Kansas City, Mo. — For much of the regular season, those who follow Kansas basketball wondered when freshman Quentin Grimes might turn a corner and become the steady shooter and scorer the Jayhawks needed in the backcourt.
Perhaps turning the page to the postseason will do the trick.
Grimes shot 2-for-10 in his Big 12 tournament debut against Texas, when he scored 12 points in a quarterfinal victory, but he quickly moved on from that performance to set the nets ablaze in the semifinals. Grimes’ 5-for-8 3-point shooting led to an 18-point night for the freshman and the sense that he may finally be trending upward.
Even so, Bill Self wasn’t ready after that showing to place Grimes in the same stratosphere as a recent KU guard who caught fire just in time for March Madness.
One reporter asked Self whether the coach could compare Grimes’ uptick to what Malik Newman pulled off a year ago, during the 2018 postseason.
“No, not yet,” Self said.
“If the guy goes off and gets 30 (in Saturday night’s final versus Iowa State),” the KU coach added, “and is the most valuable player of the tournament, then, yeah, you could say that.”
You may recall that Newman, like Grimes this year, had an up-and-down regular season before turning into “Postseason Leek.” Newman went off for 30 points in his Big 12 tournament debut versus Oklahoma State, then followed it up by pouring in 22 against Kansas State and finishing his three-day run with 20 more in a title game victory over West Virginia.
So Grimes would need to put on an extra-spectacular shooting display in the championship game to give the Newman comparison more weight.
“But what did he get today, 18? What did he have, 12, yesterday? So probably not quite that level, but it is a nice addition,” Self said Friday night at Sprint Center. “And to win three games in a row, especially the situation that we’re in, you’re going to have to have some guys step up that maybe haven’t been asked to do it in the past because they’re so young, and maybe play beyond their years. And Quentin did that today.”
Despite some rough patches as a scorer over the past few months, Grimes has now produced double-digit points in four of KU’s past six games. During that span he’s 17-for-35 on 3-pointers.
Self didn’t think there wasn’t a specific moment when he noticed Grimes shooting the ball with more confidence.
“I think everybody goes through phases like that. If you look at numbers, he’s shot it better in league play than he has for the season. But it’s been a gradual thing,” Self said.
What had stopped Grimes from getting going, Self pointed out, was that he would maybe have a decent night from 3-point range, 2-for-4 or something along those lines, and then go 1-for-6 the next game.
“He hasn’t really been in a real rhythm,” Self said. “We’re saying he’s shooting it better, which he is. He looks better shooting it. He looked better shooting it (Thursday) night, but he was 1 for 6 (Thursday) night, from 3 — is that right?”
“I agree. He’s playing with more confidence, and good shooters shouldn’t remember their misses, they should only remember the makes,” Self concluded. “And I think he’s going through a phase right now where he actually feels that way.”
Grimes enters the Big 12 title game averaging 8.3 points for the season and hitting 35.9% from 3-point range.
As the NBA Draft Combine gets underway in Chicago, it’s important to remember that not all analysts are as high on this year’s crop of Kansas prospects as others.
While ESPN long has included Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk among its list of projected second-rounders for 2018, the newly unveiled mock draft at The Ringer only expects two Jayhawks to earn selections.
A little more than a month ahead of the draft, The Ringer’s guide forecasts Newman as the first Kansas player off the board, with the 21-year-old guard going 44th overall (14th in the second round).
Unlike ESPN’s mock, which currently values Graham as the best player from KU, The Ringer slotted the 23-year-old point guard at No. 53 in the 60-pick draft.
Graham’s four-year year teammate and on-and-off-the-court running mate, Mykhailiuk, didn’t appear on the list.
Ringer draft pundit Kevin O’Connor, who provided scouting reports on the likely draftees, touted Newman for his “spark-plug scoring,” describing the redshirt sophomore guard who helped KU reach the Final Four as “a pure bucket-getter who can generate offense off the bench, though his defense limits his upside.”
And because it’s officially player comp season, The Ringer’s comprehensive guide includes a handy profile of each draft hopeful. Likely in order to tone down any basketball-internet backlash against the analysis, instead of straight comparisons — which typically are unfair anyway — each profile includes names of past or current NBA players who one might see “shades of” while watching a prospect.
When inspecting video of Newman, O’Connor noticed some similarities to Monta Ellis, Dion Waiters and Seth Curry.
As far as Graham’s potential is concerned, his main selling point was described as “gritty defense.”
O’Connor’s scouting report described the KU All-American as “a high-energy, hard-nosed defender who improved his point guard skills as a senior.”
