KU guards can compensate for Udoka Azubuike's absence by attacking glass

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) fight for a rebound with TCU forward Kouat Noi (12) during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) and Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) fight for a rebound with TCU forward Kouat Noi (12) during the first half on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas City, Mo. — This season’s Kansas basketball team is no stranger to getting beat on the glass. So the top-seeded Jayhawks should feel right at home this week at Sprint Center, where they will try and navigate the Big 12 tournament without injured 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike.

Without question, KU’s offense will miss the high-percentage shots Azubuike, out with a medial collateral ligament sprain, provides with regularity. But the Jayhawks also will look like a lesser version of themselves on the boards, because the sophomore big is the best rebounder on a team that oftentimes struggles to finish stops by securing an opponent’s missed shot.

A massive presence in the paint, Azubuike started every game for Kansas (24-7) this season up to this point, and led the team in rebounding 18 times.

KU won the rebound margin in three of its final four regular-season games — +13 versus Oklahoma, +7 vs. Texas and +7 at Oklahoma State. But the Jayhawks lost that battle in 15 of the 16 games that preceded their more successful stretch.

Against Power 5 competition this season (25 games), KU out-rebounded its opponent five times — the other two came against Arizona State and Kansas State.

So what does the team that finished 9th in the Big 12 in rebound margin (-2.9 a game) look like without its best rebounder? To try and get a sense of what to expect at the conference tournament, let’s look at a few of Azubuike’s less impactful games this season on the glass.

Occasionally, Azubuike, who averaged 7.1 boards on the year and 6.6 a game in league action, finished with 4 or fewer rebounds. That occurred four times during Big 12 play:

  • at TCU: 1 rebound in 13 minutes (fouled out); TCU scored 14 second-chance points — KU won 88-84

  • at Kansas State: 3 rebounds in 18 minutes; K-State scored 9 second-chance points — KU won 70-56

  • at Baylor: 4 rebounds in 19 minutes; BU scored 14 second-chance points — KU lost 80-64

  • at Iowa State: 3 rebounds in 22 minutes; ISU scored 10 second-chance points — KU won 83-77

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) pulls a rebound from Oklahoma State forward Mitchell Solomon (41) during the second half, Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) pulls a rebound from Oklahoma State forward Mitchell Solomon (41) during the second half, Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, in Stillwater, Okla. by Nick Krug

At TCU, Mitch Lightfoot (7 rebounds) and Marcus Garrett (6 boards) helped carry the load. At K-State, Malik Newman came through with 10 rebounds and Svi Mykhailiuk grabbed 7 more. At ISU, Newman and Devonte’ Graham tied for the team lead (6 apiece).

The Jayhawks lost at Baylor when no one stepped up to fill the void. Mykhailiuk, Newman and Lagerald Vick each finished with 4 boards.

KU’s rebounding numbers — and chances of advancing in the Big 12 tournament — will look a lot worse unless Azubuike’s teammates use his absence as incentive to really attack the glass.

“We’ve been a poor rebounding team by good rebounding team standards all year long,” KU coach Bill Self said Wednesday at Sprint Center.

It doesn’t sound as if Self is expecting Lightfoot and De Sousa to suddenly start rebounding like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson.

“So we’re just going to have to have our guards rebound more,” Self said. “You know, Malik’s done a good job. Svi and Lagerald have got to become better rebounders probably as much as anyone.”

The numbers indicate Kansas should be able to count on Newman to get inside and clear some defensive rebounds. The 6-3 guard, per sports-reference.com, is KU’s second-most consistent rebounder on that end, gathering an estimated 15.6% of available defensive rebounds (Azubuike leads the team with a 20.2% defensive rebound percentage.)

Newman can look for some help on that end from Garrett (15.6%). Lightfoot enters the postseason with a 12.4% mark, while De Sousa, with far fewer minutes to give a better sense of his ceiling, owns a 12.3% defensive rebound percentage.

It’s unrealistic to expect any Jayhawks to match Azubuike’s offensive impact. But, chipping in as a committee of rebounders at Sprint Center will be necessary for them to get by without their game-changing center.

— Udoka Azubuike 2017-18 season game log —

Game Log Table
2017-11-10Tennessee StateW3067.8572462213
2017-11-17South Dakota StateW2389.8890222217
2017-11-21Texas SouthernW27912.7502791220
2017-12-10Arizona StateL2267.8573692213
2018-01-02Texas TechL2846.6673471311
2018-01-06Texas ChristianW13661.0000110514
2018-01-09Iowa StateW2945.800156439
2018-01-13Kansas StateW3289.8894485118
2018-01-15West VirginiaW20551.0002791510
2018-01-27Texas A&MW2248.500336438
2018-01-29Kansas StateW18221.000123036
2018-02-03Oklahoma StateL21811.7273250420
2018-02-06Texas ChristianW25610.60038112316
2018-02-13Iowa StateW22910.9000333419
2018-02-17West VirginiaW3178.8753253321
2018-02-24Texas TechW2934.750167336
2018-03-03Oklahoma StateL2046.667257048
31 Games753192248.774771432205591426
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2018.


Andrew Ralls

Hitchhiker: You heard of this thing, the 4-Guard Line-Up?

Ted: Yeah, sure, 4-Guard Line-Up. Yeah, the line-up Bill Self uses when he's short on bigs.

Hitchhiker: Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 5... Guard... Line-Up.

Ted: Right. Yes. OK, all right. I see where you're going.

Hitchhiker: Think about it. You walk into an arena, you see 4-Guard Line-Up sittin' there, there's 5-Guard Line-Up right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?

Ted: I would go for the 5.

Hitchhiker: Bingo, man, bingo. 5-Guard Line-Up. And we guarantee just as good as the 4-Guard Line-Up.

Ted: You guarantee it? That's - how do you do that?

Hitchhiker: If you're not happy with the first 4 guards, we're gonna send you the extra guard free. You see? That's it. That's our motto. That's where we're comin' from. That's from "A" to "B".

Ted: That's right. That's - that's good. That's good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with a 6-Guard Line-Up. Then you're in trouble, huh?

[Hitchhiker convulses]

Hitchhiker: No! No, no, not 6! I said 5. Nobody's comin' up with 6. Who uses a 6-Guard Line-Up? You won't even get 'em on the court!

Ted: That - good point.

Hitchhiker: 5's the key number here. Think about it. 5 Guys, $5 Footlong, 5th Element. that's the number. 5 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.

1 week, 5 days ago


Steve Zimmerman


1 week, 5 days ago


Titus Canby

Now THAT's funny. But you could be right.

1 week, 4 days ago


Kent Richardson


I refuse to answer on the grounds........

The fifth time's the charm?

Two's company, three's a crowd, five's a .... winner?

The fifth horse of the apocalypse?

1 week, 4 days ago


Allan Olson

Seven scholarship players...5 guards + 2 bigs [?]...there is only one, two-part plan left...PLAY ZONE and CALL IN A PRIEST. OR, just maybe Sam Cunliffe somehow turns into Marvin Bagley? The only other thing making this worse today, would be Bill Walton calling the game!

1 week, 4 days ago


Kurt Eskilson

No! Not Bill Walton! Don't even SAY that!

1 week, 4 days ago