Game day - No. 7 Kansas vs. No. 25 TCU

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) cruises in for a bucket past Oklahoma guard Jamal Bieniemy (24) during the first half, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12) vs. No. 25 TCU Horned Frog (12-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12)

Time: 8 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas

TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

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Keys for Kansas

1. No excuses

Tonight marks the first opportunity to see just how the Jayhawks look without Udoka Azubuike in the mix.

Sure, Kansas has played five other games — and most of a sixth — without its 7-foot center, but in those games, the Jayhawks operated with the mindset that Azubuike would be back and that they were merely biding time until his return.

This will be different. This time they know he’s done for the season and it should be very interesting to see which players try to elevate their game as a result. It also will be interesting to see which of those Jayhawks who try to step up succeed in doing so.

Replacing Azubuike will be a process. It won’t happen overnight nor will it come down to the work of one player. But this first opportunity will go a long way toward establishing the Jayhawks’ confidence in playing without their biggest offensive weapon.

“It will have to be (a collective effort),” KU coach Bill Self said Monday. “We played without Dok for four games and actually did a pretty decent job during those particular games, but not great. We labored against New Mexico State but played pretty good against Villanova. The lineup certainly didn’t cost us the game against Arizona State, even though we lost.”

2. Added time for Lightfoot, McCormack

While the rest of the season figures to feature a bunch of four-guard lineups — just as it did with Azubuike out with injuries earlier this season — the Jayhawks still have a couple of capable big men in place to take some of his minutes.

On Monday, Self said the Jayhawks still would play two bigs at times this season — adding, “We have to,” to that declaration — and that means that freshman David McCormack and junior Mitch Lightfoot will get a chance to play.

Both have experience playing meaningful minutes in games this season, with Lightfoot holding the edge overall, both because of his age and the fact that he filled in for Azubuike when he was out of the lineup last March.

“(Our) low-post presence has been eliminated in some ways,” Self admitted. “But not totally. We've got to get David and Mitch where they are doing a good job in executing what we are trying to do. And we can do that.”

With Lightfoot, that’s a little bit more of a known commodity. He’ll play hard, hit the glass and use his mind to help keep things running smoothly on both ends.

With McCormack, who has settled in a little during recent weeks after a rough start, the increased playing time could be just what he needs to take the next step. Whether Self and the rest of the roster will be able to allow him to play through mistakes, therein giving him the time he needs to embrace his new role, remains to be seen.

“No question he can do that,” Self said of McCormack becoming a factor. “David has a different skill set than Silvio (De Sousa, who remains sidelined pending an eligibility review), but I think that he can certainly do some things to stabilize (the frontcourt). You know, you are not going to throw it to him and score as many points, but he can certainly do some things to stabilize the interior, which he is more than capable of doing.”

3. Don’t just settle for 3s

Iowa State showed the world what it can look like when a team swarms Dedric Lawson when Udoka Azubuike is not on the floor.

And even though he recorded another double-double against the Cyclones, Lawson’s outing was one of his most inefficient of the season.

TCU knows that and the Frogs also know that Lawson can carry a team if you let him. So expect Jamie Dixon’s team to follow at least a part of Iowa State’s blueprint by keeping a crowd around Lawson and forcing Kansas to get offense elsewhere.

Normally, that would mean the solid-passing Lawson kicks it out and it’s bombs away from 3-point land. But when you combine KU’s poor 3-point shooting with the fact that TCU ranks 11th nationally and is holding opponents to just 28.1 percent shooting from 3-point range, it’s clear that the Jayhawks are going to have to find other ways to score.

That could come in transition. That could come by attacking the rim off the dribble. That could come by getting to the free throw line. And it could be a combination of all of that.

But if the Jayhawks are content to try to force 3-point shots as a reaction to what’s happening with Lawson, this one could venture into the danger zone rather quickly.

Mega Matchup

KU’s young backcourt vs. TCU’s experienced guards

Fresh off a game against what Self called one of the best backcourts in the country, the Kansas guards will face another stiff test in a talented and experienced TCU backcourt at Allen Fieldhouse.

Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane all have been around for years and have had their share of success against the Jayhawks, as well.