In Graham’s footage, he saw “shades of” a “lean” Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Scottie Wilbekin.
O’Connor lists Newman as the No. 41 prospect in the draft class, and Graham at No. 48. Ringer staffers Danny Chau and Jonathan Tjarks also provided their own big boards. Chau placed Newman 48th, with Graham 50th. Tjarks gauged Newman as the 42nd-best player, and had Graham 44th.
The good news for Newman and Graham, as well as Mykhailiuk, and former KU teammates Billy Preston, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike is the pre-draft process is just beginning. The days and weeks ahead — and how they perform in workouts, scrimmages and interviews — will ultimately determine their draft stock. Now it’s up to them to prove themselves to NBA coaches and executives.
While four of the league’s best teams remain alive (technically) for the 2018 championship, it’s currently pre-draft season for most NBA franchises.
Prospects and evaluations will dominate conversations in the coming days at the NBA Draft Combine, in Chicago, as executives, coaches and scouts scrutinize the viability of the 69 draft hopefuls in attendance. As everyone involved with the combine attempts to forecast the careers of the candidates on display, player comparisons almost become unavoidable.
From his days as a five-star prospect in Jackson, Miss., to the past three years as an aspiring NBA player at Mississippi State and the University of Kansas, Malik Newman has heard his name tied with various supposedly similar professional guards who came before him.
In the midst of his stunning NCAA Tournament run with the Jayhawks — 21. 6 points per game, 47.1% shooting, 15-for-34 on 3-pointers, 27-for-30 on free throws — Newman was presented with a player comparison, courtesy of a former KU guard. While watching Newman go against Clemson in the Sweet 16, former Bill Self pupil Russell Robinson tweeted out that Newman’s game reminded him of 13-year NBA veteran Lou Williams.
Like Newman, Williams was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. Since bypassing college for the NBA in 2005, the 6-foot-1 guard has scored 11,807 career points, picking up the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2015. Williams’ most recent season, his 13th, was his best, as he averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists — both career highs — garnering all-star consideration while primarily coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Listed at 6-3 and more of a scorer than distributor at heart, did Newman like being connected him Williams?
“Yeah. I love Lou Will’s game,” Newman replied in late March. “I feel like he’s an underrated scorer in the league. That’s what he’s known for is getting buckets. So, I mean, I’ll definitely take that.”
Oddly enough, Newman said two comparisons he often had received were to Williams and another former Sixth Man of the Year (2005), 6-3 guard Ben Gordon, the third overall pick by Chicago in 2004.
“So I’ll definitely take both of those,” Newman added.
He won’t be a lottery pick like Gordon was coming out of UConn. But if Newman wants to follow someone’s career trajectory to NBA success, Williams would serve as an ideal role model. In 2005, Philadelphia selected Williams in the middle of the second round (No. 45 overall). Entering this week’s combine, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony projects Newman as a mid-second round pick (No. 44 overall).
Some players go into this pre-draft process with unrealistic expectations for themselves. In fact, it’s possible for some to entertain impractical ideas after hearing from people employed in the NBA. This past March, one league executive told TNT’s David Aldridge that Newman reminded him of Ray Allen “in size, personality and shooting ability,” characterizing the possibly overlooked Newman as a “value pick.” Allen is a 10-time all-star and hall of famer.
It’s to Newman’s credit that someone would even conjure up such a career track for him. It’s also encouraging that he isn’t headed to the combine thinking he’s about to become an all-time great.
Newman said he doesn’t even have a specific NBA player he tries to model his game after. His two favorites are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. But he’s not claiming to be either of those all-stars. He’s not even hyping himself as the next Lou Williams or Ben Gordon — though he’d leave the league fulfilled if able to mirror either of their careers.
Grounded while confident is an ideal approach for a prospect entering the pre-draft process, and it seems Newman is willing to follow that strategy, even as more player comparisons are likely to be thrown his way in the weeks leading up to the June 21 draft.
San Antonio — One of the breakout stars of March Madness, Malik Newman picked up his second Most Outstanding Player award of the postseason in the aftermath of an Elite Eight victory over Duke.
After emerging as the top performer of the Big 12 tournament a few weeks earlier, the Kansas sophomore proved his Sprint Center shows were no fluke once the Jayhawks began their Final Four run.
Through four KU victories in the NCAA Tournament, Newman leads the team with 21.8 points per game and 13-for-29 shooting (44.8%) from 3-point range.
