Most college basketball fans are talking lineups this time of year. Which players will perform best together? And who will emerge as starters, both now and in the future?
Kansas men’s basketball supporters, meanwhile, might have a more fascinating question when looking the opposite direction.
Who, exactly, should the Jayhawks put on the floor in a blowout?
The answer isn’t as simple as many other years.
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KU has eight scholarship players available this semester (and nine once Sam Cunliffe is cleared as a transfer in December), which left coach Bill Self with a decision in last week’s 100-54 exhibition victory over Pittsburg State. The Jayhawks were up by 50 late in the second half, and forward Billy Preston wasn’t available for precautionary reasons after he hit his head against a defender.
In that game, Self chose Marcus Garrett, Chris Teahan, Clay Young, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike for his team’s final minutes. The group included one starter and three rotation players, and also the team’s two remaining big men.
“A little different lineup,” Lightfoot said with a smile. “I’m not sure we’ll see that lineup a lot, but it’s kind of fun to be a part of it.”
The thing is, KU just might have to see a group similar to that late with the roster crunch it faces.
Charlie Moore and brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson have to sit out this season because of transfer rules, while Jack Whitman’s departure in July left the team down a scholarship player. KU also lost two walk-ons from last year while only adding one, so even the end of the bench is lighter than normal.
So is Self comfortable with his team only having 10 guys he can play first semester?
It appears so.
“The only way we would take somebody else is if he was big, right now, and could definitely defend in practice better than what Teahan or Clay could, because Dedric’s going to be playing inside,” Self said Monday. “Of course you’d rather have some big bodies in practice, there’s no question about that. But I’m not going to take a guy just to take a guy.”
Self left open the possibility for an addition for “somebody that falls in our lap.” He also said if the team had additional injuries, there were people they could call, likely from the walk-on tryouts that just took place.
“But I’m not interested in doing that,” Self said. “We’ve taken some guys in the past out of the student body, and it’s worked out well for us. And we’ve taken some guys in the past that it hasn’t worked out so well for us.
“We don’t need another guard. He’d have to be a big guy.”
Self seemed to answer the question based more on practice than game considerations, but even so, he didn’t appear overly concerned with the potential risk at the end of routs.
It all takes us back to the original question, though: What five should KU play Tuesday when — most likely — the game gets out of hand against Fort Hays State?
Teahan and Young will obviously be in there, and Lightfoot and Garrett seem like safe bets considering they played late last week.
But who’s the final player? Billy Preston is the only non-starter left, and he might be a one-and-done. Lagerald Vick? Self has already called him one of the most underrated players in the Big 12.
Svi Mykhailiuk? He’s a second-round pick in NBADraft.net’s latest 2018 mock.
The debate seems like a decent water-cooler discussion with no clear answer.