They’ll take the experience edge into this matchup and it’ll be up to KU’s young guns Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Garrett and others to show they’re up for the challenge.

“I thought that Iowa State had, by far, the best guards we’ve played against this year,” Self said. “By far. (But) Robinson, statistically, is better than anybody. He's averaging nine assists a game, the ball’s in his hands and he’s really, really fast. He’s experienced. Then Fisher can do some things; score the ball and he’s really been effective, And Bane is having a good year. Bane is their leading scorer, if I’m not mistaken. Their guards are good. If you look at the matchup on paper, you may say that that may be a situation that, obviously, we need to be concerned with.”

Fisher, the junior from Memphis who played on the AAU circuit with KU’s Lagerald Vick, has battled injuries throughout his career and did not play in TCU’s Big 12 opener against Baylor. But Self said he thought it was because Fisher sat out after getting his knee drained and added, “We expect him to play.”

It’s not just their scoring prowess that makes the TCU guards dangerous. As a team, they rank fourth nationally in assist rate, at 68.1 percent, meaning their baskets come off of assists nearly 70 percent of the time. That number is led by Robinson’s individual mark of 44.5 percent, which means his team scores off an assist nearly half of the time he’s on the court.

That rate ranks Robinson fourth nationally and first among major conference players.

His presence, which killed KU two years ago in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, along with the fact that KU will be looking to get even more production from its guards in the wake of Azubuike’s injury, make this backcourt showdown as big as any factor in this one.

Tuesday night, during his "Hawk Talk" radio show, Self said freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who had planned to redshirt, would play vs. TCU and moving forward, adding another layer of intrigue to the backcourt battle.

Jayhawk Pulse

Last weekend delivered a tough 24 hours for the Kansas basketball program, which took a beating at Iowa State last Saturday night and followed it up by learning about the season-ending injury suffered by Azubuike the following day.

The Jayhawks’ reward for getting through that? Another matchup with a Top 25 just a few days later.

While any Big 12 battle — home or away — is a big deal this time of year, the fact that the Horned Frogs come to Lawrence with just one loss and a ton of experience make this one just a little bigger because it has the chance to set the tone for the type of team KU will be without Azubuike.

It also gives Kansas a fairly quick opportunity to put that 17-point road loss to Iowa State in the rearview mirror.

Asked this week about the mentality of the team in the days after the loss to the Cyclones, McCormack needed just two words to answer.

“Bounce back,” he said. “I wouldn’t say (playing a tough TCU team is) the best way to forget about it, but I think it’s a way of moving on from it. But I don’t think we can get completely past it.”

As for Self’s take, that had much more to do with the Jayhawks living in the reality of the moment.

“It is certainly a big game,” Self said. “But we don't need to say that we are shorthanded anymore, we are not shorthanded. This is who we got. So we don't need to say, ‘Well we don’t have Dok, we are playing shorthanded.’ We are not playing shorthanded. This is who we got. So we need to change our mindset that what we need to do in order to be successful. And I think what we need to do to play well isn’t any different than what we have been stressing all along. I just think it is magnified now a lot more. We’ve got it in us. I mean, there is no doubt about that. This team has got a lot of pride, we got this.”

Kansas leads the all-time series with TCU, 16-2, including a 12-2 mark with both being members of the Big 12 Conference.

KU’s lone losses in the series came in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Big 12 tournament, without Josh Jackson, and in the infamous Topeka YMCA game in Fort Worth, Texas, where KU was outplayed from start to finish in a 62-55 loss in 2013.

After the game, Self criticized his team’s play with one of the most memorable quotes of his career.

“It’s the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was here,” Self said that night. “I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA in his first couple years.

The Jayhawks have won 12 of 13 games against TCU since that 2013 loss and are considered 6-point favorites in Las Vegas.

Probable Starters

No. 7 Kansas

G – Devon Dotson, 6-2, 185, Fr.

G – Quentin Grimes, 6-5, 210, Fr.

G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 190, Sr.

G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 195, Soph.

F – Dedric Lawson, 6-9, 235, Jr.

No. 25 TCU

G – Alex Robinson, 6-1, 180, Sr.

F – Jaylen Fisher, 6-2, 195, Jr.

