Excitement over the availability of Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa as part of a lineup including two big men has suddenly dissolved into concerns for No. 3 Kansas.
In a season-opening setback to Duke at the Champions Classic, neither could get engaged as an offensive threat, and the Jayhawks struggled with where to move the basketball. Their 28 turnovers exceeded the season-high (24) they recorded in any game last season.
A second chance to find some cohesiveness materializes Friday when Kansas (0-1) plays UNC Greensboro (1-0) at Lawrence, Kan.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters, “but I think for (Azubuike) and Silvio it was a little bit different than probably what it would’ve been if they had been playing last year. They basically both had the year off and I thought that it felt a little different for them out there than it will moving forward.”
That’s a fair assessment considering Duke is no cupcake, either. Azubuike, a 7-foot-tall senior, missed all but nine games last season because of a wrist injury. De Sousa, a 6-9 junior, was held out as the result of an NCAA academic ruling.
Azubuike scored eight points against Duke on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds after making just one shot in the two exhibition games Kansas played. In past seasons, he has been one of the most accurate shooters in the country because of positioning inside and the threat he poses on the offensive glass.
De Sousa, with even more rust to shake off, played only eight minutes. He provided three points and four boards.
“We’ve got to figure out how we can stretch the floor with two bigs in the game,” Self said.
In addition, the ball must be delivered accurately by the passer and handled properly by the recipient. Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson led the Jayhawks with six turnovers and had just one assist in the Duke loss but scored a team-high 17 points.
“It’s a learning experience and we’re just going to try to get better,” Dotson said.
Figure on improvement to be a given, especially since the Jayhawks’ preseason ranking and their distinction as Big 12 favorite is based on the depth Self has at his disposal. The lack of minutes for De Sousa is a product of that depth and the presence of 6-10 sophomore David McCormack.
In its opener, UNC Greensboro toppled North Carolina A&T 83-50 behind 17 points from sophomore guard Kaleb Hunter. The Spartans allowed just 32.9 percent shooting.
After ninth-year coach Wes Miller guided UNCG to a 29-7 mark a year ago, the most wins in program history, the Spartans were picked to finish second in the Southern Conference. Junior guard Isaiah Miller was named the conference’s preseason player of the year after ranking among the top five nationally in steals.
Keeping the Jayhawks’ turnover count high will be a goal for the Spartans, who thrive on sticky defense.
“We’re going to have to speed the game up with our defense and create offense,” Miller told the Greensboro News & Record. “We’re going to try to do that every night. Our strength is going to be our athleticism and our depth.”
–Field Level Media