Kansas head coach Bill Self put a major emphasis on toughness after the Jayhawks were outrebounded in their first exhibition game last Tuesday against Washburn.
Self replaced Carlton Bragg in the starting lineup with Lagerald Vick, either in an effort to motivate the sophomore Bragg, or to get his team used to playing smaller lineups.
Either way, it worked. Kansas won the rebounding battle 49-31, but not because of anything Bragg or Vick did. It was freshman big man Udoka Azubuike who provided the Jayhawks with some much needed interior rebounding and defense in Kansas’ 104-62 win over Emporia State.
Azubuike finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Seemingly every one of those points came off of an alley-oop. He looked much more comfortable on the floor after fouling out in just eight minutes on Tuesday.
It was certainly crucial for the Jayhawks that Azubuike stepped up, as sophomore forward Carlton Bragg struggled for the second straight game, putting up just two points and fouling out in 15 minutes of action.
Vick, who replaced Bragg in the starting lineup, struggled on the offensive end, taking just four shots and making one in 25 minutes. However, junior guard Svi Mykhailiuk picked up the slack, pouring in 16 points on 2-4 from long range.
Senior Frank Mason lead all scorers with 17 points and 5 assists, while his backcourt mate Devonte’ Graham chipped in 10 points and 4 assists. Freshman-phenom Josh Jackson added 11 points, including this huge dunk:
It’s hard to take too much away from any exhibition games, seeing that these are games Kansas should handily win every time. However, these contests still give a nice look at what the team might look like, and allows head coach Bill Self to experiment with things he might want to try once the games start having meaning.
With that being said, it looks like the four-guard lineup might actually be a thing for the Jayhawks this year. Self has traditionally almost always had two big men in the game at all times, mostly because strong big men is a pretty essential component for his high-low offense.
But the frontcourt for this Kansas team isn’t as strong as it has been in the recent past. There is no Thomas Robinson. There is no Perry Ellis. There is no Jeff Withey. Most people assumed Carlton Bragg would take on that role, but he’s looked extremely iffy in these two exhibition games.
I would still be pretty shocked if Carlton Bragg didn’t start at the four this season, or at least for most of it; but if these exhibition games are any indication, we may be seeing a lot of Josh Jackson at that spot this season for the Jayhawks.
At 6’8″, I’m pretty confident he can bang inside with other college fours. It also allows Self the ability to switch a lot of ball screens on defense, and on offense, it provides tons of spacing for both Jackson and Frank Mason to drive to the hoop.
You can look for KU’s small lineups in their regular season opener, this Friday, November 11th against Indiana in Hawaii.