Kansas’ Backcourt Leads the Way But Questions Abound Inside

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2016

The biggest question facing Kansas as it entered this season centered around the team’s frontcourt. The loss of stalwart Perry Ellis was going to loom large until Bill Self could turn his rotation of big men into a serviceable enough unit to balance a supremely skilled backcourt. Now two weeks into the season and with the toughest part of the Jayhawds’ non-conference schedule in the books, that question remains unanswered. It may even be blurrier than it was in October. In addition to newcomers Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike struggling to earn consistent minutes in Self’s rotation, veteran Landen Lucas has regressed and sophomore Carlton Bragg has yet to find a rhythm as well.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Needs to Solve Its Interior Issues but the Backcourt is Excelling (USA Today Images)

Kansas’ frontcourt issues came to a head last night despite a 65-54 victory over Georgia at the CBE Classic in Kansas City. Bulldogs forward Yante Maten roasted every big man Kansas threw at him, dominating the back line with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Lucas, who expertly used his intelligence and size to pull away with the starting center spot last season, was saddled with foul trouble, his latest in a string of lackluster outings. Azubuike, a freshman who logged an inspiring performance against Duke just a week ago, played only five minutes. Collectively, the Jayhawks’ four big men were a mess: five points on 2-of-5 shooting, seven rebounds and 15 fouls, although Coleby gave admirable energy and effort in his first extended run of the season, blocking four shots and grabbing four rebounds. Kansas’ struggles to defend Georgia without fouling led to another rare sighting from a Self-coached team: the deployment of a 2-3 zone. To the team’s credit, the defensive maneuver keyed a decisive second-half run, but that may have had more to do with the fact that it wasn’t a look Georgia had prepared for. These were extenuating circumstances indeed.

Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they have an incredibly skilled, smart, versatile and, most of all, effective backcourt that can help the team as it figures things out down low. Frank Mason continues to build his early case for National Player of the Year, but even Self admitted after Tuesday’s game that he’d like to find him more opportunities to rest. Devonte’ Graham, who was one of the Big 12’s most underrated players last season, has also improved. Though he wasn’t a poor defender last season, he’s been noticeably more engaged at that end of the floor and is flashing an effective pump-fake to create better driving lanes on offense. The Jayhawks’ real game-changer, Josh Jackson, has so far been as good as advertised and is getting better by the game — the freshman repeatedly collapsed Georgia’s zone, creating open looks for Mason and Graham. He also called his own number several times with a repertoire of floaters and bank shots, knowing his team could ill afford charge calls to go along with the fouls that kept his frontcourt teammates on the bench.

Kansas now heads into the holidays with some time to recover from the hectic pace of the season’s first two weeks. As Mason, Graham and Jackson lead the way, the Jayhawks need to use the next month to find some answers in the post if they ultimately want to realize their National Championship potential.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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