Kansas Remains a Contender Even Without Udoka Azubuike

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2016

Kansas‘ transition to small-ball this season was a product of three primary factors: 1) the Jayhawks’ surplus of quality shooters and ball-handlers; 2) Josh Jackson‘s versatility; 3) a collection of big men who each brought something different to the table but none of whom possesses a well-rounded game. The Jayhawks have been getting by inside with centers Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike sharing the workload, but while a season-ending wrist injury to the freshman Azubuike is a clear setback, it doesn’t dispel Kansas’ status as a legitimate national title contender.

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks' championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks’ championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

For all of Azubuike’s upside as a five-star recruit with an NBA-ready body, he’ll end this season averaging a fairly modest 5.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just under 13 minutes per game. That’s not to say that he’s been a disappointment in his first season, or that Kansas won’t drop a game or two that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but it is to say that a team as talented and efficient as Kansas can replace his level of production. Recall that in the preseason, Azubuike wasn’t projected to play a major role this season, but it didn’t stop many in the national media from tabbing the Jayhawks to win the national title. Yes, Azubuike miss out on chances to develop in the throes of Big 12 play, and his presence in the pain will be missed against bigger teams like Baylor and West Virginia, but his rawness also made him prone to turnovers (26.6% TO), fouls (8.7 fouls per 40 minutes) and struggles at the stripe (38% FT).

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One Burning Question: Will Kansas Really Play Small?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2016

Perry Ellis was one of the most recognizable players in college basketball over the last two seasons. This isn’t news, but anyone who has ever played in a pickup game could empathize with Ellis’s opponents in how they struggled to contain his lethal combination of footwork, soft touch and accuracy. The jokes about Ellis’s age were every bit as much about what he did with the ball in his hands as they were about his status as a college mainstay in the one-and-done era. As the curtains open on the 2016-17 season, Kansas will miss the All-American’s scoring ability, but something people haven’t mentioned nearly as much is that Ellis’s rebounding ability, while not as prolific, will need to be replaced as well. While the Wichita native was no Thomas Robinson, he did average 6.4 rebounds per game over his final three seasons and finished among the top ten in the conference in that category in each of his last two. The degree to which Kansas’ frontcourt helps Landen Lucas replace that production will strongly impact Bill Self’s efforts to deliver his second National Championship to Lawrence.

The paint could be a lonely place for Landen Lucas in 2016-17. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Kansas opens the 2016-17 season without a clear-cut complement to Landen Lucas down low. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

As our Chris Stone wrote last month, sophomore Carlton Bragg will get the first crack at filling Ellis’ void. At 6’10”, he still needs to prove that he can get into position to retrieve caroms off the glass and initiate Self’s lethal transition attack. Bragg didn’t do a very good job of that in Tuesday’s exhibition, but we’ll find out very quickly against Duke and Indiana if this was just a matter of adjusting to a new role or if it’s something to be more concerned about. If Bragg gets exposed early, don’t be surprised to see transfer Dwight Coleby get the next shot down low. A transfer from Mississippi, Coleby has good experience and, at 240 pounds, a bigger frame than Bragg. The potential drawback with the redshirt junior, though, is that he has been slow to recover from ACL surgery last year. As a coach who values players who make defensive hustle plays and aren’t shy about mixing things up in the post, Self likely won’t have much patience if he senses that Coleby isn’t completely recovered or that he’s not as comfortable testing his body as much as Self thinks he could.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Udoka Selects Kansas, Match-Up in SoCal, Stock Risers, & More

Posted by Sean Moran on January 29th, 2016

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Monster Center Goes With Kansas

