Bill Self’s Backup: I’m Done Waiting for Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa

By: Chris O’Brien

Once a day, sometimes more, I look for any new updates on Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.

Think about that, I check on the status of two ineligible freshmen as often as I brush my teeth, definitely more than I floss.

And the answer is always the same. “We should know more soon.” “We should hear from the NCAA any day now.”

Well, half the season is gone. We’re what, 15-16 games in? I have officially decided I am done with these searches. I’m operating under the idea they aren’t joining the team. If they do, hey, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.

I don’t want to keep spending time in the hypotheticals. Yes, they would be a major boost to the frontcourt. Yes, it would allow us to play a traditional three-guard/two big lineup which would give Graham/Vick/Svi some more opportunity to rest so they don’t look as tired as they did at the end of the Iowa State game.

But there are still a ton of problems this team has that De Sousa and Preston wouldn’t solve.

We’re fresh off a road win at TCU and a too-close-for-comfort home win against Iowa State, but by the end of this post, you’ll think we went 0-2. If coaches are supposed to build their team up when they’re down, they’re also supposed to bring them down to earth when they’re up.

Bill, take a seat. I’ve got this one.

You guys only do one thing well!

The three-point shooting is a major strength. We’re great at passing the ball around the perimeter, we’ve got one of the lowest assist/turnover ratios in the country. We take open threes. These are good shots and we make a bunch of them.

But it seems like it’s the only thing we do really really well.

Getting to the free throw line? It looked like we turned the corner the second half against Texas Tech, and then TCU there were 33 attempts, but there we were again only 13 attempts against Iowa State. 13! That’s how many Graham should be getting by himself.

We get the ball into Udoka, but that’s almost the only thing going on in the paint. Where’s the Vick from earlier in the season? When Graham does get to the rim he does it with such ease, why not more? Same with Malik and Svi arguably has a shock collar on that activates if he crosses the three-point line at all.

And that’s just offense. We don’t defend well. 86. 85. 84. 78. Those are what we’ve allowed in the first four games of conference play. The line should be 75. We should never give up more than 75 to any team in the Big 12 other than maybe Oklahoma.

The current roster, yeah, without Preston and De Sousa, should be able to compete for a Final Four

I look at the top three teams in the country right now. Villanova. West Virginia. Virginia. It’s not like they have significantly better rosters. Villanova basically plays six guys too.

Udoka, if he’s old enough, should be a lottery pick. Vick has a chance at the first round. Graham and Svi should both be second-round picks. Malik Newman was the Number 10 ranked player in the Class of 2015. He scored 11.3 ppg as a freshman at Mississippi State.

In terms of talent, that’s plenty. I’d say that might be more than what Villanova had when they won the title two years ago.

But it’s only enough if the team can do multiple things well. If this Kansas team was tougher, got to the rim more, played harder on defense, had more grit, toughness, they would be fine. There would still be the flaw of depth and size, but every team has flaws. It wasn’t like Washington, Arizona State, and Texas Tech rolled into Kansas City and Lawrence with Tim Duncan and David Robinson down low. It wasn’t depth or size. We lost for at least 10 other reasons.

Fool’s Gold

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even enjoy watching the threes go in. I’m like yeah, that’s cool, congrats, Svi hit four in a row, but it doesn’t mean anything. I know we can do that well. And we can win a lot of games with it. But I don’t think we can win the six in a row when it matters most if that’s the only thing we are doing at an elite level.

Let’s end on a positive 

Ok. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, time to build this team back up. Here were three things I really liked from the last two wins.

1. Lightfoot! 

Who would have thought Mitch Lightfoot would be the one to get the game ball in a big road win against a Top 25 team?

Lightfoot gave the Jayhawks 26 great minutes off the bench. Nine points, seven rebounds, SIX blocks! And he made a late-game three!

Lightfoot has quietly been improving a lot. Sure, it’s still scary to imagine him trying to guard Michigan State or Duke’s bigs, but not many teams have that kind of size. Lightfoot seems to be able to hang with 90 percent of the frontcourts in college basketball, giving me way more confidence for the games when Doke picks up an early two fouls.

2. Svi for three

I said above how the threes don’t impress me anymore, but that’s not totally true. Svi’s shooting the last two games has been incredible. Svi shot 11-of-17 from behind the arc. He’s shooting close to 48 percent on the season which is extremely impressive considering he attempts about 7.5 a game. He’s scored over 20 points in four of the last six games.

Just looking at the numbers, we’re giving up 83 ppg in Big 12 play. And since Garrett and Lightfoot aren’t scorers, Cunliffe hasn’t scored much yet either, that essentially means Doke/Graham/Svi/Vick/Newman need to average each 16.8 ppg. Say one guy is off, finishes with a goose egg, now we need four twenty point scorers in the same game.

The secret to success will be keeping Svi around 20 ppg and then tightening up the defense turning that 83 ppg down to like 70-72, because right now is unsustainable.

3. “Newman is a new man”

My cousin sent that out in the O’Brien family group text, that has to be the headline of the year.

Malik Newman has been frustrating to watch because of how high the hype was. The plan was Graham would fill in the role of Mason and Newman would be as good as Graham from last year.

It hasn’t happened.

Until Iowa State. Newman played great. He scored 27 points. He looked quicker. More confident. And, maybe most important, he was able to bring the ball up allowing Graham to catch his breath. 34 minutes too.

Do we need 27 from Newman every night? No. But we pretty much need 10 – 15. Like I said in the Svi paragraph, until we get better at defense, there’s not enough firepower to recover from sub 5 point game.

If this is “the new man” we’re in great shape.

The next two games I’ll be focused on defense, getting to the foul line, and just like Newman stepping it up, I think it’s time for Vick to have a few breakout games.

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