How real is Ochai Agbaji’s promising start?

The highlight play of KU’s blowout win Tuesday night against Milwaukee-Wisconsin came from one of the Jayhawks most up-and-down players.

Ochai Agbaji ran behind the Panthers’ defense on a fast break and threw down a reverse alley oop slam to put KU up 25 in the second half. Agbaji finished the night with 22 points, shooting 6-9 from three.

Performances like that make Agbaji such an intriguing player and the potential catalyst for this team to be a favorite to win it all. However, knowing what he can be at his best often leaves fans frustrated when Agbaji has games where he looks out of it.

Where Agbaji can be so frustrating is when he has games like the one against Dayton in the Maui Invitational Championship. He scored only six points and committed four fouls. He struggled from the field and looked like he just couldn’t figure out how to contribute.

Agbaji had similar struggles against Monmouth and East Tennessee State, scoring eight points and grabbing only five rebounds during both games combined.

Recently though, Agbaji’s game has featured more highlights like that dunk than lowlights. Agbaji has scored 11 points or more in six of the nine games this year, including 20 and 22 points in the last two games against Colorado and Milwaukee, respectively.

He’s been KU’s second best marksman from deep, shooting over 40 percent from three on more than five attempts per game. He’s also filling up the stat sheet in other ways as he’s averaging five-plus rebounds a game, to go along with almost three assists and two steals. He’s also emerged as KU’s second best on-ball defender behind Marcus Garrett.

Whether his start this year is a fluke or the new normal is yet to be seen. Agbaji showed flashes of what he could be last season when he scored 20 points or more in three of KU’s first five conference games. He then quickly fell off and became an inconsistent performer, averaging only six points for the rest of the season.

Kansas needs Agbaji to establish himself as the teams definitive third best player behind Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. His offensive abilities will no doubt be needed at a crucial point down the stretch when Dotson can’t get it going or Azubuike gets in foul trouble. If he can also be consistent as an on-ball stopper, Agbaji and Garrett can become one of the best wing-defender duos in the country.

KU’s next three games include a cupcake against UMKC in Kansas City and two tough road tests against Villanova and Stanford. If Agbaji can keep up his stellar play during that stretch, he’ll cement his spot as the definitive third piece of KU’s big three and Kansas will have taken the final step it needs to be a national title favorite.

Jackson Hodges

I’ve been a KU fan as long as I can remember, which I chalk up to my love of basketball and the influence of my brothers. I am a graduate of Oklahoma State, but I routinely wore my blue in Gallagher-Iba (yes, I was that guy). I grew up idolizing Wayne Simien and Christian Moody, and I think the post-entry pass is a lost art. I hope you enjoy my work.