One of the main story lines heading into Tuesday night’s Champions Classic opener, at least in regards to what Kansas is actually going to be on the court, is who Bill Self planned on using at the four.
As it turns out, Kansas started both of their seven-footers, with sophomore David McCormack getting the nod alongside All-American Udoka Azubuike. The biggest concern with this pairing is going to be on the defensive end of the floor, and there were times where Duke was able to expose them. Matthew Hurt knocked down three threes, including a pair of triples where he simply squared up McCormack, used a jab-step to create space and let fly, and Jack White hit one as well.
There was also this three that Hurt hit, but we’re going to come back to that in a second.
But to be honest, I thought McCormack did an admirable job defensively. I get that this Duke team is not exactly what you might call “good” offensively, but Hurt is super-skilled and he finished the night 4-12 from the floor. I think you live with that if you are Bill Self, just like you live with Vernon Carey hitting threes or Javin DeLaurier trying to go 1-on-1 from 17-feet out.
No, the problem the Jayhawks had was on the offensive end of the floor.
Breaking news, right?
Has anyone pointed out that Kansas turned the ball over 28 times yet?
The issue here isn’t necessarily the spacing or the lack of perimeter shooting when playing two bigs. Kansas can scheme their way through that, as Bill Self is a master at diagramming sets that get a defense to move the way he wants them to move. On two separate occasions – once in the first half and once in the second half – Self was able to use exchanges on the baseline to get Jordan Goldwire set up to be burned by a backdoor cut from Ochai Agbaji:
Early in the second half, Marcus Garrett took advantage of Hurt’s inexperience when he was able to get a layup as Hurt stuck too close to McCormack. Six minutes later, when Kansas ran the same play, Duke overhelped and the ball ended up with Agbaji, who missed a wide-open three. Two bigs were on the floor in both instances:
Here’s another one. Self puts McCormack on the opposite wing, and knowing that Duke was icing ball-screens, has Garrett ghost the ball-screen, which creates a lane for Dotson to get to the rim:
This even works when Azubuike gets the ball on the block. I don’t think anyone is ever going to confuse him with Nikola Jokic, but Doke actually passed out of those doubles fairly well. He hit McCormack and De Sousa diving to the bucket, and this kick out resulted in him catching a lob:
Here, Dotson comes off of a ball-screen and has both McCormack and Azubuike open before he decides to throw the ball into the third row:
I think the biggest issue that Kansas is going to face is that their bigs just are not good decision-makers. That’s what they are lacking. This example is the exact same play as the last one, and while Duke’s able to ice and keep Dotson from using the screen, he twice gets the ball to Doke in a 4-on-3 situation – what he’s supposed to do – but nothing good comes of it because that’s not what Doke does:
Frankly, this might have cost Kansas the game. The Jayhawks get the ball to McCormack in the short corner, but since he’s not comfortable throwing the lob – which Doke is asking for – Jack White is able to recover and instead of a dunk and the lead, Kansas has to foul:
Then there’s the high-low game, which was so successful during the weeks where Doke and Dedric Lawson shared a frontcourt last season. There were too many instances during the game where McCormack was unable to get the ball to Doke when he had his man pinned. This last example ties a nice little bow on it all. McCormack misses a 17-footer he shouldn’t be shooting instead of hitting Doke on the block and then fails to locate Hurt in transition:
What could have been a six-point lead is now just a one-point lead.
There are plenty of mistakes that Kansas can clean up, but I’m not sure that there is a way to make this two-big lineup work.