3..this type of game is one Vick would come in handy

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