Kansas’ basketball team, which opened the 2016-17 season with 10 eligible scholarship players, on Saturday had just nine available for duty because of Carlton Bragg’s indefinite suspension from appearing in games.
Seven Jayhawks logged 16 or more minutes in an 89-72 victory over Nebraska at Allen Fieldhouse. Freshman forward Mitch Lightfoot played 5 minutes and junior forward Dwight Coleby 1 as the Jayhawks improved to 9-1 heading into Saturday’s game against Davidson at 6 p.m. at the Sprint Center.
“We probably are playing right now … with the suspension that we are dealing with we are probably playing with 7 1/2 ,” KU coach Bill Self said on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “But I think the best number for us would be eight with the ninth playing just a few minutes.”
Self started four guards — Frank Mason, Devonté Graham, Josh Jackson and Lagerald Vick — as well as forward Udoka Azubuike on Saturday. Landen Lucas came off the bench as a frontcourt player, while Svi Mykhailiuk was used as a reserve guard. Lightfoot was the only other big to play first-half minutes.
“The way we are doing it now,” Self said, “is we are playing five perimeter players in four spots. So the reality is if you could stay out of foul trouble, certainly we’d play two post guys the lion’s share of the minutes. That would be seven that’d be playing a ton, and then you could have your third post guy (be) a guy that would play due to foul situations or whatever.”
Self said there’s no magic number to use in a rotation, though “eight or nine” has worked well for his teams in the past.
“Each situation is different,” he said. “When I was at Illinois, we had four really good bigs so I didn’t care about fouls. We played extra aggressive. When a guy got two fouls the first half, he basically took himself out, which was great for team chemistry because it forced us to play everybody.
Self added: “If you have games in your nonconference that you can play and win somewhat comfortably, you have a tendency to play your younger kids more to give them more of an opportunity to see how they could fit in, which would give you a better idea once you get into league play, because in league play I don’t know if your bench shortens, but I do think you probably play your most productive players a couple or three or more minutes than you would in nonconference play.”
KU has two scholarship players sitting out this season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. They are: Malik Newman, a guard out of Mississippi State, and Evan Maxwell, a forward out of Liberty University.
Self on standout guards
Self on the leadership of senior Mason (20.5 points per game, 55 assists to 21 turnovers), who on Monday was chosen Big 12 player of the week for the second time this season, and junior Graham (13.7 points per game, 47 assists to 17 turnovers):
“I think they are serious,” Self said. “This sounds like coach-speak and everybody says it … it means an awful lot to them. They’ve been close but they haven’t quite gotten there yet to obviously what their goals would be and they are running out of time. Devonté is a junior; Frank is a senior obviously.”
KU reached the Elite Eight last season, finishing one step shy of the Final Four.
“They know this needs to be the year, especially for Frank,” Self said. “I see their approach being one of more seriousness, not that they weren’t before. But you can just tell by the thought process and how they are trying to keep other guys thinking the same thoughts. They are very serious about what is going on.”
Jackson faring well
Self on the teleconference was asked about freshman guard Jackson, who averages 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds a game with 34 assists and 25 turnovers.
“He’s about as consistent as anybody on our team,” Self said. “He’s been great. The first two games he was hamstrung by fouls (nine fouls combined vs. Indiana and Duke; games in which he combined for 24 points). He probably didn’t get a chance to produce like he’s capable of producing.
“He’s done everything well except shoot free throws (54.7 percent). If he would shoot free throws at an 80 percent clip as opposed to 55 percent clip, he’d be a guy that would be averaging 17 a game and even more people would be talking about him. I think his mental approach and how he’s handled the attention and things like that have been about as good as anybody I’ve been around.”
Coaches on road recruiting
KU’s coaches are doing some recruiting during finals week.
Rivals.com reports that KU coaches on Sunday watched Trevon Duval, a 6-2 senior guard from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who is ranked No. 3 in the recruiting Class of 2017 by Rivals.com; Hamidou Diallo, a 6-4 senior shooting guard from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, who is ranked No. 10; Moses Brown, a 6-11 junior forward from Archbishop Mulloy High in New York, who is ranked No. 17 in the Class of 2018; and Brandon Slater, a 6-5 junior guard from Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va., who is ranked No. 44.
On Monday, KU was to watch Isaiah Todd, a 6-9 freshman forward from John Marshall High in Richmond, Va. On Tuesday, KU is expected to watch Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a 6-9 sophomore forward from Bishop Miege, who is ranked No. 18 in the Class of 2019. On Wednesday, KU is expected to watch Perry Cowan, a 6-4 sophomore guard from DePaul College Prep in Chicago.