Earlier this week, Newman joined the March Madness 365 podcast, with Andy Katz, to discuss his dazzling March and how his KU coaches and teammates helped him took off.
“My confidence is at an all-time high right now. I probably feel as confident as I’ve ever felt,” Newman told Katz. “I’m having fun with the group of guys that I’m with and we’re just enjoying the moment.”
A McDonald’s All-American in high school and considered one of the top talents in the class of 2015, Newman began his college career at Mississippi State, where he experienced a 14-17 freshman season before taking a crack at the NBA combine while maintaining his amateur status. Eventually, he decided to transfer to Kansas.
Needless to say, the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., had never experienced anything quite like KU’s overtime win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Newman, of course, scored all 13 of KU’s points in OT, en route to a career-high 32. The fact that it came in a “historical matchup” between blue blood programs, he added, made it all the more satisfying.
“It’s got to be at the top of the list. Most definitely at the top of the list,” Newman replied, when asked where that game ranks for him. “As a kid, this is what you dream about. The AAU circuits and all the AAU games that you play, it will never amount to playing in the Elite Eight game and advancing to the Final Four.”
Who knows what Newman would be doing now if he had just turned pro after leaving Mississippi State two years ago. He said he had to “get healthy” and “learn the game some more,” instead of trying to work his way into the NBA while playing in less glamorous leagues. Newman is glad he ended up with Bill Self and his coaching staff at Kansas.
“I think they did a great job of molding me into what I am right now, and I just think those guys did a great job of pushing me every day,” Newman said.
Now Newman is preparing for a Final Four semifinal against Villanova as a far better player than he was two years ago. Sitting out a full season as a transfer, it turned out, had its benefits, as he got to watch and practice against Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham.
“Those guys are skilled players, so I was able to steal some things from them,” Newman said. “And Coach Self, he just did a great job of instilling the Kansas tradition in me. I think it just made me better overall.”
The Kansas basketball season isn’t over yet.
The Jayhawks advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest region and on to San Antonio by knocking off Duke, in overtime, 85-81, Sunday night.
“Mr. March,” also known as Malik Newman, had plenty to do with KU’s 31st and most memorable victory of the year so far, scoring all 13 of his team’s points in OT.
But the efforts of Newman’s teammates in various other categories proved just as valuable. Here are five statistics that made the Jayhawks’ 15th Final Four appearance, and first since 2012, possible.
Given KU’s one-big, four-guard lineup and the presence of two potential NBA lottery picks in Duke’s starting frontcourt, it seemed a long night of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. snagging Blue Devils misses could be in the cards for Kansas.
However, Duke only secured 10 offensive rebounds off 40 missed field goals, finishing with just 11 second-chance points.
KU had come up short in second-chance points in four of its first six postseason victories before outscoring Duke, 15-11, with the help of 17 offensive boards.
Starting center Udoka Azubuike enhanced those numbers with 5 offensive rebounds — his second-best total this season.
Guards Svi Mykhailiuk (3 offensive rebounds), Devonte’ Graham (2), Newman (2) and Marcus Garrett (2) all chipped in when they could, as well.
Whether it was KU locking in, Duke’s legs wearing down or some combination of the two, the Jayhawks spent the final minutes of regulation making stops.
After Grayson Allen fed Wendell Carter Jr. for a layup with 4:25 to go in the second half, KU held Duke without a basket and forced a turnover in the final four minutes, setting up overtime.
Although Allen made two free throws at the 1:59 and 1:25 marks, Kansas barely out-scored Duke, 5-4, during the closing minutes of the second half.
Lagerald Vick blocked Carter with 3:51 on the clock. Azubuike rebounded a missed 3 by Allen with 3:23 left. Trevon Duval turned the ball over at the 2:40 mark. Silvio De Sousa rebounded a Carter misfire with 36 seconds to go in regulation. And KU’s March breakout star, Newman, successfully defended a potential Allen game-winner with 0:03 showing on the clock.
KU knew headed into the Elite Eight showdown that Allen (100 of 267 on 3-pointers, 37.5%) and Gary Trent Jr. (95 of 231, 41.1%) were Duke’s best long-range shooters.
The Jayhawks’ perimeter defenders made sure neither Allen (2 of 9 on 3’s versus KU) or Trent (2 of 10) got hot or found a rhythm.
With the Devils’ marksmen combining to hit just 21% of their 3-pointers, Duke only made 7 of 29 (24%) as a team — the lowest percentage by a KU opponent in the NCAA Tournament this March.
