Some fans are looking for Sam Cunliffe to spark a struggling Kansas team, but they should calm their expectations.
The redshirt sophomore from Seattle will be available to play for the Jayhawks for the first time Saturday when the team travels to Lincoln to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Cunliffe sat out the 2017 calendar year after transferring from Arizona State.
Cunliffe joined Arizona State as a highly touted four-star recruit and played well for the Sun Devils in a small sample size. He played ten games last fall and averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from three.
Many are hoping for Cunliffe to come in and make a big impact for the Jayhawks who have lost their last two games in surprising fashion. However, fans will want to slow their roll, as it’s unclear how much Cunliffe will actually play early on.
Bill Self has shown in the past that he can be hesitant to play newcomers who arrive with high expectations, including transfers like Tarik Black and incoming freshman like Cheick Diallo. One would think that Cunliffe would be an exception to that rule, as Kansas’ depth has been an issue all season. However, the issue is in the frontcourt, not the backcourt, where KU only has two true big men who are seeing major minutes.
If Self does trust Cunliffe to play, he would likely take some of the minutes of freshman Marcus Garrett, who struggled against Arizona State. If that is the case, the 6-foot-6 Cunliffe may have to guard power forwards, much like Garrett has done. Seeing how well Cunliffe can contain opposing big men in his first few games would be a good indicator for how much more he could play down the line.
The offensive end is where Cunliffe could make the biggest impact. He gives this team another weapon, one more guy who could get hot when the rest of the team goes cold on the offensive end. That is a valuable tool to have for this Jayhawk team that has already shown it can get ugly when shots aren’t falling.
For Cunliffe, the first few games will be all about getting his feet wet and finding his rhythm with the team during real game action. The young guard may need some extra time to get fully integrated with the team, but when that happens, he could be a big factor for the Jayhawks.