It’s par for the course when four-star center and future McDonald’s All-American Udoka Azubuike throws down a rim-rattling dunk. While his game can be loud, his recruitment was certainly quiet. On Thursday evening, the 6’10”, 270-pound center chose Kansas over UNC and Florida State on ESPNU. In a recruitment that was kept extremely close to the vest, neither college coaches nor recruiting experts knew where the Florida standout was headed. With the commitment, Azubuike becomes the second Jayhawk commit in the class of 2016 in addition to three-star forward Mitch Lightfoot and provides immediate depth in the front-court. Given his size, Azubuike is a load to handle down low and is a beast on the low blocks. He’s capable of ripping the rim down with two-hand dunks but is limited offensively outside of the paint. While playing for the top Nike AAU team this past season in the Georgia Stars, Udoka averaged 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

2. Big Time Match-Up In Southern California

A lot has been written this year about the Ball brothers and Chino Hills, the current No. 1 team in the country. On Saturday they will face a tough test against Bishop Montgomery (CA) who is currently the No. 2 ranked team in the state. The Chino Hills machine is a run-and-gun, offensive juggernaut that is led by Lonzo Ball, the No. 14 ranked player in the country and future UCLA Bruin. Along with Lonzo, his younger brother Li’Angelo is also headed to UCLA. Much different than his brother in body frame and playing style, Li’Angelo isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep and can also punish defenders down low with his tight end body. Bishop Montgomery is led by junior four-star guard Ethan Thompson, who is the brother of Oregon State guard Stephen Thompson Jr. Also, 6’4” sophomore shooting guard David Singleton is receiving a bevy or PAC-12 interest so far in his young career. While the gym will be packed for this match-up, fans will also be treated to a nice appetizer before with two highly touted sophomore. 6’8” Shareef O’Neal (yes, Shaq’s son) and 6’5” Jules Bernard suit up for Windward (CA) and will give fans a glimpse of the future in the state.

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Sweet Seven Scoops: Top Frontcourt? Izzo’s Top Class, UNC’s Late Night & More…

Posted by Sean Moran on October 23rd, 2015

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Who Has the Top Frontcourt?

Who has the top frontcourt in college basketball? Gonzaga? Maryland? North Carolina? Kentucky? Iowa State? A debate could be made for a variety of teams, but the most talented frontcourt in terms of future NBA potential exists down in Phoenix where two of the most talented high school players in the country are teammates at Hillcrest (AZ) Prep. First, it was Marvin Bagley III, the top sophomore in the country who left Corona del Sol (AZ) after his freshman year to play at Hillcrest. Then it was Deandre Ayton, who left Balboa Prep in San Diego to do the same. At 6’10”, Bagley is a smooth and skilled lefty forward who is easily the top prospect in the Class of 2018. Ayton, to up the ante, was named as the top prospect in all of high school basketball by Scout. He injured his knee in the spring and had an underwhelming summer on the AAU circuit, but with great size and length, Ayton already has NBA scouts drooling at his physical tools. He put together a 17-point, 18-rebound performance against UNC last year in a scrimmage, and keep in mind that he was only a prep sophomore at the time. Bagley and Ayton still have considerable time to pass in the high school ranks, but if they were on a college campus right now their names would be mentioned among the discussion of the top college frontcourts in America.

2. Locked and Loaded in East Lansing

Tom Izzo currently has two five-star recruits and two four-star recruits committed, giving Michigan State arguably the No. 1 class at this point. It wasn’t all that long ago that Izzo had struck out swinging on three highly regarded Chicago-area players in Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyler Ulis. The sky seemed to be falling on Sparty then, but Izzo pulled a few trademark March upsets and got the Spartans back to the Final Four last year and ready to contend for another Big Ten title again this year. In this year’s class, Izzo went back to his bread and butter of in-state recruiting. Miles Bridges, a top 10 prospect from Michigan, chose the Spartans over Kentucky and Indiana, and Cassius Winston, a four-star guard, hails from Detroit. Izzo also nabbed five-star Josh Langford, a 6’5” wing from Alabama, and 6’8” four-star forward Nick Ward from Ohio. Langford in particular is the ideal Izzo recruit, given his toughness and style of play. He outplayed several other highly regarded players at the USA Developmental camp during the first weekend of October, and while things were briefly looking bleak for Michigan State one year ago, the future now couldn’t be much brighter.

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