Jayhawk Insider: Five takeaways from the Kansas preseason
By Brad Gilbert
There were many reasons for Kansas basketball fans to be excited for the 2018-19 season even before the Jayhawks took the floor for their preseason dress rehearsals against Emporia State and Washburn. Preseason accolades coming daily for both the team and its players put Kansas atop the college basketball landscape as it begins its 121st season of action. From the looks of it, these early honors may very well be justified.
The opposition talent in these two exhibition contests may not have been at the level of what the Jayhawks will face in the near future (No. 10 Michigan State looms Tuesday night in the Champions Classic), but there are still many positives that can be taken from the 80 minutes of action Kansas saw during the preseason.
1. These guys can (still) shoot
There were some questions entering this season about whether the 2018-19 squad would be able to keep up with the incredible 3-point shooting pace set by the last three Jayhawk squads. Each of the last three seasons produced teams that posted program record numbers from beyond the arc, culminating in last year’s Final Four squad that hit 391 treys, which came out to an incredible 10 threes per game. While 400 3-pointers may not be in this squad’s future, its first two outings indicated the Jayhawks have no plans in abandoning the outside shot.
Many believe that, with the Jayhawks looking to move back to its traditional high-low offense, the three-ball will not be something KU fans see much of this year. Well, those people might be wrong. In their two exhibitions the Jayhawks went 23-of-56 from 3-point range for a 41.1 percent clip. This number includes a 4-of-4 mark from KU forward Dedric Lawson in Thursday’s win over Washburn. Lawson’s prowess from deep could make the KU offense a nightmare for opposing defenses as the Jayhawks have the ability to utilize his scoring ability from both outside and from inside.
Vick hits 3-pointer to close 1st half vs. Washburn
2. Dedric Lawson is as good as advertised
The preseason hype surrounding 6-9 forward Dedric Lawson appears to be justified following the junior transfer’s first two outings in a KU uniform. Not that anyone should be surprised though. He came from Memphis where he averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game his sophomore season. During his redshirt year last season, Bill Self routinely mentioned Lawson’s name when asked who the best player in practice was. And as a preseason All-American and on the watch list for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, his early performances shouldn’t come as a shock.
Lawson averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ two exhibition outings. Those stats went along with some absurd shooting efficiency, 69.2 percent from the field (18-of-26) and 75 percent from 3-point range (6-of-8). That range from deep gives him a versatility that many opponents will have trouble dealing with.
But what has the KU coaches most excited is Lawson’s passing ability. On his weekly radio show “Hawk Talk” Tuesday, Bill Self lauded Lawson’s talent for moving the ball, saying he is the best passer of the ball during his tenure in Lawrence. That is high praise from a coach that has mentored such passing virtuosos as Aaron Miles, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham.
Dedric Lawson slams home two of his 18 points vs Washburn
3. Kansas doesn’t have one true floor general yet – but that’s not a bad thing
KU fans have been spoiled over the last five seasons, being able to rest easy knowing the likes of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham had the ball in the point guard roll. The skill, consistency and leadership those two First Team All-Americans brought every night, believe it or not, is something most teams don’t have most seasons.
KU saw two different sets of starting guards in its two preseason outings, with freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes getting the call against Emporia State Oct. 25, before sophomores Charlie Moore and Marcus Garrett got the nod Thursday night against Washburn. All four saw nearly identical minutes in those two games as Self tries to determine his frontcourt rotation, and while it may have produced some lowlights (42 KU turnovers in two exhibitions), a four-guard rotation is something that may benefit this team in the long run.
Garrett and Vick connect in 1st half vs. Washburn
4. The KU defense is back to its old ways
In Bill Self’s first 15 years, Kansas routinely put up defensive numbers that ranked near the top of NCAA DI every season. With a rotation that moved to playing four guards around one big man, those numbers began to slip a little over the last two seasons as the Jayhawks’ defensive field goal percentage moved from perennially ranked in the top-10 to 96th a year ago.
Against the Hornets and Ichabods, it appeared KU had regained some of the stout defensive edge Bill Self squads have become known for, holding both teams below 33 percent shooting and under 25 percent from beyond the arc.
One key contributor to these impressive defensive figures is the return of the Jayhawk rim protectors. Udoka Azubuike, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot’s shot blocking abilities were on full display during the preseason, combining for eight rejections in the exhibitions. This evoked memories of Jeff Withey, Joel Embiid and several other recent Jayhawk big men who made scoring in and around the paint a fool’s errand, and thus producing some of the best defensive teams in the Bill Self era. If the KU big men can keep consistently swatting shots, look for Kansas defensive numbers to return to the top of the national rankings.
Azubuike rejection turns into Moore 3-pointer vs Washburn
5. The KU bench will be a major factor in 2018-19
Some of the best Kansas teams over the last 15 years have featured benches that run four or five deep and this squad could be one of them. With it being preseason, Self worked to utilized as many players as he could in large-minute stretches, and it became evident that even the Jayhawks’ bench pieces will be fully able to make an impact any time they are called.
Kansas’ bench averaged almost 30 ppg in its two exhibitions, this after the Jayhawks saw just over 12 ppg come from its reserves last season. This pace won’t likely continue as the KU moves into the heart of the regular season, but the prospect of seeing even 20 per game from the bench on a team that features starters who averaged 19 ppg (D. Lawson), 13 ppg (Azubuike) and 12.1 ppg (Lagerald Vick) in their most recent seasons of competition is an exciting one. It could make the KU offense tough to keep up with.
McCormack comes off the bench for big put-back dunk
Kansas will begin the 121st season of men’s basketball when it opens the regular season with No. 10 Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classis on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Tip-off from Bankers Life Arena in Indianapolis is slated for 6 p.m. (CT) on ESPN.
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