Of course, it’s always a concern when a big man like Udoka Azubuike goes down. There won’t be many players who can do as much damage as a seven-foot, 17-year old freshman, and an injury of this kind will be detrimental to Azubuike’s young career, for sure. As for Kansas, they’re losing 12 minutes and 4.4 rebounds per game, which, in hindsight, might not seem to be a big deal on paper. Because they still have guys like Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg, and Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas’ frontcourt is taking a hit, but not as massive as a hit as some people are thinking.
Last Tuesday, Udoka Azubuike tore several ligaments in his left wrist, requiring him to undergo season-ending surgery. Bill Self told the media that doctors are expecting him to be 100% ready to go by summer time. Self told KUSports.com this about the huge blow that Kansas faced: “We all feel bad for Udoka. He has worked so hard and has put himself in a position to have a tremendous impact on this year’s squad. This is a blow to our team, but I know that we will rally around this and Udoka will work hard to ensure a full recovery.”
With Azubuike out for the rest of the season, Landen Lucas will be inserted back into the team’s starting five. Lucas has found himself in just shy of 19 minutes per game, scoring 5.7 points and pulling down 5.6 rebounds. He’s coming off of just a four-point performance against UNLV last Thursday, but for what it’s worth, so is Devonte’ Graham. Lucas did, however, grab a season-high of 12 rebounds on Thursday in 27 minutes. Because of the similarities between the two, Landen Lucas, who is remarkably undervalued, will fill in nicely for the remainder of the season.
Though he’s struggled through non-conference play, Carlton Bragg will need to step his game up in the absence of the team’s starting big man. Bragg, in over 16 minutes per game, is the team’s highest scoring big man at 7.2 points per game. Bragg had just two points and six rebounds against UNLV last week, but is slowly showing signs of improvement from that early-season funk that he started in.
One player who will be affected the most because of Azubuike’s injury is Mitch Lightfoot. Because he was behind two other players, Lightfoot really hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase his talent. Last season at Gilbert Christian High School in Arizona, Lightfoot averaged 22.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Currently, Lightfoot plays in 4.5 minutes per game, with no real shot to get into a rhythm. With Azubuike out, Lightfoot should seen an increase in minutes, and a chance develop with some of the other freshmen on the team.
Obviously losing a player of Azubuike’s size and strength is a huge loss. But because of the depth with Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg, KU’s frontcourt should be able to hold up just fine. With such a guard-heavy lineup, Kansas only needs a group of big men that are serviceable, and who can rebound the ball. For now, scoring should be the least of their concerns down low, as they’ve got multiple guys who are capable of scoring 20 points almost every game. Finding a guy to replace that big body down low, but who can also grab rebounds will be key in succeeding during conference play this season. Azubuike’s injury is troubling for sure, but it’s not even close to the end of the world.