Although it’s only been three games, Ochai Agbaji’s has provided the spark that this year’s KU team was looking for.
When Bill Self announced that the previously redshirted freshman would be suiting up starting with the January 9 game against TCU, many thought it was just a precautionary measure. Udoka Azubuike had been declared out for the season and it seemed like making Agbaji available was only a depth-saving move. Most were skeptical he’d play big minutes during conference play, let alone contribute during winning time.
However, from the moment he hit the floor, it was obvious that Agbaji wasn’t wearing a jersey just in case, he was in the game and playing because he was good, full stop.
Agbaji’s first game for the Jayhawks put that on full display. He played 25 minutes against a top-25 TCU team, scoring 7 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, and bringing instant energy to the floor.
The next two Big 12 showdowns brought more of the same, and over his first three games Agbaji has averaged seven points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. He’s also shown some prowess from behind the three-point line, sinking a three in two of those three games.
Agbaji plays with a contagious energy, and you can tell that his teammates feel that energy when he’s in. At the same time, his game has a sense of calm and control, shown by the fact that Ogbaji still has not recorded a turnover so far.
It’s evident that Self trusts Ogbaji as well, as he’s played 21 or more minutes in each game, including big minutes late in close conference games. That level of trust doesn’t come often for Self, as we’ve seen him pull lower-ranked freshman quickly and limit their minutes.
Agbaji’s emergence has also given Self more opportunities to tinker with lineups and not force playing time on struggling wings. This is evident in how Self has handled Quentin Grimes the last few games.
The talented freshman has struggled so far this season, save for a few big games here and there. With Ogbaji playing so well, Self can pull Grimes for stretches and put in Ogbaji, giving the Jayhawks more chances to have plus players on the floor.
Ogbaji’s playing time seems to have had the biggest effect on the minutes of Charlie Moore. Moore has not looked good all season, and over the last three games he’s played only four, six, and three minutes, compared to Ogbaji playing 25, 21, and 25 minutes, respectively. That amount is a huge drop for Moore, as he was averaging over 18 minutes per game in the 14 games before.
The drastic fall in minutes for Moore accompanied by the large amounts for Ogbaji only reiterates that he is playing not because Self just needs another body to throw out there, but because he is a talented player who makes a big impact for this KU team.