A season-long ally for the Jayhawks, the 3-point line once again facilitated a Kansas victory.
It wasn’t KU’s 36% success from beyond the arc that made the difference. It was that 39 points (nearly half of the victor’s 85) came from that source.
Kansas hit 13 of 36 from deep between its four starting guards, giving the team 13 or more 3-pointers for the eighth time this season and 10 or more for the 19th occasion in 38 outings.
The Jayhawks out-scored Duke by 18 points from outside the arc, and improved to 17-2 when connecting on at least 10 3-pointers.
Newman went 5 for 12. Mykhailiuk sent the game to OT with a 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds of regulation and made 3 of 9. Graham hit 3 of 8. Vick made at least two from deep for the fifth straight game, connecting on 2 of 7.
26 minutes from De Sousa
Where would the Jayhawkw be without freshman big man De Sousa right now? Maybe done for the season, instead of packing up for a trip to San Antonio.
With starting center Azubuike battling foul trouble all night — he picked up his fifth and a disqualification with 1:59 to play in the second half — KU needed every minute, rebound, hustle play and defensive stop De Sousa could muster. http://www2.kusports.com/news/2018/ma...
A 6-foot-9 freshman from Angola, De Sousa tied a career high with 26 minutes — the same time he spent on the court in the Big 12 title game, when Azubuike was out with an injury.
The backup big, whom Bill Self barely trusted to keep on the floor in January and February, finished with 4 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
After Azubuike fouled out during crunch time, with the season on the line, De Sousa finished off three separate KU stops with a defensive rebound.
His first-half dunk and second-half layup helped KU’s bench out-score the Duke subs, 8-6.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Duke
- Mr. March: Malik Newman carries Jayhawks past Duke, into Final Four
- Tom Keegan: Svi for 3 and great ‘D’ in KU’s Elite Eight victory
- Notebook: Jayhawks outrebound Duke; Newman named regional’s Most Outstanding Player
- Jayhawks survive encounter with Duke’s monster frontcourt to reach Final Four
- Silvio De Sousa’s ‘terrific,’ bloody performance saves KU in Elite Eight
- Jayhawk fans release Elite Eight tension with party on Massachusetts Street
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman carries Kansas into Final Four with 32 points, tops ratings
- Matt Tait's Postgame Report Card
- Jayhawks topple Duke in OT to reach Final Four
The offensive lifeblood of a four-guard lineup, 3-pointers — sometimes just the mere threat of them — space the floor for Kansas, give 7-footer Udoka Azubuike space to dominate on touches in the paint and have helped make a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 possible.
Of their 81.4 points per game this year, the Jayhawks average 30.1 from behind the arc (22nd in Division I). In other words, their opponents know KU’s guards would like nothing more than to drown them in a deluge of 3-pointers.
With foes doing everything within their powers to limit one of this Kansas team’s most effective weapons, timing and precision are vital for getting the best look at the basket possible while rising up from long range. Within an offense that revolves around ball screens, dribble hand-offs and drive-and-kicks it sure helps to have senior point guard Devonte’ Graham penetrating and distributing.
Among the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament, Graham’s 7.5 assists per game on the season lead all players. While plenty of those dimes come on fast breaks or alley-oops for KU bigs, the guards who play alongside Graham are thankful his kick-out passes allow them to consistently catch and shoot in one fluid motion.
So what percentage of Graham’s deliveries to 3-point shooters are perfect?
Junior Lagerald Vick briefly paused to calculate before responding, with a grin: “I would say about 99.7 of those are right on the money. I definitely think he’s a good passer, especially off penetration and kick.”
A more generous grader, senior Svi Mykhailiuk went ahead and gave Graham a 100.
“I think every time,” Mykhailiuk said. “He knows where I’m going to be and he just passes to me and I’m gonna make a shot.”
In KU’s second-round victory over Seton Hall, Graham didn’t have his typical shooting touch, but he assisted on 4 of his team’s 9 successful 3-pointers.
Two days earlier, the Jayhawks only made 7 from deep while defeating Penn. Graham assisted on three and made two 3-pointers.
Per Synergy Sports, Kansas has averaged 17.76 points in its first two NCAA Tournament victories off Graham assists alone — 2.4 points for every dish that sets up a basket.
Playing to his roster’s strengths, coach Bill Self has the Jayhawks (29-7) run a lot of ball-screen offense. While Graham is a strong 3-point shooter (his 40.4% accuracy ranks 60th in the country), it often falls on the lead guard to make sure senior Mykhailiuk (45.5%, 10th nationally), sophomore Malik Newman (40.9%) and Vick (37.8%) get the ball in advantageous situations once he begins attacking off the dribble.
