Bill Self has been coaching KU since 2003, Tom Izzo’s first season in East Lansing was 1995. They both have had major success, combining for 26 regular season conference titles, 10 Final Fours and two NCAA Championships.
Whether through great development or recruiting, the pair continuously produce NBA draft picks. Kansas had two second round draftees just last season, while MSU had two players drafted in the lottery.
This season, the connection continues to be apparent.
An abundance of freshman talent, returning junior bigs that will have a huge impact on how far each team can go and a couple of players finally getting to suit up for their respective schools. This year’s Champions Classic will be thrilling to say the least.
Kansas has talent up and down the roster but there are clearly a few players key to the Jayhawks success, and Udoka Azubuike is one of them.
Azubuike is the kind of player that can dominate a game with only six shot attempts. His length, instincts and the space he takes up on the defensive end will always have an impact. Add in his ability to be a lob threat over the top plus his expanding post game and he is a player the Spartans will have to account for at every possession, offense and defense.
Although, he is clearly not a perfect player.
Azubuike only shot 41 percent from the free throw line last season. He did have the second-most efficient season shooting the ball in NCAA Division I history, hitting 77 percent of his attempts – but most of those were on lob or putback dunks. Without the experienced backcourts he has been used to in his time at Kansas (see Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman), this season might not be as easy.
A player who should alleviate some of Azubuike’s pressure is redshirt junior Dedric Lawson.
This will be the first season in a Jayhawks uniform for Lawson following transfer from Memphis. His post game and presence in the paint is more than enough to take advantage of defenders his size or smaller.
Lawson’s vision and shooting ability will pay dividends for the Jayhawks against MSU and for the entire season. When Azubuike goes to the bench, Self has the ability to go small and use Lawson at center.
Doing so could open up a whole new playbook for the Jayhawks this season. Planting such a versatile player like Lawson at the elbow and allowing players to cut baseline or run around screens is a recipe for success.
Add in an explosive freshman Devon Dotson at point and surround them with the shooting and athleticism of freshman Quentin Grimes, Lawson’s brother K.J. and senior Lagerald Vick or Charlie Moore and the Jayhawks own version of Golden State’s death lineup, a Talon Tandem if you will, could cause nightmares for the rest of the country.
While Spartans fans should not expect anything close to this in the first game, it sure as hell is something to keep in mind come tournament time.
It is not all peaches and cream for Self’s squad.
Kansas’ frontcourt has consistently turned the ball over to begin the season, while that might be a product of Kansas running less plays and structured sets, it is still alarming to see Lawson and Azubuike combine for 10 turnovers against Division II Emporia State.
As reported by The Kansas City Star, Bill Self said they have had, “22, 21, 21 and 22 turnovers” in the Jayhawks first four officiated scrimmages/games, so Emporia State is not an outlier.
Michigan State fans and players alike should be excited for the opportunity to take down a No. 1 ranked team in the first game of the season. While it will be a challenge to overcome the talent of Kansas, the Spartans have the ability and the talent to match the Jayhawks blow-for-blow.
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