F – Desmond Bane, 6-5, 215, Jr.

F – JD Miller, 6-8, 235, Sr.

F – Kevin Samuel, 6-11, 250, Fr.

Comments

Steve Zimmerman

Add to your 3 keys:

- less turnovers
- guard 3pt better or we'll be in soup again
- play Ochai and let him fly!!!

5 months, 1 week ago

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Tony Bandle

plus:

* don't let Garrett shoot anything but lay ups!!

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

floaters, he can.

5 months, 1 week ago

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W Keith Swinehart II

Self and Garrett will make that decision.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Dane Pratt

In any sport, whenever a key player goes down the rest of the team is expected to step it up and make up for the difference. It will be interesting to see if that happens.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Robert Brock

Good luck defending the Frog guards. Robinson, Fisher, and Bane are going to drive our rookies crazy.

It would help if Lagerald did something positive.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Barry Weiss

should be a tough game, with KU winning by less than 10.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

i'm afraid it's the other way around. Their bigs can shoot, too.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Nathan Scholl

I hate to sound negative, I certainly respect his skills, but has anyone else noticed that Dedric Lawson seems almost afraid to dunk the ball? I realize he has a finesse game and that his ugly outing at ISU had a lot to do with them swarming him, but wouldn't him attacking the rim with force be a huge asset to our team? The missed bunny layups would turn into energy inducing rim rattlers or at worst free throw opportunities. We know he can shoot ft's relatively well, and shooting them would just get his stroke going even more. Maybe he's just not an above the rim guy, but he seems to have the tools. Thoughts?

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

He needs a bit of coaching. That's all. Coaching staff can develop him through simple repetition, muscle memory workouts. Legs bending, bouncing, quick hard-dribbling, ball-grabbing, squatting/quick jumping. I have yet to see our skill/player development coach produce a better meaner big. Look at Lightfoot, Ellis, Lucas, Withey.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

How can we be this far into the season and you guys still not understand that the Lawson's are not "athletes"? Dedric participated in the draft combine 2 years ago and was by far the worst athlete there. He was significantly worse than Niang from Iowa St (who was known to not be a good athlete and never dunked). Lawson's standing vertical was something like 22" which is on par with your average small rural school white kid. He can dunk because he's tall with long arms but it is nowhere near as easy as it is for most players so expecting him to be this explosive, above the rim finisher is just not going to happen, especially with defenders on him and without a running start.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

I disagree. Every basketball player is an athlete. How much athleticism - it depends on the gene AND various ways to develop it by way of training. Dedric CAN develop himself to be more athletic than he is right now, through proper training, repetition. Please contact me for further discussion.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Fine, he's an athlete comparable to your standard white high school kid, not a division 1 basketball player. He's genetically not a "fast twitch" athlete (nor is his brother) which means he'll never be anywhere near an elite athlete by basketball standards where things like the ability to jump, run quickly, change directions quickly, etc. are cherished. He's a slow twitch guy so he plays an "old man's game" and is amazingly proficient at it.

Regarding training, if only he knew of any trainers that were recognized as one of the best in the country that could help him extract all the athleticism he has available in his body. You got any ideas where we could find her? <--- That's a clue ;)

In other words, he's been training his ass off since he got to KU, the before/after photo of his body he posted on social media before the season is testament of this. Yet through all of that, he's still not a great athlete by division 1 basketball standards.

You want an example of what fast twitch vs slow twitch genetics effects things? I'm in my mid 30's, white, never had a day of professional athletic training in my life, haven't been in what I'd consider "great" shape in probably 13-14 years, have dealt with an ankle injury for almost 3 years that's prevented me from being able to play basketball because I can't run or jump more than a few minutes before pain shows up and lasts a week (so while I'm not overweight my legs are not strong right now) and yet I have a 1" higher standing vert right now standing up off the couch with no warmup (I just measured it) than Dedric had 2 years ago as an elite athlete in the prime years of his life. The ONLY thing in my favor is I'm genetically fast twitch (as my 23andMe DNA test proves). Genetics can't be overcome with training. He was born to be a distance runner or other "slow twitch" dominated sport but he chose basketball and is amazing at it despite his genetics holding him back from being what he should be (a lottery pick).