“You’ve got to make the defense commit to you and I’ve got to find my guys for open shots,” Graham said.
Occasionally, every step of the process comes easily. On one possession against Penn, Graham turned the corner off a Mitch Lightfoot ball screen, drove to the paint and hit Vick, spotting up nearby in the right corner, for a perfect look.
Other times, Graham has to get more crafty.
In one second-half sequence versus Seton Hall, Graham dribbled left off a pick from Azubuike, drawing the attention of four Pirates defenders as he made his way into the paint. Their resulting rotation accounted for Vick in the right corner, which is where his opponents assumed Graham would look.
Instead he bounced a pass through a gap in the defense, all the way out to the right wing for a wide-open Newman 3-pointer.
Of course, Graham knows how to set up teammates for 3-pointers in every way imaginable.
While facing Penn, Graham misfired on a floater he released in the paint. When the ball rimmed out and found its way back to his hands for an offensive rebound, a little court awareness and quick improvisation paid off.
Graham knew where Vick was when he released his shot, so he easily kicked the ball out to his teammate near the left corner upon securing the rebound. Making the best of his circumstances, the point guard’s hustle set up an easy 3-pointer.
“He’s been a pretty good passer since I’ve known him, even when I came my freshman year when he was at the 2,” Vick said, referring to Graham’s days playing with Frank Mason III. “He’s a good passer.”
Graham’s recognition and vision prove valuable in transition, as well. Off a defensive rebound against Seton Hall, with nine players in front of him on the court, Graham knew KU had the spacing on the break for Newman to get an open 3-pointer on the left wing.
The senior point guard also trusted the shot would drop, raising his hands into the air to signal a successful 3 as Newman went into his shooting motion.
Graham’s familiarity with his fellow guards leads to such trust — as well as to so many accurate passes.
“Just playing with them, game experience, knowing where they like the ball at,” Graham said of how his passes so often generate 3-pointers, “and just tying to get it to them where they can just catch and shoot it before the defense goes out.”
Ahead of Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown with Clemson, in Omaha, Neb. (6:07 p.m., CBS), Vick, Mykhailiuk and Newman have combined to make 13 of 26 3-pointers in the tournament. Vick said their confidence as shooters is growing as a result, “especially with the big fella (Azubuike) back.”
Although Graham missed all four of his 3-point tries against Seton Hall after making 3 of 8 in the first round, his fellow guards have him to thank for much of their offensive impact.
“I would just say he knows how to play,” Mykhailiuk said, “and knows how to pass. He’s been doing this his whole life, so I guess he’s pretty good at it.”
Not even Naismith Award finalists can do it all every single night.
When Kansas star guard Devonte’ Graham’s shots weren’t falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks knew they could look elsewhere and find the scoring they needed to survive.
After Graham knocked down a jumper in the opening minutes Saturday night versus Seton Hall, not one of the six field-goal attempts that followed would drop for KU’s leading scorer.
No big deal. The other three guards in the starting lineup had their floor general’s back. Graham may have only provided eight points, but sophomore Malik Newman, senior Svi Mykhailiuk and junior Lagerald Vick combined for 57 as Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16.
“That’s what we do,” Graham, who averages 17.4 points a game, said matter-of-factly following the fourth single-digit scoring outing of his senior season. “If somebody’s having an off night, somebody’s got to step up, and they did a good job of knocking down shots and being aggressive.”
During a nine-assist night for Graham, he liked the way fellow senior Mykhailiuk (7-for-16 shooting, 2 of 5 on 3-pointers, 16 points, three assists) kept getting to the paint and making plays.
In the final four minutes of the victory that moved top-seeded Kansas on to the Midwest regional semifinals, it was Newman (8-of-14 shooting, 4 of 8 from 3-point range, 28 points, two assists) hitting a must-have 3-pointer, going 8 of 8 at the foul line and finding Mykhailiuk for a clutch 3-pointer that stretched the lead to eight with 1:20 to go.
“Everybody was just being aggressive and being a threat,” Graham said proudly.
Following his fifth straight double-digit scoring game, Vick (5-for-9 shooting, 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, 13 points) echoed the point guard’s reference to an assertive backcourt approach. The 6-foot-5 junior from Memphis scored eight points in a row for Kansas during a 2:09 stretch of the second half.
“We just, all us guards had a talk. We’re the head of the team so we knew everybody had to step up and make plays for each other,” Vick said. “We all just played off each other and were bringing energy.”
