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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / November 18.
  • Undermanned Kansas Jayhawks Grind Out Win Against Kentucky in Champions Classic

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    By: MIKE McCURRY

    Don’t expect Bill Self to submit Tuesday’s game tape to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame anytime soon.

    Though that doesn’t mean he wasn’t thrilled with his No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks outlasting No. 5 Kentucky, 65-61, in the nightcap of the Champions Classic.

    “That’s one of the best wins we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Self said afterward. “An unbelievable win to grind it out.”

    At times, and really for the majority of the 40 minutes, it wasn’t pretty for Kansas.

    “We uglied the game up,” said Self. “My guys uglied it up pretty good tonight.”

    But, come March, when the Jayhawks are likely contending for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, nobody is going to remember the fact that Devonte’ Graham shot 3-of-14 from the field with five turnovers, or that his backcourt mates, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman, combined to shoot 8-of-27 (30%).

    The only long-term carryover effect from Tuesday will be positive for Kansas, in the form of a marquee non-conference neutral-site victory on its resume.

    It’s even more impressive considering KU is playing at far less than full strength.

    Self played seven guys against Kentucky, and that’s counting Mitch Lightfoot, who logged just six minutes. Meaning 7-foot, 280-pound specimen Udoka Azubuike, who was terrific against UK’s long, athletic frontline (13 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks on 5-of-5 shooting), was the only true big man to play more than six minutes.

    No matter to what extent the Hall-of-Fame coach has fallen in love with his modern four-out, one-in concept, that’s still worrisome. What if Azubuike runs into foul trouble? What happens if KU faces frontcourts like Duke and Michigan State?

    Fear not, Jayhawks fans. Reinforcements–there could be up to three of them–are on the way.

    One is Billy Preston, a McDonald’s All-American who is listed at 6-foot-10 and can also step out and shoot it as a face-up power forward. He has yet to make his college debut.

    After missing the season opener for breaking curfew, he was held out versus Kentucky for his involvement in a single-car accident on campus over the weekend. Assuming that the latter issue gets resolved in a timely manner, Preston will return to the floor soon.

    Additional frontcourt depth could come in the form of Silvio De Sousa.

    A class of 2018 four-star power forward who Self has already likened to former Jayhawk and current Washington Wizard Markieff Morris, De Sousa is in the process of trying to enroll early at Kansas for the beginning of the upcoming second semester.

    His guardian, at the very least, is confident that De Sousa will be granted eligibility by the NCAA, with seemingly the only remaining hurdle being a standardized test score that the 6-foot-9 Angola native recently took.

    One last Jayhawk waiting in the wings for this season is former Top-50 recruit Sam Cunliffe. The 6-foot-7 wing will be available after Christmas upon transferring over from Arizona State, where he lasted just one semester.

    Adding pieces midseason always comes with pause. Valid concerns about the potential disruption of chemistry and role allocation certainly exist.

    Furthermore, and this applies particularly to Preston (and, to a lesser effect, De Sousa if he’s cleared), it’s worth noting that some heralded frontcourt recruits tend to come on slowly—or never materialize period—under Self, who demands a lot out of his bigs. Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo, and Carlton Bragg all serve as recent prime examples.

    But if any coach can figure out how to successfully integrate talented players on the fly to a team that’s already a Final Four contender, it’s Self, who probably doesn’t mind the extra bodies based on how thin his current rotation is.

    A risky proposition? Sure. But it’s one that, if handled the right way, could result in a 14th consecutive Big-12 regular season title…and then some.

    Photo: @KUHoops

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