Miffed at his Kansas basketball team’s lack of energy in Saturday’s home loss to Oklahoma State, Jayhawks coach Bill Self has decided to change his starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against TCU.
“I think we have a couple of guys (starters) that obviously don’t try very hard, and we’re going to make some changes in our lineup, at least one change,” Self said Monday. “We don’t have a lot of options to do more than that.”
He revealed plans to start sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot over junior guard Lagerald Vick in the 8 p.m. game at Allen Fieldhouse on ESPN2 that matches No. 10 KU (18-5, 7-3) against the unranked Horned Frogs (16-7, 4-6).
Self only mentioned the one bit of lineup tinkering, though he hasn’t been enamored with the play of sophomore center Udoka Azubuike. Self noted that the 7-footer has lacked “quickness, intensity, athletic ability, want-to more than anything else” of late, but would keep him in the starting five.
“It’d be nice to have guys compete and play to their athletic ability. We’re going to try to do that. Mitch certainly deserves the opportunity to play,” Self said in describing the Lightfoot for Vick lineup switch as “long-term.”
“Mitch, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Devonté (Graham) try harder than anybody else,” Self added. “We’re going to get him (Lightfoot) out there. I don’t know that it fixes it at all. I”m not predicting unbelievable results from it, but I will predict the guys that start will try harder than the guys who started last game.”
Lightfoot, who will be making his first career start, has averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game. Vick, who has been mired in a slump that included a 5-point, 3-rebound, 1-assist outing in Saturday’s 84-79 loss to the Cowboys, averages 13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.
“He actually tries to rebound. He actually tries to block a shot. He’ll actually run a guy down in transition and try to make a play,” Self said of the 6-8 Lightfoot. “Mitch is going to screw up. We all screw up. At least he’s going to screw up going hard, which doesn’t guarantee he’s going to play well. I’m not saying that at all, but I know as a staff it’s more comforting to know that the guys out there will try their butt off to try to do what’s best for Kansas and what’s best for our team. We know Mitch is always going to do that.”
Self did not specifically address Vick’s shortcomings on Monday. After Saturday’s game Self said he had “no idea” when asked what was wrong with the 6-5 Memphis native, who has scored in single digits in seven of 10 games since he had 21 points in the Big 12 opener against Texas.
“When you look back to why we’ve lost some games, it’s been attitude. It’s been focus. It’s been preparation. It’s been selfishness. It’s been effort. It’s been energy. It’s been intensity. It’s been competitiveness, or lack thereof,” Self said. “You are not going to have that great for all 23 games. I know that. But certainly we should be better in those areas than we have been, especially with guys that have been around here and know what it takes to win at a pretty high level.”
Self said “in past years, never,” when asked how often he’s had to “coach effort” with a team as late as February.
“There are reasons you don’t play well in February — fatigue, (being) tired, maybe being a little bit selfish from a thought standpoint or maybe thinking about what happens next year. There could be an abundance of reasons you may not play well in certain times of the season,” Self said, “but the fact of the matter is it should never be because you don’t want to play for the guy next to you. Even selfish guys play for themselves, which is better than playing for no one. We’ve got to change that.
“That’s what’s amazing to me is that we’re ranked 10th in the country and we’re talking about effort. Hopefully that’s a positive. If we can tighten a few things up — of course they are the most important things — we’ll have a chance to get better and compete at a higher level.
“I tell our guys all the time it’s not about winning,” he continued. “Winning is important because if it weren’t important you wouldn’t keep score. It’s more about doing things the right way consistently, and then the wins and losses take care of themselves. We’re too hot and cold in those areas.”
Vick has started 22 of 23 games this season. He was replaced by Marcus Garrett in a road victory over West Virginia, and scored nine points with three rebounds in 36 minutes. Since that game, Vick had started five games in a row.
“It’d be nice if we could get some energy from him off the bench,” Self said.
Self said the move would not mean Graham might be relieved at point guard a few minutes per game. Graham has played 40 minutes six games in a row.
“I don’t see how bringing anybody off the bench would give us more an opportunity to take him out. So Lagerald is not coming in or Marcus or Sam (Cunliffe) or whoever it could be come in and could do the things we need (at point),” Self said. “If you watch us play, as soon as Devonté doesn’t bring it up we have a bad possession, even if he’s in the game. He’s a hard guy to take out.
“He (Graham) has to do everything. He can’t come out. He has to be our best perimeter defender. He’s the only guy that talks. He’s the only guy that can get to the foul line driving the ball. He’s got to do a lot. He and Svi have got to do a lot.”
Self said Graham’s bruised knee was fine and he was scheduled to practice Monday.
Meanwhile, as far as starting two bigs, Self conceded “even though we haven’t practiced it much, we’ll try to do that and see what happens at least to start the game.”
It is somewhat risky considering Azubuike and Lightfoot could both pick up early fouls.
“(If) Mitch gets one early and Doke gets one early, even though it doesn’t seem like much, at the 15-minute mark now you put yourself in a situation they have to back each other up the rest of the half,” Self said.
“We’re hoping we can get by with that. Maybe it (Lightfoot’s presence) will help Doke because Doke’s not rebounding the ball, so maybe we’ll have another guy out there that can try to rebound.”
Kansas enters the game tied with Texas Tech for first place in the Big 12 at 7-3. West Virginia and Oklahoma are tied for second at 6-4. The Jayhawks will travel to Baylor on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tipoff.