LAWRENCE — Kansas basketball deployed a new-look starting lineup Monday, and it appears that change will stick at least for the time being.
That said, Bill Self remains skeptical about whether his selection of players on the court at opening tipoff is truly important.
“It’s never been a big deal to me about who starts. And you can tell by the ‘enthusiasm’ that our guys show walking out there during introductions a lot of times that it’s not, like, a huge deal who starts,” Self quipped Thursday. “Although everybody would like to.”
At the moment, that distinction will go to true freshman guard Christian Braun.
Braun, who made his first career start in the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ 65-50 victory at Oklahoma State, will remain in that role for the team’s 3 p.m. Saturday clash with Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse, Self said. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Burlington native produced 16 points with four made 3s to go alongside nine rebounds and two steals against the Cowboys, all team-highs.
Sophomore forward David McCormack, who started 17 of KU’s first 18 contests but missed the last two after a suspension for his role in the Jan. 21 fight with Kansas State, will now come off the bench and back up starting center Udoka Azubuike. Given the sudden lack of frontcourt depth — junior forward Silvio De Sousa remains suspended until March 7 — the Jayhawks (17-3, 6-1 Big 12) will instead deploy four-guard lineups from the outset.
Again, Self doesn’t necessarily see this as a seismic shift, expecting McCormack to more or less remain at his clip of 16.1 minutes per game.
“I think it’s obviously more important who finishes,” Self reiterated, “but in this particular situation, I don’t think it really matters.”
One aspect that should make this an easier transition is the way KU approaches scouting reports. The Jayhawks this year are leaning heavily on switching defensively, meaning their guards are more locked in on figuring out the tendencies of multiple opponents rather than just one foe they’d be tasked with guarding throughout an entire game.
“They need to know scouting reports on everybody that’s out there,” Self said. “Depending if you play four interchangeable parts defensively, you may go in for Christian or you may go in for Devon (Dotson). And so you’re not necessarily locked in on guarding one guy.”
Senior guard Isaiah Moss started the Jayhawks’ other game without McCormack, a 74-68 home victory over Tennessee last Saturday. While Braun appears to be on an uptick — he’s averaged 14.3 points across his last three games — Self indicated he and Moss share a similar role at the moment.
“I don’t really see either of them as locked in as starters. I just kind of see we’ve got seven guys," Self said. "We’ve got seven guys that could all start if you throw David out there."
Back to McCormack, who has had an “unbelievable” attitude despite his suspension, Self said.
Averaging 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, the 6-10, 265-pounder has acknowledged his role in the melee with the Wildcats and was "great" at Wednesday's practice. Self said he wanted to keep starting McCormack, but De Sousa’s simultaneous suspension makes that a dicey proposition.
“His attitude is great,” Self said. “He feels bad about the role in which he had the other night, even though in my personal opinion it wasn’t a violent role by any stretch. But he accepted the suspension. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t disagree with it. I didn’t think it was anything awful, his role, but I do think it would send a wrong message if he wasn’t suspended. So I agree with what the league did and support that.
“But his attitude is good, and in no way is this a reflection of his character and who he is, and he knows that. It’s not like he’s hung up on that. He may be hung up on, ‘I let the team down and I disappointed myself and I need to control my emotions a little bit better.’ But everybody in our locker room knows the type of kid he is, and he does too. So he’s fine.”
For McCormack, the message is the same Self provides to all of his bench players.
“Biggest thing I do is just tell them to provide energy,” Self said. “When they come in, probably if there’s nerves or anything like that, just know (to) burn your energy defensively, taking care of the ball until you get a couple of minutes under you. When you get your legs under you, then you can explore a little bit more. I really don’t mind guys off the bench playing conservative the first couple minutes.”