Lawrence is used to seeing a reloaded roster, but the Jayhawks may be rebuilding it after losing lots of veteran talent.
Now three games into conference play, the Jayhawks’ lows this year have been enough to have the fanbase scratching their heads. Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending hand injury leaves Bill Self once again strapped for front court depth. When forced to play small ball last season, Self could rely on guards Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman. He does not have the same luxury with this year’s roster.
Graham, Mykhailiuk and Newman all shot over 40 percent from three last season at a high volume. In comparison, only Devon Dotson and Lagerald Vick are shooting above 36 percent, and Dotson has attempted just 28 three-pointers. Kansas has dropped both of their road games, only making a quarter of their threes against the Sun Devils and 30 percent against Iowa State.
Before the start of the regular season, I outlined questions about leadership, three point shooting, balance and distractions. Early in conference play, the Jayhawks are desperate for a leader, lacking shooters and struggling to fill roster holes. Begging the question: is 2019 more of a rebuild than a reload?
In fairness to the Jayhawks young roster, which is a mere 27 percent upperclassmen, previous floor generals were shaped into leaders over the course of their tenure. Frank Mason and Graham were both notably unheralded recruits who transformed into Jayhawks greats by the end of their careers. They benefited from watching and learning from other veterans before being called upon. While Kansas competes in the blue blood arms race for one-and-done talent, Self still relies on experienced players.
Quentin Grimes emerged in Ames, scoring 19 points and committing only two turnovers. In contrast, the team’s lone senior Lagerald Vick continued his roller coaster year, turning the ball over a team-high seven times and contributing six points. Dedric Lawson, KU’s most developed talent, has displayed a propensity to disappear in games, and lacks the fiery personality of a natural leader.
While it is too early to speculate on the streak or KU’s prospects for March, the Jayhawks lack of identity is highly problematic. Without Azubuike’s instant offense and dominant length, Kansas will have to become more precise, more aggressive and improve defensively if they want to stay atop the Big 12. Otherwise, this season may feature more development for the future than short term success.