Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small Ball

Neal Mask
Ranked second in the nation as I write this, the University of Kansas basketball team is just one injury away from being a .500 team.  Kansas hasn't been this thin in the frontline since Neal Mask and Randy Canfield constituted what passed for big men.  Oh, that was the 1971-72 team that featured All-American Bud Stallworth scoring 25.3 points per game.

I can't quite get my head around this year's version of Jayhawk basketball.  K.U. hasn't played a seven man rotation in more than 25 years.  Yes, that will change assuming big man Billy Preston isn't damaged goods due to his choice of automobiles and with the addition of Sam Cunliffe at mid-season.  Then there's the promise of Silvio De Sousa who could also join the team at mid-season which would help bolster the roster of big men.  But we have to live with what Kansas is here and now.

It's all about the guards.  It's hard to believe that Kansas can lose an All-American guard in Frank Mason and look even better in the backcourt,  You could see how much Kansas missed Mason's physicality when the Jayhawks played Kentucky.  Mason could drive the lane and draw fouls with artful ease.  This year the Jayhawks will live by the three and die by the three.

Devonte Graham will surely be an All American this year as Mason was the year before.  He looks more comfortable running the point, not forced to defer to anyone this season.  Syl Mykhailiuk is finally showing what seemed so promising when he was a 17-year-old freshman.  Syl is shooting the ball from beyond the arc with authority and doing a decent job of driving the lane.  He still can't play defense to save himself.

Lagerald Vick continues to show amazing progress for such an unheralded recruit.  His length makes him a defensive marvel, he can shoot from the three ball with ease and he's amazingly competent ball handler.  Vick along with transfer Malik Newman makes for a lethal four guard Jayhawk line up.  Newman isn't the best shooter from the outside but I love his mid-range shooting ability.  The four guards of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Vick and Newman can run teams into the ground.

And then there's the surprise of this young season, freshman guard Marcus Garrett.  He can fit into any of the open spots vacated by the other four guards when they catch a breather on the bench.  Amazingly, he may be the best defender of the bunch.  Garrett has shown no ego when it comes to the offensive end, he only takes the shots that are given to him.  The selflessness is amazing.

Inside is where the Jayhawk's are ripe for exploitation.  The massive Udoka Azubuike can dunk and throw up a weak baby hook shot.  He has almost no offensive tools.  While he clogs the paint and can block shots, he doesn't appear to understand the concept of blocking out for rebounds.  Let's put it this way, he's no Greg Ostertag.

Mitch Lightfoot is Azubuike's lone back up for now.  At just 6'8" he reminds me of Dave Magley.  For those of you who are saying Dave who, Magley was a heralded recruit who became a star his senior season on a bad Kansas team in the early 80's.  Magley was a wing player and like Magley,  Lightfoot is better suited out on the floor but he's doing the dirty work that's being asked of him.

Adding transfer Sam Cunliffe at mid-season only means that Kansas will be able to run and run and run.  If DeSousa is allowed to graduate from high school and joins the Jayhawks then K.U. will get some much needed inside beef for what is sure to be a tough conference run.

Something tells me Billy Preston will never play for Kansas.  After the Cliff Alexander episode and with all of the fallout surrounding the Adidas scandal I think Preston could be gone by the end of this semester.  I hope I am wrong, because with Preston, the Jayhawks will be primed for another run to the Sweet 16 and dare I dream, a trip to the Final 4.

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