Kansas isn’t the only college basketball squad that’s void of depth early in the 2017-18 season.
“I look around the country and there are a lot of teams only playing seven guys. Three or four are on the bench that they choose not to play. We’re choosing to play everybody. It’s a little bit different,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday in previewing Tuesday’s nonconference clash against Toledo, which will be at 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
“You go back and look at some of Duke’s teams they’ve had over time. They were going to play six or seven guys the entire time. We’ve always been a team up until last year that played to our depth and our bench and that hasn’t been the case at all here the last two years.”
There’s a simple reason KU has a seven-man rotation. The Jayhawks currently have seven eligible scholarship players.
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Coincidentally, Toledo (3-2) also has generally been using seven or eight players per contest. The Rockets have had nine players appear in games this season.
“When you watch us play,” Self said, assessing the performance of the select seven, “when we play with two bigs we don’t play near as well as when we play with four guards.”
He’s used his only available scholarship bigs — Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot — together during the second half of games.
“The ball doesn’t move (with two bigs in at the same time). Maybe defensively and rebounding we can be as good,” Self said. “I do think you get kind of used to playing a certain way and playing with the same (seven) guys, you probably benefit from that every bit as much as it’s a detriment if things don’t go well.”
With a short rotation, he doesn’t have to worry about keeping players happy with their minutes.
“In the Big Ten (when Self coached at Illinois),” Self said, “I had a coach tell me one time, ‘Hey you’ve got it figured out.’ I said, ‘What do I have figured out?’ He said, ‘You tell your big guys to bully everybody, foul the (heck) out of everybody because you know if they don’t foul there’s no way you can keep them all happy.’
“When you recruit highly-recruited guys, they deserve to get out there. If we had our full complement of players, counting our redshirts, trust me, there’d be 10 playing right now trying to get our rotation down to eight or nine by conference play.”
KU’s seven scholarship players have clicked offensively.
The Jayhawks (5-0), who average 94.2 points a game, on Tuesday will be trying to score 100 points in their third straight game for just the second time in school history.
The only time KU scored 100 points in three straight games was in 1990-91, when Roy Williams’ Jayhawks beat Rider 103-51, Texas-San Antonio 101-69, and Hawaii-Loa 111-58 in consecutive performances.
“I’m pleased the majority of the time on how the ball moves. I’m pleased for the most part, other than Kentucky (a 65-61 win on Nov. 14), we’ve gotten the ball to the open man. We’ve also played through Udoka more. I think that’s a positive offensively,” Self said.
“When you play this small you need to shoot well (KU has made 53.1 percent of its shots; 43.0 percent on three-pointers). For the most part we’ve done that. Defensively we’ve just been average at best (allowing 62.2 points per game on 35.2 percent shooting; 27.8 percent threes). We don’t rebound like we’re capable of (KU averages 42.4 boards to foes’ 34.4). The key to us rebounding well is going to be Lagerald (Vick) and ‘Doke.’ They’ve got to do better than they’ve been doing on the glass.”
Self is still hoping to add up to three players to bolster the rotation during games.
Freshman forward Billy Preston has yet to play in a regular-season game as KU looks into the financial picture involving a vehicle he’s been driving this school year.
“There has not been anything new on that transpire to my knowledge,” Self said Monday afternoon, noting he had not spoken with any administrators prior to afternoon practice.
Silvio De Sousa, a 6-9 senior forward out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is expected to join the squad some time in December. De Sousa, who is on track to graduate in December, needs to have his standardized test score match favorably with his performance in core courses in order to be eligible.
“His actual last final is after that game,” Self said of the Nebraska game on Dec. 16, which is the first game of the second semester. “I don’t know how soon they can turn the paperwork and everything. I believe if we think everything is good he can come here but not be certified, which means he couldn’t be in a game but could come here (and practice).
“The only game he could technically play (in the nonconference season) would be Stanford (on Dec. 21). Getting all that paperwork done before the Stanford game, that’s not going to happen,” Self stated. “Best-case scenario, we’re hopeful to have him for our conference play when we get back from Christmas (Dec. 29 at Texas). That’s the best-case scenario if everything goes well.”
Self believes last year’s midseason transfer, former Arizona State guard Sam Cunliffe, will be eligible for the KU-Nebraska game.
“For that to happen he has to complete his finals and grades be turned in to make sure he’s eligible for second semester,” Self said. “In years past we’ve been able to do that, request that information (quickly). I assume the Nebraska (game) unless something goes haywire.”
As far as Tuesday’s game … Toledo, which has four double-digit scorers, could receive a spark from former Lawrence High standout Justin Roberts, son of KU assistant Norm Roberts. Justin Roberts has played 30 minutes in four games. He’s scored three points with two assists against no turnovers.
“I saw Pascale (Justin’s mom) earlier. I said, ‘Pas, it’s just a game. What are you so nervous about?’ ” Self said, smiling. “I do think their family is probably going to be a little uptight tomorrow wanting us to do well but wanting their son to do great.”
Jayhawks No. 2
KU is ranked No. 2 in both The Associated Press and USA Today basketball polls this week. Duke is No. 1.
“Do we deserve it? Probably not,” Self said. “It’s so early I don’t know who exactly does deserve it. (Teams) haven’t had the chance to play the quality competition you need to (fully assess squads). I think we’ve played pretty well. The teams that we beat are better than what the score indicated.”