Kansas Basketball: Can Jayhawks play Azubuike and De Souza together?

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LAWRENCE, KANSAS – DECEMBER 01: Udoka Azubuike #35 of the Kansas Jayhawks grabs a rebound under the basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 01, 2018 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas Basketball really struggled offensively in their season opener against Duke. Can playing two big men at once be successful long term?

It’s only one game, but things were ugly at times for Bill Self and Kansas Basketball in their season opener against Duke. The offense turned the ball over a whopping 28 times (34.9% of possessions), two short of a program record of 30, which came against Xavier in the 1988 NCAA Tournament.

(Credit to KenPom for statistics and ESPN, Big Ten Network, Big 12 Conference and NCAA March Madness for GIFS)

The blame can be spread around, as five players coughed up three or more turnovers, but there was an overarching theme for a lot of Kansas’ offensive struggles. The Jayhawks struggled to adapt to the way Duke defended its two-big-men lineups, with the interior players struggling in particular. Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa were a combined 5-13 from the field with ten turnovers.

Difficult post entry pass

Duke had a few key strategies defensively. First, they made it difficult for Kansas to get the ball in the post, both by 1) fronting the posting big man (typically Azubuike) and also by 2) pressuring the other big man (typically McCormack or De Sousa) as they tried to make a post entry pass from the perimeter.

When Kansas plays two big men, they like using one to make this perimeter pass to the other in the post, but neither McCormack nor De Sousa has much experience in this role. Even when not under pressure, these can be difficult passes, and it remains to be seen whether with more practice, McCormack and De Sousa will get more comfortable and effective with these plays.

Below, Jordan Sperber provides some examples of Duke making the pass difficult, along with the next part of Duke’s strategy: double-teaming the post. Kansas’s response to these double teams, diving to the basket, should be noted as well.

Double teams

When the big man was able to get the ball down low, the Blue Devils brought hard double teams, often using the defender guarding the other big man. This frazzled the Jayhawks, whose post players weren’t able to find the open man and make Duke’s defense pay. This accounted for some of the turnovers.

As noted, Kansas’s main counter to the double teams was having the other big man, who was typically left open (no threat of jump shot), dive to the basket. This worked to some degree, but Duke was often able to rotate to cover the dive. And even when they were fed the ball, they couldn’t always capitalize. Catching the ball on the move, taking a dribble or two and making a play/finishing at the basket can be a tall task (pun intended) for a big man.

So what else can Kansas do offensively? Can these two-big-men lineups work? Before answering these questions, it’s worth taking a peek back at prior seasons.

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