Evaluating Kansas’ 88-84 Victory over TCU

Earlier in the season, I recapped Kansas’ victory over Toledo, and introduced their draft prospects. On January 6, 2018, I attended the Kansas-TCU game, a battle between two top 25 teams. The main players I wanted to watch were LaGerald Vick, Devonte Graham, Udoka Azubuike, and Svi Mykhailiuk. However, Mitch Lightfoot broke out in this game with 6 blocks in just 23 minutes. Here’s my takeaways from the game on each player:

First, Udoka Azubuike had a hot start, scoring 6 of the first 8 points of the night. He was able to use a nice drop step and displayed good touch on his shots around the rim. However, past the first few minutes, he was pretty ineffective. He was being whistled for foul calls constantly, and fouled out in just 13 minutes of play. Additionally, he only grabbed one rebound. The TCU frontcourt lacked great size, and Azubuike was the biggest player on the court for his 13 minutes of playing time. However, he often got too physical, and was playing very physically even with 4 fouls. which led to his 5th and final foul in the second half. Azubuike also did not run the floor very well, which did not bode well for Kansas as TCU ran a quick offense and moved well in transition. Azubuike is still just 18 and a sophomore, but he needs to refine much of his game in order to be effective in the NBA. Whoever adds Azubuike to their roster will have to be patient with his development.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Azubuike’s struggles was 6’8 forward Mitch Lightfoot, who saw his season average of 13 minutes a game double tonight to 26 minutes. Lightfoot was everywhere on defense, indicated by his 6 blocks, and also displayed his shooting ability. This was a major breakout for lightfoot, as he’d shown these individual traits at times, but not in the same game. His clutch defense also was a driving force for the Kansas victory. While Lightfoot is not going to be more than a second round prospect, I believe that he will be on an NBA Summer League roster when he comes out.

Next, LaGerald Vick, an athletic wing, went for 8 points on 3-4 shooting with 3 rebounds, but committed 3 turnovers as well. I looked for more involvement from Vick, but TCU limited his transition effectiveness, which had a major impact on his performance. My pre-game question about Vick was how well he would fare attacking the basket, and in the first half he did a great job of slashing and scoring inside.

Point guard Devonte’ Graham had the highest scoring output in the game, getting 28 points on 6-16 shooting and 13-15 from the line. He also racked up 3 steals, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds with 3 turnovers. While Graham had the best stats of any Kansas player, his shot selection was poor and he was very shy of contact. The hesitance of drawing contact is worrisome, as TCU has one of the smaller, albeit more physical, front courts in the conference. He often went for difficult reverse layups rather than a bump into a big man to draw a foul, and when he took the contact he took a while to get up. If he is unable to absorb contact against Big 12 defenders, he will have a hard time doing so in the NBA, which may become his fatal flaw. His jump shooting was still spectacular, with the exception of one pullup jumper where he changed his mechanics. He also was able to get to the line quite a bit, as he had 15 of Kansas’ 33 free throws attempted. Lastly, while he only had 6 assists, Graham set his teammates up very well and displayed his excellent vision.

Lastly, Svi Mykhailiuk had 20 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal, and a block with just one turnover on 7-13 shooting and 5-7 from 3. In my opinion, Mykhhailiuk had the best game for the Jayhawks. Mykhailiuk’s shooting at home versus on the road was a drastic difference heading into the night, as he was shooting 55% from 3 at home, and just 32% from 3 away from Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks ran NBA plays for him, mainly with the use of screens. One play, known as the veer or curl, is one that the Heat often run for Wayne Ellington, which was used against the Mavericks when he scored 28 points against them in December. Mykhailiuk moves well off ball and knows how to use screens. While Mykhailiuk has athletic and defensive limitations, he has a high motor and seems to be almost always making a positive play offensively. Lastly, Mykhailiuk was able to attack the basket with ease, which is an area he must become more consistent in. At times this season, Mykhailiuk has been passive, but tonight he came out aggressive, which played a major part in Kansas’ victory.

Overall, I would be happy with any of these guys on the Mavericks. I think they have all shown that they can be coached very easily, and they can all play within themselves. Additionally, all of Mykhailiuk, Graham, and Vick have all shown shooting ability, which is a major key to succeeding under Rick Carlisle.

Kansas may have two top recruits gain eligibility soon in Billy Preston and Silvio de Sousa. The rotations and roles of currently eligible players may change, but from what we have seen, these players are all capable of playing on an NBA roster.

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