Even though Graham went from the 7:57 mark of the first half until the 7:52 mark in the second half without scoring a point for Kansas (29-7), Mykhailiuk said his four-year teammate’s floor game kept Graham as an essential component of KU’s success.
“If he’s on the court he just gives us confidence. He just controls the tempo of the game. He’s a point guard, so he doesn’t need to score, he doesn’t need to get assists,” Mykhailiuk added. “He just needs to do what he does and tell us what to do.”
During the regular season, a low-scoring game from Graham only cost KU a victory once — Dec. 6, when he shot 1 of 8 and scored three points against Washington’s 2-3 zone in a 74-65 defeat. The Jayhawks rolled against South Dakota State in November, when Graham finished with eight points, and they won an SEC-Big 12 Challenge encounter at Allen Fieldhouse with Texas A&M, when Graham’s 2-for-11 shooting left him with eight points.
Every aspect of the regular season prepares college basketball teams for the madness that awaits in March — even if those lessons don’t seem helpful at the time.
As Kansas moves on to Omaha, Neb., for a Friday matchup with Clemson (25-9), Graham’s teammates aren’t exactly worried about his scoring output moving forward. And if they need to pick up the slack in the points column, they won’t have any reason to panic.
“He still did good,” Mykhailiuk said of the team leader’s uncharacteristic showing in the second round. “He did all he could, and sometimes shots are just not falling down. So it’s a part of the game. I bet he’s gonna play better next time.”
Graham followed his three regular-season single-digit scoring games with 17 points against Texas Southern in a home win, 19 points versus Arizona State in a home loss and 16 points in a road victory at Kansas State.
Whenever Udoka Azubuike returns to the Kansas basketball rotation — whether it’s Thursday against Penn, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, or in the days that follow — the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region will essentially roll out an updated version of itself, with noticeable upgrades both in the paint and on the perimeter.
The Jayhawks that won the regular-season Big 12 championship barely used freshman big man Silvio De Sousa.
The KU team that captured the league’s postseason tournament crown in Kansas City, Mo., didn’t benefit from one second of Azubuike.
The Kansas team trying to navigate its way to the 2018 Final Four should be able to throw Azubuike, De Sousa and a suddenly-high-scoring Malik Newman at opponents, possibly as soon as the first round.
Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham said De Sousa, who went for 16 points and 10 rebounds in KU’s Big 12 title game win over West Virginia, and Newman, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, broke through at just the right time.
“Now on the scouting report it’s not just going to be me, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Udoka (Azubuike), Malik,” Graham said. “It’s going to be Silvio — they’re going to have to guard everybody. When you’ve got five guys out there that can be in attack mode it’s hard to guard that. It’s perfect timing and the perfect time for them to get hot.”
Newman, a sophomore guard who transferred from Mississippi State, enters his NCAA Tournament debut (1 p.m. Thursday, on TBS) having just averaged 24 points per game on 15-for-22 3-point shooting at the Big 12 tournament.
His explosive three-day-long performance followed back-to-back single-digit scoring games to close the regular season. Now those ineffective outings seem as if they transpired months ago, instead of occurring in the previous two-plus weeks.
“I feel like I’m playing at a very high level,” Newman said. “That’s just thanks to my teammates and the coaching staff. Those guys had confidence in me throughout the year, no matter if I was at my lowest or at my highs. They’ve just always said, ‘Be aggressive and things are going to be fine.’ So credit to those guys for rallying around me and keeping me high.”
Similarly, De Sousa’s teammates always trusted he eventually would bloom and begin playing to the potential of a five-star prep prospect — even though he arrived in Lawrence during the middle of the campaign, in late December, as an early high school graduate.
“He’s been working so hard in practice,” Graham said of the 6-foot-9 backup forward, who played sparingly for KU in January and February, “and going through ups and downs. Learning all the plays in two months is extreme for him. He’s just been battling and it’s starting to pay off.”
Graham could see it coming. It just so happened everything began clicking for De Sousa when KU needed him most, with Azubuike out of the lineup in Kansas City, due to a left-knee injury. Even before De Sousa averaged 10 points and 9.7 rebounds at the Big 12 tournament, KU’s team leader witnessed the young big “grinding” at practices, arriving early and spending extra time studying video with assistant coach Norm Roberts.
“At any point in time we knew he was going to have a breakout game, and it was the perfect time with Dok being out,” Graham added, “so his confidence should be high. Sky high.”
