Before KU begins its tournament run Thursday against Penn, let’s look at four questions for the Jayhawks going into the big dance.
How much does Udoka Azubuike play?
Azubuike has been out since last week after he was injured in practice as KU prepared for the Big 12 Tournament. Right now, it looks like Azubuike will be available against Penn, but Bill Self has said that he hopes to only play him in an emergency situation in that opening game. Although KU was able to win the Big 12 tournament without Azubuike, the big man will be needed at full strength if the Jayhawks hope to make it past the Sweet 16. Kansas needs to take care of business and put Penn away early, ensuring some valuable rest for Azubuike.
Which LaGerald Vick does KU get?
Vick has been the most up and down player for the Jayhawks, and as he goes, Kansas seems to follow. He was arguably KU’s second best player early on, but fell off once conference play ramped up, leading to him being temporarily removed from the starting lineup. Vick’s play picked back up later in the year, but he was still inconsistent and seemed to go through phases in the game where he was just out of it. Vick’s play is the catalyst for this team. If KU is in San Antonio in early April, it’ll likely be due to an aggressive and motivated LaGerald Vick.
Will Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa play at the Big 12 Tournament level?
Newman shined in the Big 12 Tournament, averaging 24 points and being named the tournament’s most outstanding player. De Sousa broke out in KU’s three tournament games, putting up his first career double-double in the championship, scoring 16 points and grabbing ten rebounds. If Newman and De Sousa continue playing at such high clips, Kansas goes from very good team to great.
Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that they keep up those fabulous numbers, but that’s okay. What KU needs from Newman is good three-point shooting and solid one-on-one defense. For De Sousa, it’s all about bringing energy off the bench and being a reliable backup for when Azubuike sits. If they can do those things, KU should be able to make a deep run.
Can KU avoid going cold from three?
This question becomes more prevalent for Kansas as it relies on the three point shot. This year, KU has shot the tenth-most three pointers in the country and relied on them to pull away from opponents in the second half. Look no further than last year’s Elite Eight loss to Oregon for an example of what happens when outside shots aren’t falling. KU shot 20 percent from beyond the arc in that game, and the result was a 14-point season-ending loss.
This team does have a post presence they can throw it to when those shots aren’t falling, but Azubuike’s injury and constant foul trouble make it risky for Kansas to count on him when the threes aren’t falling. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that point and KU is splashing in threes all the way to a National Championship.