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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Big 12 Freshmen Update: The Names You Know & The Names You Should

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

Last season was like a dream for the Big 12, as junior and senior-laden teams produced some of the best basketball the conference has seen in its 20-year history. Seven teams made the NCAA Tournament, and unlike years past, multiple members other than Kansas made it to the second weekend and beyond. With much of that experience from those teams now gone, many Big 12 teams are looking to their freshmen to lead this season. There are a few schools with freshmen who did not make the cut for several reasons. Those particular teams either did not have compelling enough freshmen just yet (i.e., Baylor and West Virginia), have good contributors who haven’t played in every game (i.e., Iowa State’s Solomon Young) or don’t have any scholarship freshmen at all (Texas Tech). Let’s take a look at the top eight freshmen in the league to this point in the season.

I doubt a better picture of KU super freshman Josh Jackson in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I doubt a better photo of KU super freshman Josh Jackson exists in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Jarrett Allen, center, Texas (10.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 29.7 MPG): Allen being on this list is both a blessing and a curse. The Round Rock, Texas, native currently ranks first in rebounds and blocked shots on the team and is third in scoring. However, Allen has to this point logged better field goal shooting (52.2%) than he has at the charity stripe (51.7%). Still, the season is young and this freshman is a rising star for the Longhorns.
  • Udoka Azubuike, center, Kansas (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 13.7 MPG): Azubuike is the latest in Bill Self’s successful recruit-17-year-old-basketball-prodigies program. His measurements — an energetic 6’11” big man with a 7’5″ wingspan — are what get NBA scouts excited, but it is clear that the freshman has some game. Self clearly is buying in, given that Azubuike has started each of Kansas’ last two games. Prepare for more impressive numbers from this precocious big man after we ring in the New Year.

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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.

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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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Big 12 M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 29th, 2016

big12m5

  1. Some breaking news hit our timeline last night as West Virginia big man/key to “Press Virginia” Jonathan Holton has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Rumors of a suspension have been floated around Twitter on Thursday but it was officially confirmed by Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Casazza went on to say that the team knew about the suspension as early as Wednesday and even held practice on Thursday. Holton’s potential three-game suspension comes at a suboptimal time for the Mountaineers – in the next eight days, Bob Huggins’ team will play games at Florida and Iowa State and home against Baylor.
  2. Also yesterday, 2016 blue chip center Udoka Azubuike announced he will be playing basketball for Kansas next fall. Two days ago, the Jacksonville, Florida native said he wanted to make his college decision “really soon” and, well, he did. Azubuike, a five-star recruit according to Rivals and ESPN, chose the Jayhawks over North Carolina and Florida State. He was also named to the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games. KU appears to have itself another pretty good big man.
  3. It turns out Iowa State will indeed have Jameel McKay available for Saturday’s game at Texas A&M. McKay left the Kansas game on Monday night with a knee injury and did not return. Doctors did not detect any structural damage, but did find some tendinitis in his left knee. It’d make sense to expect McKay to play limited minutes, but at the same time, the Cyclones are going to be decidedly shorthanded whether McKay is in or out of the game. The thing Cyclones will need a healthy McKay in the long run.
  4. Oklahoma president David Boren continued his crusade, spreading forth his desire of Big 12 expansion. Boren, who serves on the Big 12’s expansion committee, has also expressed a desire to roll off the Longhorn Network and turn it into a Big 12 Network (good luck with that). Expansion is almost always football-driven, but nonetheless will have ramifications in basketball and other sports. If the likes of Boren have their way, the hope is the Big 12 will end up a better league. It’s up to them if they want to make a move.
  5. Tomorrow’s third annual Big 12-SEC Challenge will feature the second Ole Miss-Kansas State tilt since the series began during the 2013-14 season. “It’s a chance for us to put an exclamation point on our non-conference record as a league,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “For us, it’s a huge game. We have a chance to beat a good, solid team in Mississippi and end up with a very good record.” I mean, sure, I guess? Weber is right. It is a huge game for confidence purposes, the protecting-your-homecourt agenda and the Wildcats’ fading at-large hopes. But I’m not sure a win over an inconsistent team in Ole Miss is going to make much of a huge difference in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Still, he’s right. They need this one.
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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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