Newman left K.C. this past weekend impressed with De Sousa the player and the man, praising the freshman’s character and speaking of the way he seemed to respond to any and all adversity with a smile and positive attitude.
“Each day he just tried to learn. Whenever he messed up he would just go ask coach. ‘Coach, what do I need to be doing? Did I do this right?’ Things like that. We knew sooner or later he was gonna turn the corner,” Newman shared. “Not too long ago in the regular season I remember saying that Silvio, he was on the porch, but he’s not in the house yet, as far as him just being comfortable. But I think this tournament, I think it really helped him and let him know that we’ve got confidence in him to go out and play.”
De Sousa brought energy to KU’s frontcourt in the Big 12 championship game, and made impactful plays to help the Jayhawks win without their starting 7-footer, Azubuike. In doing so De Sousa looked completely different from the freshman whom coach Bill Self hesitated to keep checked into games for more than a minute or two as recently as a month ago.
“I’m not gonna lie, when I came here out of high school I knew it was going to be hard,” De Sousa said. “And I just believed in myself and just tried hard during practices. Now, months later, I’ve actually got my confidence up. Today I finally can play a lot better than I used to.”
When Azubuike returns to the floor, Graham thinks Kansas (27-7) will have an even more dynamic team to unleash in the NCAA Tournament, now that De Sousa has proven he can produce and play with confidence.
Whether March brought out the best in De Sousa and Newman or the emerging Jayhawks just have impeccable timing, Newman isn’t ruling out the idea of another KU player stepping to the forefront soon.
“Svi could’ve stepped up, Lagerald (Vick) could’ve stepped up and did what I did,” Newman said of carrying the offensive load this past weekend. “Or instead of Silvio playing how he played, Mitch (Lightfoot) could’ve played like that. I don’t think it’s just me and him. It was one man goes down, one man step up.”
Kansas City, Mo. — This season’s Kansas basketball team is no stranger to getting beat on the glass. So the top-seeded Jayhawks should feel right at home this week at Sprint Center, where they will try and navigate the Big 12 tournament without injured 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike.
Without question, KU’s offense will miss the high-percentage shots Azubuike, out with a medial collateral ligament sprain, provides with regularity. But the Jayhawks also will look like a lesser version of themselves on the boards, because the sophomore big is the best rebounder on a team that oftentimes struggles to finish stops by securing an opponent’s missed shot.
A massive presence in the paint, Azubuike started every game for Kansas (24-7) this season up to this point, and led the team in rebounding 18 times.
KU won the rebound margin in three of its final four regular-season games — +13 versus Oklahoma, +7 vs. Texas and +7 at Oklahoma State. But the Jayhawks lost that battle in 15 of the 16 games that preceded their more successful stretch.
Against Power 5 competition this season (25 games), KU out-rebounded its opponent five times — the other two came against Arizona State and Kansas State.
So what does the team that finished 9th in the Big 12 in rebound margin (-2.9 a game) look like without its best rebounder? To try and get a sense of what to expect at the conference tournament, let’s look at a few of Azubuike’s less impactful games this season on the glass.
Occasionally, Azubuike, who averaged 7.1 boards on the year and 6.6 a game in league action, finished with 4 or fewer rebounds. That occurred four times during Big 12 play:
at TCU: 1 rebound in 13 minutes (fouled out); TCU scored 14 second-chance points — KU won 88-84
at Kansas State: 3 rebounds in 18 minutes; K-State scored 9 second-chance points — KU won 70-56
at Baylor: 4 rebounds in 19 minutes; BU scored 14 second-chance points — KU lost 80-64
at Iowa State: 3 rebounds in 22 minutes; ISU scored 10 second-chance points — KU won 83-77
At TCU, Mitch Lightfoot (7 rebounds) and Marcus Garrett (6 boards) helped carry the load. At K-State, Malik Newman came through with 10 rebounds and Svi Mykhailiuk grabbed 7 more. At ISU, Newman and Devonte’ Graham tied for the team lead (6 apiece).
The Jayhawks lost at Baylor when no one stepped up to fill the void. Mykhailiuk, Newman and Lagerald Vick each finished with 4 boards.
KU’s rebounding numbers — and chances of advancing in the Big 12 tournament — will look a lot worse unless Azubuike’s teammates use his absence as incentive to really attack the glass.
“We’ve been a poor rebounding team by good rebounding team standards all year long,” KU coach Bill Self said Wednesday at Sprint Center.
It doesn’t sound as if Self is expecting Lightfoot and De Sousa to suddenly start rebounding like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson.