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Let's gather facts rather than speculating. I will believe you that Dedric lacks of ACTN3 gene only if I see his DNA test result myself. Have kusports.com investigate. I was going to use myself as an example, too. Self-taught, watching youtube, never knew I had some ACTN3 in me. Never bother taking any DNA tests. I managed to develop variety of moves that I never knew I could do before. I still can't dunk, but I'm happy with my development through months of training. Now, I'm training 5th-8th kids and have seen some transformation in them through the right coaching and repetition/muscle memory training, plus self-confidence. Have faith. There's still hope.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Developing moves has nothing to do with genetics so I don't know what that has to do with anything.

You seem to be confusing the ability to greatly improve skills with the ability to greatly improve fast twitch movements.

Fast twitch individuals are born with the ability to jump higher and run faster than slow twitch because those are activities that require power and strength. Spinning fast requires high levels of neither power nor strength.

On the other hand, the slow twitch guys have better endurance as their muscles can perform their function for longer without tiring and this is something you see in Dedric as he seems to get better as the game goes on in many cases, even with a high workload involving a lot of minutes, touches, and being the focus of the defense.

Studies focused on similarities and differences in athletic performance within families, including between twins, suggest that genetic factors underlie 30 to 80 percent of the differences among individuals in traits related to athletic performance.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Hmmm.. That makes sense. I'll accept that and will leave Lawson's dunking effort to a mute point now. I still have hope, but based on your explanation, it's a game-over.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Hmm, that's not the response I expected. I'll applaud you for accepting that as a reasonable rebuttal to your desire for him to dunk more.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Joe Joseph

Strange to call the third game of the conference season a must win, but this feels as close to a must-win early-conference game that I can recall.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Tony Bandle

Joe, I'm afraid every game at Allen this season is going to be a "must win". We will need to sweep the home schedule to have a chance to tie or win the conference title outright.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Bj Cassady

I would be surprised if we win by 2 or lose by 12. We have to develop a heart, toughness, and get mean. I have not seen that in this team. Were is the "Refuse to Lose" attitude?

5 months, 1 week ago

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W Keith Swinehart II

We have good players. They will respond and learn. Adversity brings opportunity. You will be surprised.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Nathan Scholl

That's why I was asking SHANNON. No need to question my knowledge so incredulously SHANNON. I don't post on here a lot SHANNON, so I suppose that I shouldnt be grouped in with "you guys" as you begrudgingly put it SHANNON. Patience and understanding SHANNON. Glad you are so in-the-know SHANNON. Thanks for the insight SHANNON.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Glad I could help you understand NATHAN. The "snark" was for Steve "Fire Marginal Coach Bill Self" Zimmerman, you just got caught up in the crossfire.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Oh, my, I didn't realize that. I just expressed my dissatisfaction in the way the team competed before, and never intended to send a 'fire coach BS' message. I want to see some changes so bad. And I now see them. I'm sorry if you feel that way. I do feel there are better coaches out there. I'm entitled to my opinion here, right?

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Sure, but if you expect to find support for your against-the-grain opinion then you should probably go elsewhere.

Results would indicate Self is at minimum a top 5 college coach. Self's head to head record against that top 5 is certainly in his favor as well. The difference between the top 5 are close enough to make it impossible to truly say what order the top 5 is, or who is the best. Everyone has their own ideas about what is most important in deciding who's the best (recruiting, wins, championships, consistency, developing talent, etc.) and all of the coaches rate high in those categories so who's the "best" comes down to which of those traits you think are most important.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Shannon, I don't need to find support - there are better coaches out there. Period. Self is a great coach, no doubt. But he's not the greatest. He has flaws. If you're the maintainer of kusports.com, go ahead mute me. But I still stand for my opinion. Thank you.

5 months, 1 week ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Yes, Bill Self has flaws, as every human does. So the greatest coach doesn't have flaws or what? Who's the greatest?

You can stand by your opinion all you want, that's your right. Your desire to stand behind it doesn't change its accuracy whether right or wrong.

Note I didn't say he's the greatest coach above, though I did say he's Top 5. I don't claim to be able to define which of those 5 is the best as they are all the best at something but none are the best at everything.

5 months, 1 week ago

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