Here are immediate takeaways from the No. 14 Kansas Jayhawks’ 75-54 win over the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday night in Sacramento
1. KU is still the favorite to win the Big 12
That early-December stretch was bad. But as he always does, Bill Self tuned up his team. As Udoka Azubuike has improved, the defense has become much more stable and smart.
The Arizona State game was a fluke when it comes to how well KU’s guards can defend. I think if they got another shot at the Sun Devils, things would be much different, especially on the defensive end.
Silvio De Sousa’s case should go final before the end of the week. Billy Preston is (hopefully) on his way, if Bill Self’s comments recently have been any sort of clue. The Jayhawks would probably win at least a share of the conference without either of them, but considering they’re likely to get them both soon, I don’t think there’s any doubt. The Jayhawks will still likely win the conference by multiple games. It’s a good league, but it’s a league full of 5-seeds with one 2-seed. It’s KU’s to lose.
2. Kansas is really good with Udoka Azubuike in the game…
… and a hot mess when he was out. Azubuike was dominant on both ends of the floor, scoring 24 points on 12/15 from the floor, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking two shots in 26 minutes. He scored KU’s first 10 points as the Jayhawks went the final 35 minutes without trailing. After his early burst of points, Stanford changed up its defense to devote so much attention to him down low that it opened up space for KU’s guards to do their thing.
Azubuike’s defense was also great. Facing Reid Travis, the nation’s leader in fouls drawn and one of the national leaders in free throw rate, Azubuike held him to 12 points while committing just three fouls. One of the country’s best at getting to the line took just three free throw attempts. This was mostly the work of Azubuike, who’s positioning has improved tremendously in the last few games. He really is turning into one of the better all-around centers in college basketball. It’s almost Joel Embiid-like how much better he’s getting by the game.
When Azubuike was on the bench, it wasn’t as easy for the Jayhawk offense to establish rhythm. Mitch Lightfoot didn’t score in 13 minutes, so Stanford didn’t have to commit nearly as much effort to contain the Kansas frontcourt. It goes without saying, but Azubuike is Kansas’ most important player, and the difference he makes for his team when he’s on and off the floor is monumental.
3. Svi Mykhailiuk can’t shoot the ball anywhere besides Allen Fieldhouse
The splits speak for themselves.
Svi Mykhailiuk shooting threes at Allen Fieldhouse this year: 28 for 47 (60%)
Svi Mykhailiuk shooting threes anywhere else this year: 10 for 37 (27%)
After going 0-for-5 on threes against the Cardinal, the inconsistency woes on three-point shooting are back for Mykhailiuk, who has struggled to get into a rhythm anywhere besides Lawrence. He did go 7-for-11 on twos, including a handful of NBA-level plays.
Personally, I’m not as freaked out about this as a lot of people are. Kansas has a handful of players who are capable of draining threes as well as Mykhailiuk, and I think it’s more bad luck than anything else. But if we get to February and Svi’s splits on threes are still this lopsided, well, it’s not like Kansas is going to play NCAA tournament games in Allen Fieldhouse.
4. Marcus Garrett is a legitimately awesome defender
Garrett had just one point, two rebounds, and three fouls on Thursday night, but when KU has the scorers that they do, it’s not like the Jayhawks are ever going to lose a game because Garrett didn’t score enough. He eliminated whoever he was guarding throughout the night. His basketball IQ is much higher than most freshmen, allowing him to make smart plays that lead to more steals (he had two of them against Stanford; his 1.5 per game this year are second on the team).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kansas is going to squeak out a 65-63 win on the road at Baylor or at TCU or somewhere, and the first thing Bill Self is going to say in his presser is “we wouldn’t have won that game without Marcus’ defense.”
5. Malik Newman still needs to get going
A late surge against Omaha gave fans hope that Newman was going to hit his stride, but I’m not convinced he’s ever going to get the volume needed to hit it. Entering the year, a lot of fans felt that Newman was a good bet to lead the team in scoring. He still may be the best natural scorer on the team. But he took just seven shots on Thursday night, making three of them for a total of seven points.
I just want to see Newman shoot the ball more. He’s shooting 37% on threes this year; why not take at least four or five of them per game? As underwhelming as he’s been, he’s producing more rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals per game than he did at Mississippi State, and his points per game are only down by 0.9 (11.3 to 10.4). Why not shoot the rock as often as Mykhailiuk or Devonte’ Graham? His numbers are right there with both of them.
6. Frank Mason is good at everything
It’s almost like ESPN did this to us on purpose. Three nights after Dan Dakich’s unpopular commentary at Allen Fieldhouse got a swarming reaction from fans everywhere, Mason got the headset for a few minutes in the first half and sounded like a natural. Oh yeah, then he went out and drained a halfcourt shot at halftime that won a handful of kids some holiday gift cards.
It confirms what we already knew: Mason is good at everything.