After a slow start to the season, Malik Newman found his footing in conference play and is taking home hardware.
The sophomore came into the season with high expectations. The five-star prospect joined Kansas as a transfer from Mississippi State and was expected to team up with Devonte’ Graham and pick up right where last year’s dynamic backcourt of Graham and Frank Mason left off.
The result was something much less spectacular, as Newman struggled early in the season. Although he was scoring, many of his buckets would come in garbage time and Newman just couldn’t seem to fit in offensively. He especially struggled against KU’s Power Five opponents, scoring only two points against Syracuse, eight points against Washington, and going scoreless against Nebraska.
Newman struggled even more defensively. He had trouble guarding in one-on-one situations and opposing guards blew by him way too often.
The hard times continued into the early part of conference play, coming to a head in KU’s third conference game against TCU. Newman played only 15 minutes against the Horned Frogs, logging only one point and four fouls. It was probably his worst performance of the season, but it also seemed to light a fire under the young guard.
Newman played 34 minutes, scored a career-high 27 points, and grabbed eight rebounds against Iowa State just four days later in KU’s next game. At that point, the real Malik Newman stood up and became the player fans had been looking for all season.
That game against the Cyclones kicked off a 16-game run to end the season in which Newman averaged 14 points per game. His streaky scoring ability was also on display as he scored over 20 points in four of those games.
He also improved dramatically as a defender and became the second-best perimeter defender in the starting lineup behind Graham. Newman now seems impervious to drives and switches seamlessly with Graham when opposing guards cross paths.
On Sunday, Newman was recognized for his stellar play and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the year. It was a well-deserved achievement for Newman, as he showed real improvement throughout the season and was a key player on the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title-winning team.
Newman will try to roll his success into the postseason as KU tries to make a deep run in March. The past few years, Kansas has been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in large part due to struggles on the offensive end. Newman’s ability to get hot and score at will could be the perfect solution for that problem.