“So we’re just going to have to have our guards rebound more,” Self said. “You know, Malik’s done a good job. Svi and Lagerald have got to become better rebounders probably as much as anyone.”
The numbers indicate Kansas should be able to count on Newman to get inside and clear some defensive rebounds. The 6-3 guard, per sports-reference.com, is KU’s second-most consistent rebounder on that end, gathering an estimated 15.6% of available defensive rebounds (Azubuike leads the team with a 20.2% defensive rebound percentage.)
Newman can look for some help on that end from Garrett (15.6%). Lightfoot enters the postseason with a 12.4% mark, while De Sousa, with far fewer minutes to give a better sense of his ceiling, owns a 12.3% defensive rebound percentage.
It’s unrealistic to expect any Jayhawks to match Azubuike’s offensive impact. But, chipping in as a committee of rebounders at Sprint Center will be necessary for them to get by without their game-changing center.
— Udoka Azubuike 2017-18 season game log —
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Less than two weeks ago Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, while discussing a recent uptick in Malik Newman’s play, stated how proud he was of the starting guard’s progress.
The sophomore transfer from Mississippi State was coming off one of his best offensive showings as a Jayhawk, going for 20 points and 5 assists in a rout of Oklahoma. It was Newman’s third time posting at least 20 points and ninth time in double figures over a stretch of 10 games.
Even more encouraging, the 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., looked better handling the ball. Newman had shown he could be more than a spot-up 3-point shooter by driving to the paint to either draw contact, score or set up teammates. In a five-game span that concluded with the OU game on Feb. 19, Newman averaged 4.2 assists and 0.6 turnovers — far better than his current season averages of 2.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers.
While Self appreciates the headway Newman has made to become a more complete player than what he showed back in the non-conference portion of the schedule and Self is happy the shooting guard won the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year award, KU’s coach is hoping for a Newman resurgence with the postseason’s arrival.
In the Jayhawks’ final three games of the regular season, Newman, who is supposed to complement Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham in the backcourt, didn’t always deliver on his potential, and his numbers began trending in the wrong direction.
At Texas Tech, Newman was solid, with 12 points and 5 defensive rebounds, but he made just 1 assist (in the first half) — his lowest ball distribution total in three weeks — and committed 1 turnover. Against Texas in KU’s home finale, Newman provided 9 points, 4 defensive boards and 1 assist, with 1 turnover. He bottomed out in the Jayhawks’ loss at Oklahoma State, with 7 points, 3 defensive rebounds, 0 assists and 3 cough-ups.
After averaging 4.2 free-throw attempts a game in the previous 12 contests, Newman didn’t get to the foul line once in his final two games of the regular season.
“I think he's shown flashes of being, of showing a lot of progress,” Self said of Newman, who averaged 12.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists in Big 12 play, while shooting 43.4% from the field and making 33 of 88 3-pointers (37.5%). “And then I honestly think he's shown flashes of not. I would like more consistency.”
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Newman needs to revive the versatility that made him so valuable in late January and most of February now that it’s March. Newman has stated a number of times how important it is for he and other Jayhawks to help take some of the burden off Graham’s shoulders.
If Newman wants to make that happen on a regular basis in the weeks ahead, he can just recall some of Graham’s advice. The senior point guard said when Newman was at his best recently it was all about taking an assertive approach on offense and trying to reach the paint off the bounce.
“I keep telling him that,” Graham related. “Just look to score. Don’t worry about nothing else. Because once you start thinking you just get all messed up. So just look to score, be aggressive on the offensive end and it just takes care of itself.”
Just more than half of Newman’s shot attempts this season have come from behind the arc. A 36.9% 3-point shooter on the year (37.5% in Big 12 action), spotting up isn’t always Newman’s best play. When he is more diverse with the ball in his hands, it tends to benefit both him and his teammates.
Plus, Self wants Newman contributing in less trackable manners. As you might expect, those areas where the coach would like to see more consistency directly tie to relieving Graham of some of his duties. KU’s 15th-year coach finds himself examining what Newman does on a game-by-game basis to help Graham.
“I’d love to see Malik be able to say, ‘I want to guard the other team's best perimeter player.’ I would love to see us be able to initiate offense with Malik, so Devonte' doesn't have to,” Self said. “And those don't have anything to do with stats, but those are things that would help our team a tremendous amount. He's shown he can do that, but I think he can be more consistent with that.”
Newman’s first crack at a late-season renaissance comes Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., when the top-seeded Jayhawks face either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.