Here’s something crazy to think about, yet entirely true as Kansas prepares to take on Missouri in Sunday’s charity game at the Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks are about to face the most talented player they’ll see all year. In an exhibition game. Some five months and 11 days before the college basketball season concludes in April.
For KU, this will be more than just the quick renewal of a rivalry that ended five years ago. It also will be an early defensive test against Michael Porter Jr. — someone who should challenge a KU frontline that is thinner than years past.
“I think it could give us a confidence boost,” KU guard Malik Newman said. “To go out and play against a player of his type and just try to contain him … just have fun, rely on one another.”
And make no mistake: The Jayhawks have plenty of respect for Porter, a 6-foot-10 forward who is listed as the projected No. 1 pick on NBADraft.net.
When asked about Missouri’s roster, Newman said he didn’t know much, but “I do know of Michael Porter.” KU forward Mitch Lightfoot labeled Porter as a great player, while Self said he’d “shocked” if Porter didn’t end up as a top-three NBA pick.
“I think it can help us build,” Newman said, “that we’re playing a player like Michael Porter so early.”
It’s a perfect chance for KU to see how it stands facing an elite post player/wing with only three scholarship bigs.
Self said Friday he wasn’t planning on having his team do film study of Porter, and because of one-time rules, there’s much more wiggle room Sunday with each player allowed seven whistles before a foulout.
Still, it’ll be a good case study … and potentially great teaching tape. Self says — basketball-wise — he’s most interested Sunday to see how some of his younger guys perform. How will center Udoka Azubuike handle the responsibility of the team needing him to play well? And will Billy Preston continue his progression with 18,000 fans around in a higher-pressure environment?
There’s also this: How will a guy like Preston do defensively against Porter? This won’t be the last elite player KU faces — Texas’ Mohamed Bamba and Texas A&M’s Robert Williams are also projected top-eight picks on NBADraft.net — and Self should be happy his inexperienced guys are getting the equivalent of a driving simulation before being asked to go 75 on the highway with the stakes higher in a few months.
The downside with this particular scrimmage seems low. If Self’s guys defend well, he can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the team might be more prepared than he thought.
And if they get dominated or foul out? It’s just another moment for the coach to create a motivational ploy, just as he’s done so often in the past.
Those sorts of messages began Thursday. Self told reporters he didn’t think his team knew how to play hard yet. He said his guys weren’t tough enough, and they also didn’t know how to compete.
Self is smart enough to know those words will be read and also taken to heart. Along the same lines, if Porter scores 30-plus, it would hurt KU players’ egos … but would also do so without harming the team’s record. Self would immediately have his players’ attention, focusing them on their deficiencies in a way that games against Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State can’t.
The most important part about Sunday is the money raised for charity. $1 million, and perhaps more, will do a lot to help those most affected by the natural disasters this year.
There still will be basketball, though. And you can bet that Self will be looking to Sunday as a chance to improve his team for the long haul … whether the Jayhawks play well or not.