LAWRENCE — Bill Self has publicly identified his biggest early concern with this Kansas basketball team.
And if the issue that cropped up Thursday persists, that preseason bugaboo may lead to an unexpected regular-season facelift.
KU bigs Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack were largely ineffective in the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ exhibition opener, an 86-56 victory over undersized Division II foe Fort Hays State at Allen Fieldhouse. The trio combined for 20 points on 9-for-16 shooting with 23 rebounds and three blocked shots in the outing, going an unsightly 2 for 8 from the free-throw line.
Most worrisome to Self was how that group defended, particularly the 3-point line — Self noted that of the Tigers’ eight made treys, six were surrendered by Jayhawk bigs, unable to get to the outside.
Self indicated repeat performances could have long-term ramifications.
“That’s the thing that is the biggest concern,” Self said. “We can talk about shooting the ball or anything like that — those guys making shots isn’t going to equate to what the four man on the other team can do making shots. So if Silvio makes one 3 a game and (he and) David combine to make one 3 a game, that’s irrelevant if the other team’s four man is making four.
“So those are the things we’ve got to improve on. They’ve got to improve on the perimeter. It’s really not their fault because they’ve never really had to do it, but we’ve got to get good at that.”
Self’s comments came one day after similar remarks made at Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Mo., where the 17th-year KU coach said he’d increased his expected minutes a four-guard lineup could receive to as many as 20 per game. Injuries, ineffectiveness and ineligibility led to that four-guard look as the team’s primary option across each of the last three seasons.
De Sousa, who as a freshman mostly appeared as a five that relieved Azubuike, is expected to play alongside the 7-footer more often as a junior. However, those plans could also change, Self indicated.
“The big (thing as a four), you’ve got to guard a guard — and he doesn’t,” Self said of De Sousa, who missed his sophomore season due to eligibility issues. “Or Doke doesn’t, and David doesn’t. We may be better off playing (De Sousa) at the five and playing David at the five and rotating those three guys, to be honest with you.
“If those guys can’t defend a four, then their effectiveness would be, ‘OK, let’s play a big zone (defense) or let’s just get ready to play two bigs in the games in which the other team plays too bigs,’ and there will be a few, but not a lot, I don’t think.”
While Azubuike isn’t asked to defend the 3 as often as De Sousa or McCormack when those two are playing alongside him, his play Thursday also left much to be desired.
Of his 7-footer, Self said: “I didn’t think he played well at all.”
“But if you go back and look at Doke’s stats in exhibition games historically, they haven’t been very good,” Self continued. “I asked him, ‘Would you rather play against an SEC team or an exhibition game?’ He said, ‘SEC every day because they’re going to play two bigs.’ (Fort Hays State) played little guys underneath and he doesn’t get angles.”
The preseason Big 12 player of the year, Azubuike finished with five points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes. His first field goal make came on a dunk converted with 5:57 remaining.
“The thing that he’s got to improve on obviously — I mean obviously; it’s very apparent to I think anybody that saw the game — is his energy level is certainly affected by how he didn’t get much done on the offensive end because of the way they played. That can’t happen,” Self said. “You can’t go down to the other bench and say, ‘Would you please play this way?’ But the reality of it is, in most games, they’re not going to play like that and dare you to shoot the ball like (Fort Hays State). That was a smart way to play us.”
Dotson, Moss on the mend
The Jayhawks were without sophomore Devon Dotson and senior Isaiah Moss on Thursday, but Self indicated both are on the mend.
Dotson, the team’s starting point guard, suffered an ankle injury Tuesday and was in a walking boot Wednesday at Big 12 media day. Self said he expects that to be a short-term injury, however, with Dotson projected to return to the court this weekend.
Moss, a senior graduate transfer from Iowa and perhaps the Jayhawks’ most skilled 3-point shooter, is dealing with a tweaked hamstring and could miss the team’s 7 p.m. Oct. 31 exhibition against Pittsburg State.
“Isaiah, we’re hoping he can get on the court this weekend, but it’ll be probably still in a limited capacity,” Self said. “We think he’s a little bit further away from being full-go.”
Freshmen won’t start at MSG
Jalen Wilson drew a start Thursday and Christian Braun started the second half, but don’t expect either to be in the lineup at tipoff when KU opens its regular season with a 6 p.m. Nov. 5 clash against No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“None of the freshmen will start as long as we’re healthy, at least initially,” Self said. “I’m not saying that couldn’t change, but when we go line up to play in The Garden, none of those guys will start. And I wouldn’t think Isaiah would either. It’d be hard to take Marcus Garrett off the floor.
“They will all have roles and all will be part of a rotation, but I think with the freshmen it will be at least early on who is performing the best those particular nights that will probably get the most minutes.”