LAWRENCE, Kan. — Even before Udoka Azubuike's season-ending hand injury, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and his staff were retooling and reimagining the seventh-ranked Jayhawks' identity.
With the junior center sidelined, that process becomes expedited — particularly for the team's struggling offense.
"We do a lot of things (where) it doesn't appear like we do anything," Self said Monday. "We're one of those teams right now where when we get out of kilter, we do a lot of things, but we don't do anything real well offensively. We need to kind of tighten that ship a bit and probably reduce what we're trying to accomplish offensively where the guys can maybe execute a few things differently.
"We've got, like, 70 plays, believe it or not, or 60 plays, and we don't run any of them really well. Maybe we need to run five and actually run those well."
Across their first two Big 12 contests, the Jayhawks (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) have shot 42 percent from the field, 24.4 percent from 3-point range and have committed 38 turnovers, including a 24-giveaway dud in last Saturday's 77-60 defeat at Iowa State, the team's first league game without Azubuike.
With the 7-footer gone, KU is likely to return to the four-guard lineup that saw great success over the last two seasons, though the Jayhawks' 3-point shooting is down significantly from the clips that made those squads so lethal — 40.4 percent in 2016-17 and 40.1 percent in '17-18 versus just 34.1 percent this year.
"We're never going to shoot that high of a percentage as we did last year from 3, but we're certainly a lot more capable of doing more than what we're doing," Self said. "And we will, I have no problem stating that. I'm confident we will. But we still have to manufacture some things, so the things we don't do quite as good, how are we going to make up for that in other areas? How are we going to score in transition? How are we going to get offensive rebound put-backs? These are the things we were obviously laboring with that make the other things magnified."
Kansas' backcourt will without question be tested in the team's next matchup, an 8 p.m. Wednesday clash against TCU at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Horned Frogs (12-1, 1-0) boast the nation's second-best point guard in terms of assists average, as senior Alex Robinson guides the offense with an eye-popping 8.7 dimes per game. Throw in juniors Desmond Bane (3.2 assists per game) and Jaylen Fisher (2.7) and it's easy to see why TCU ranks third nationally in assists per game (20.1) and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.62).
Kansas stands 106th nationally in assists per game (14.9) and 130th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.09).
"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," Self said. "... They've got enough guys that you've got to defend the post, but primarily they are spreading it and they are putting the ball in Robinson's hands and letting him make plays. That's hard to guard."
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Self said the most fixable problem from Saturday's blowout defeat is "the lack of togetherness and cohesiveness and leadership," with the team still looking for someone to take command of a huddle in bleak late-game situations. He identified point guard Devon Dotson as "probably the best prospect to do that," and when asked later if that's a fair expectation of a freshman, Self made that very case.
"Is it fair that anybody is thrown into a position that maybe they're not quite ready for? But they still have got to do it," Self said. "Is it fair that somebody who's an intern at a job and somebody quits and you've got to put them in there for an important, month-long period until you can hire somebody? Is it fair? Do you expect the same results? Absolutely you do. I think anything's fair. I do, I believe that. But it's not easy, too. Everybody could do more. ...
"If you saw Devon, where he was in June, to where he is now in regards to comfort level and things like that, he's made tremendous progress. In order for us to get to where we want to go, and have the year we hope to have, he probably needs to do more. Is it fair? Maybe not, but he's capable. It's certainly something where he hadn't had a chance to be with Frank (Mason) and Devonte' (Graham) and watch them. He hasn't had a chance to learn from others."
Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett, who replaced Azubuike during the latter's four-game absence in December, is expected to draw the start Wednesday, with redshirt sophomore guard K.J. Lawson, freshman forward David McCormack and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot the other primary candidates to fill the void.
Wherever Kansas goes from here, Self acknowledged he's more comfortable deploying the four-guard look following the last two campaigns' success — though it was an observation made with an asterisk.
"We're actually better playing four guards," Self said, "and if you can put Frank and Josh (Jackson) and Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Devonte' out there, I think it's damn good, us playing four guards."
Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji will burn his redshirt and play immediately, Self said Tuesday on his weekly "Hawk Talk" radio program.
"We're gonna play small a lot and we need depth," Self said. "We need guys that can make some plays above the rim that you can't really teach. ... As far as athletic ability, he's the best athlete we have on our team, so we're excited."
Agbaji, a 6-5, 210-pounder out of Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Mo., was a four-star player and the nation's 133rd-ranked prospect at recruiting outlet 247sports.com.
.@CoachBillSelf announced tonight that freshman Ochai Agbaji (@youngoch) will drop his redshirt and is available to play tomorrow vs. TCU and the rest of the season. #KUbball pic.twitter.com/F6dOnXR1Bu— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) January 9, 2019
NO. 25 TCU AT NO. 7 KANSAS
Tipoff: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Line: KU by 6
TV/Radio: ESPN2/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Next: KU at Baylor, 3 p.m. Saturday, Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
NO. 25 TCU (12-1, 1-0 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
C Kevin Samuel ... 6-11 ... Fr. ... 8.2 ... 6.8
F JD Miller ... 6-8 ... Sr. ... 11.5 ... 6.5
G Jaylen Fisher ... 6-2 ... Jr. ... 12.1 ... 2.7*
G Desmond Bane ... 6-5 ... Jr. ... 14.4 ... 3.2*
G Alex Robinson ... 6-1 ... Sr. ... 13.5 ... 8.7*
NO. 7 KANSAS (12-2, 1-1 Big 12)
P Player ... Ht. ... Cl. ... Pts. ... Reb.
F Dedric Lawson ... 6-9 ... Jr. ... 18.6 ... 11.1
G Marcus Garrett ... 6-5 ... So. ... 5.8 ... 3.5
G Lagerald Vick ... 6-5 ... Sr. ... 14.8 ... 4.1
G Quentin Grimes ... 6-5 ... Fr. ... 9.3 ... 2.4
G Devon Dotson ... 6-2 ... Fr. ... 11.3 ... 2.9*
* -- Assists ___
This article is written by Matt Galloway from The Topeka Capital-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.