Scrubbing all combinations involving two big men in the Kansas basketball lineup would be almost disingenuous to coach Bill Self, because the strategy contradicts presumed roster strengths.
Senior center Udoka Azubuike is a 7-footer who presents a pressing need to feed underneath, while on pace to record the best shooting percentage in Kansas history. He averages 15.1 points on 79.7 percent shooting, and a team-high 7.6 rebounds.
Yet as the No. 2 Jayhawks (6-1), coming off a championship at the Maui Invitational, prepare for a home game against No. 20 Colorado (7-0) on Saturday, Self knows that two other bigs not only deserve, but demand, looks.
“What we’re trying to do is try to be the best team we can be come March,” Self said, “and we’re not going to be a good team unless we can play two bigs at least a good portion of the time. But certainly so far we’ve been better with four guards.”
In an average of 17.1 minutes, 6-10 sophomore David McCormack is averaging 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Another big, 6-9 Silvio De Sousa, is a player Self wants to reward after he sat out all last season because of an NCAA disciplinary suspension.
Yet as the coach acknowledged, the Jayhawks are simply more fluid with four guards. The matchup problems created when junior Marcus Garrett has space to drive and senior Isaiah Moss has openings along the 3-point arc make it easier to free Azubuike for passes underneath.
In both the semifinals and finals in Maui — against BYU and Dayton, respectively — the Jayhawks used combinations with two bigs for fewer than 10 minutes en route to victory.
Self took his team’s defensive strengths guarding the arc into account in the game plan to use four-guard sets against Dayton. However, the Flyers netted 16 treys to only four for the Jayhawks, who survived a 90-84 overtime scare.
“You’re not supposed to win that game, but we actually dominated inside the arc,” Self said. “We have got to make people play inside the arc. I mean, that’s got to be our goal defensively is make them play inside the arc, because … even when we’re not making shots, if it becomes a two-point game, we’re going to be hard to deal with.”
Colorado poses an unusual matchup problem.
Junior Tyler Bey, at 6-7, is considered a four-man but is capable of spreading the floor, even though he has led the Buffaloes in rebounding each game. Bey averages a double-double, 14 points and 12 boards, leading the team in both categories. Bey ranks second among the Buffs in assists (2.4) behind cat-quick point guard McKinley Wright (3.7).
“Defenses now are collapsing on (Bey), whether it’s on the post or on his drives. He’s gotten better at finding the open man,” said Colorado coach Tad Boyle, who played at Kansas from 1981-85. “We have to simplify the game and make easy baskets and not make home runs.”
None of Colorado’s opponents had shot better than 40.8 percent before Loyola-Marymount shot 51.9 percent Wednesday, when the Buffs won 76-64 by using a late 15-1 flurry. Wright and junior swingman D’Shawn Schwartz scored 16 points each to lead Colorado against Loyola-Marymount.
Colorado will be playing in its first road game of the season, having won four at home and three at neutral sites.
–Field Level Media