No. 4-ranked Duke’s 118-84 destruction of No. 2 Kentucky in the second game of Tuesday’s Champions Classic doubleheader certainly shocked the college basketball world.
ESPN color announcer Jay Bilas said repeatedly on the postgame broadcast that he, in fact, had run out of superlatives to describe the Blue Devils and their freshman trio of R.J. Barrett (33 points), Zion Williamson (28) and Cam Reddish (22).
“You know, it did surprise me,” KU coach Bill Self said Friday at his weekly media luncheon, referring to the score of the game that followed No. 1-ranked KU’s 92-87 victory over No. 10 Michigan State at Bankers Light Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“How could it not surprise anybody they could hang 118? That is a lot of points regardless of who you play, especially (against) somebody we know is traditionally terrific defensively. That tells you how good they are and the potential they have.”
The Jayhawks did not stay and watch the Duke-Michigan State contest as a team.
Instead they hurried out of the packed 20,000-seat arena late Tuesday night to fly charter back home after tripping the Spartans.
Self addressed the Blue Devils’ dismantling of Kentucky at Thursday’s practice, but not because the Blue Devils could conceivably ascend to the top spot in the AP poll Monday. Self repeatedly has said he doesn’t care about the polls (except for mailouts to recruits), especially this early in the season.
“I told our guys yesterday we did nothing — nothing — to take away from what people thought about us from a preseason standpoint,” Self said, “but Duke added a lot to what people thought about them as a preseason team. That’s fine. It’s a long season. Certainly what they did — even though I haven’t seen the game — what they did was impressive. That would get anybody’s attention.”
KU junior forward Mitch Lightfoot, who scored four points with one rebound and a block in six minutes off the bench against Michigan State, viewed some of the Duke game on the trip back to Lawrence.
“I thought they played great. (They) have great talent on that team, showed some different things,” Lightfoot said. “It was a good win for them.”
Self said Lightfoot and the rest of KU’s bench players were a huge factor in beating Michigan State in the opener for both squads.
“Even though the depth may not have played as much late game, (the bench) won the game for us,” Self said. “Mitch gets two (fouls) in the first three minutes he’s in. David McCormack (three points, three boards, five minutes) comes in and does great. K.J. (Lawson, four points, six boards, 10 minutes) came in and made a big three and got us six rebounds in limited minutes. Charlie (Moore, one point, three boards, 11 minutes) didn’t have one of his better games, but if you don’t have Charlie, then Devon (Dotson, 16 points, three assists, three steals 34 minutes) is not nearly as effective because you couldn’t rest him.
“Marcus Garrett (four points, two assists, four fouls, 14 minutes) wasn’t Marcus in what he can do. Still his minutes allowed others to rest,” Self added. “Depth played a huge factor in us winning. We played all 10 guys and all 10 contributed in favorable ways. It (depth) was important. I can’t see us doing it as much unless foul problems create that. That was the case the other night.”
Self still could use as many as 10 players in Monday’s 8 p.m. home opener against Vermont.
“I think (planning out the rotation) is not as difficult right now because you know Marcus and Charlie are going to play,” Self said. “Where it becomes difficult is if you don’t have foul problems, how do you play all (five guards) and play K.J.? Do you play K.J. as a sixth perimeter player or play him as your fourth big? I think it depends whether they (opponent) play two bigs or a pick-and-pop 4-man.”
Self continued on the topic of possibly using 10 players for a while: “Without foul trouble, Doke would have played 30 minutes instead of 20,” Self said of Udoka Azubuike, who had 17 points, three rebounds and four blocks in 20 minutes. “We don’t need Dedric playing 38 either,” he added of Dedric Lawson (20 points, 14 rebounds, 38 minutes). “He needs to be a 30-minute-a game guy. David deserves to play, but if Doke is in the game, it’s hard for David and Doke to play together — it’s too crowded a floor (Azubuike is 7-foot, 270; McCormack 6-10, 265).
“We’ll probably want to play Mitch with him (Azubuike) if Dedric is not in the game. Then do you rather play 4 around 1 or 3 around 2? Those are some things we still have to work out. We don’t know positively.”
Self said it was possible the 6-8, 225-pound Lightfoot would have redshirted this season had sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa been eligible from the start. De Sousa is being held out of games as the NCAA and KU look into eligibility concerns.
“He could have. It’s a hypothetical that we didn’t have the luxury to deal with. That could have been a thought, yes,” Self said of Lightfoot redshirting.
Self said it actually was up to Lightfoot whether he wanted to redshirt or not.
“Obviously you’ve got to think about it,” Lightfoot said. “It was an option. I felt like if the team needed me to help us win more games this year, then that’s what I was going to do. I’ve always been more about the team than personal aspirations.”
Self praises David Beaty
Self said he has “texted back and forth” with KU football coach David Beaty this week since Sunday’s announcement that Beaty would be replaced at the end of the season.
“I know he’s real excited for the (KU vs. K-State) game this weekend,” Self said. “He has made that very clear to me and so I’m hoping that the players rally around this situation and perform at a level that gives us certainly a great opportunity to win an in-state rivalry game this weekend.”
“David has been great. You can tell a lot about people when they are going through tough times. A lot of times, tough decisions are made that put people in those situations, but sometimes they are made for the betterment of the big picture. I don’t think anybody around here would say David Beaty is anything less than a true pro in how he’s handled everything.”
Regarding the current KU football coaching search, 16th-year coach Self, who obviously has a lot of contacts nationally, said: “I have not gotten any calls from any coach concerning this position.”
Same lineup as opener
Self said he envisioned using the starting lineup of Azubuike, Dedric Lawson, Dotson, Quentin Grimes and Lagerald Vick for the second straight game Monday against Vermont.
“If we don’t go with the same lineup, it’ll be something that’s transpired between this moment and Monday,” Self said.