LAWRENCE — Shorthanded throughout each of the last two seasons, Kansas basketball enjoyed a newfound depth that became apparent early in its season-opening victory Tuesday over No. 10 Michigan State.
Reflecting on his suddenly stacked squad, Bill Self took his assessment of the depth's benefit a step further.
“It won the game for us,” Self said Friday at his weekly news conference.
It isn’t yet an embarrassment of riches for the top-ranked Jayhawks (1-0), but the team did get contributions from the top of its roster to the bottom in its 92-87 victory over the Spartans.
Ten Jayhawks played in the contest and all 10 scored before halftime. Eight KU players appeared for at least 10 minutes, a scenario that occurred only twice last season — in a 45-point home victory over Omaha and in a four-point road win at TCU.
While depth was less of a factor in the second half — non-starters appeared for only a combined 20 minutes after the break — Self nevertheless cited it as “a huge factor” in the outcome.
“We played all 10 guys and all 10 guys contributed in favorable ways,” Self said. “It was obviously important, but I can’t see us doing that much unless foul problems create that, and I think that was the case the other night.”
Starting center Udoka Azubuike blocked three shots and made 5 of 7 field goal attempts in the first half but played just nine minutes in the period as a pair of fouls sent him to the Jayhawk bench, while Mitch Lightfoot committed two fouls in his first two minutes off the bench. KU committed 17 first-half fouls but was buoyed by good minutes off the bench from freshman David McCormack and sophomores K.J. Lawson and Marcus Garrett.
Lawson had a particularly active evening, grabbing six rebounds in just 10 minutes. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound listed guard played primarily as a four-man in relief of brother Dedric Lawson, a scenario that could happen often for a Jayhawk squad playing without indefinitely withheld forward Silvio De Sousa.
“I think where (depth) becomes difficult is, if you don’t have foul problems, how do you play all four (bigs) and play K.J.? And that’s what I’m looking at,” Self said. “So are we playing K.J. as a sixth perimeter player, or do you play him as your fourth big? I think depending on who we're playing against, whether they play two bigs or play a pick-and-pop four, things like that, would probably give us a better feel on that.”
Self is known for his desire and ability to whittle a rotation down in advance of conference play, which for KU begins with an 8 p.m. Jan. 2 contest at home against Oklahoma. While the team’s added depth is undoubtedly an added plus, Self appears skeptical of its lasting power from a playing time perspective.
“Can you play 10? We did the other night, but I don’t know,” Self said. “Without foul trouble Doke (Azubuike) would’ve played 30 (minutes) instead of 20. But we don’t need Dedric playing 38, either — he needs to be a 30-minute-a-game guy. We need obviously somebody to get those minutes.”
Perhaps the team’s biggest unknown in terms of future playing time is McCormack, KU’s 6-10, 265-pound freshman forward. McCormack played five minutes against the Spartans but didn't appear in the second half, which saw the Jayhawks nearly blow a 17-point lead.
“David deserves to play, but when Doke is in the game, it’s harder for David and Doke to play together. It’s too crowded a floor,” Self said. “We probably want to play K.J. or Mitch with them if Dedric’s not in the game and then the answer is, well, would you rather play four-around-one or three-around-two?
“Those are some of the things we’ve still got to work out, because we don’t know positively.”
NO REDSHIRT FOR LIGHTFOOT
Lightfoot scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in six minutes Tuesday, the junior forward notably not taking a redshirt this season.
Self said Lightfoot “could’ve” redshirted but called it a “hypothetical we didn’t have the luxury to deal with” as uncertainty surrounds De Sousa’s future amid an NCAA review into his eligibility.
Lightfoot said he thought about the possibility of redshirting but stressed he was always going to do whatever the coaching staff thought was best for the team.
“I felt like the team needed me and if it helps us win more games this year then that’s what I was going to do," Lightfoot said. "I’ve kind of always been more about the team than my personal goals or aspirations.”
BYE BYE BEATY
Self said he’s exchanged several texts with KU football coach David Beaty, who athletic director Jeff Long fired Sunday in a move effective at the end of the season.
The fourth-year coach is excited for the team’s 11 a.m. Saturday contest at Kansas State, gathered Self, who added he hopes Beaty’s players rally around the situation.
“David has been great,” Self said. “The one thing I think is you can tell a lot about people when they’re going through tough times, and a lot of times tough decisions are made that put people in those situations, but sometimes they’re made for the betterment of the big picture. I don’t think anybody around here would say David Beaty is anything less than a true pro in how he’s handled everything.”