As always seems to be the case, there were both good and bad parts from KU’s opening win over Ft. Hays State, with Kansas struggling early before pulling away to win by 30, but it’s even tougher than normal to take anything away from last night’s game given Kansas was without Devon Dotson and Isaiah Moss.
In the end, the boxscore looks relatively close to what you would expect in an exhibition game, but the game itself perhaps revealed some worrying signs.
Chief among those worrying signs is the fact right now Kansas can’t play two bigs together and expect to score a lot. Neither Silvio de Sousa nor David McCormack can make a perimeter jumper, and moreso neither team forces a defense to respect his perimeter jumper or his ability to put the ball on the floor. That resulted in Udoka Azubuike getting swarmed over and over again, limiting him to just five points.
A few people on twitter made this point last night, and I agree with most of it, that Azubuike is better when facing other big men rather than a bunch of small guys. Smaller players are able to poke the ball away from him or disrupt his timing too much, whereas he is generally quicker than the big man guarding him, and also more powerful. The good news there, however, is Azubuike isn't likely to be guarded by many 6-5 guys this season. I also think we should pump the breaks a bit on declaring it impossible for Azubuike and De Sousa to play together considering both are coming off essentially one year layoffs.
In a macro sense, it was a positive the Jayhawks took 33 of their 73 shots from behind the arc, despite making just 11 of those threes. Adding in some Isaiah Moss and Devon Dotson attempts should make that percentage creep up (of course on the flip side Marcus Garrett probably isn’t going 4-7 very often). But Kansas needs to be able to shoot those threes in order to help the spacing inside and get Azubuike as many 1 on 1 touches as possible.
One positive we saw with the big lineup, and one that I think will carry over to Kansas playing other division 1 teams, is the offensive glass. The Jayhawks rebounded over 40 percent of their misses, using both the raw size of their big men, but also some nice hustle and length from their wings, both of which I think they’ll be able to take advantage of throughout the season.
Defensively, the Jayhawks put the clamps down on FHSU, limiting them to just nine field goals in the second half. KU blocked four shots and nabbed eight steals, although again the problem with playing two bigs reared its head a bit with FHSU getting too many open looks from three. It’s one thing to have length and to be able to challenge shots, but KU’s big men didn’t do a good enough job either reacting to open men behind the arc or getting out there to challenge in time. That is going to have to change if De Sousa and McCormack want a lot of playing time
Some notable individual performances
- As previously mentioned, Marcus Garrett was 4-7 from three, and added 5 assists to 0 turnovers while playing his customary defense. Obviously the shooting won’t be there every night, but if he can control the ball like he did last night, KU will feel better about giving Devon Dotson some rest in January and February so he’s ready for March
- I said this last night, but I am saying it again: I am officially starting the Christian Braun bandwagon. He might not be a significant contributor this year, but he’s going to be a valuable piece down the road. He was just 3-8 from the field, but had 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 0 turnovers in just over 20 minutes. More to the point, he was virtually always in the correct spot and also virtually always made the correct pass or play. Unless I missed one, I believe he was the only freshman without a long 2-point attempt last night, which gives him some bandwagon bonus points.
- Ochai Agbaji led the team in scoring with 21 points, and overall looked more comfortable and ready to make an impact than he did as a freshman. I don’t think he will lead the team in shots or anything, but I do think he’s more ready to be a significant contributor than I thought prior to the season.
- Both Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson struggled to put the ball in the hole, but both provided some positives as well. Enaruna in particular was adept at getting to the basket, and once he puts some muscle mass on his frame should be lethal taking the ball to the basket. Wilson, meanwhile, doesn’t quite know where to go yet but provides a ton of energy and hustle, and once the game slows down a bit should be ready to contribute as soon as Big 12 play.
- The lone blemish for me was David McCormack. Big Dave didn’t really back up his strong play to finish last season, going just 2-6 from the field, though he did add 8 rebounds in roughly 18 minutes. It’s debatable whether Silvio and Azubuike can play together, but McCormack essentially can’t play with another big man due to how limited his range is, and his defense hasn’t progressed much from last year (although it is just one game, to be fair).