Kansas coach Bill Self expects freshman Billy Preston to play Tuesday when No. 4 KU takes on fifth-ranked Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
Preston, a 6-foot-10 forward, sat out the Jayhawks’ season opener after he was suspended for missing both curfew and class.
“He had a great attitude (since Friday), but certainly, I think that we’ve still got a full day tomorrow,” Self said. “I’m certainly anticipating there being no issues, but I don’t want to positively say one way or another until I actually know for a fact.”
Without Preston, KU was forced to play with only two scholarship big men in a 92-56 victory over Tennessee State. Udoka Azubuike logged 30 minutes and Mitch Lightfoot played 17, with Self saying Sunday the two “did fairly well.”
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“Certainly, they’re going to have to play that way again,” Self said. “But adding a third big guy in there … it doesn’t give us much margin for error, but it at least gives us a margin of error from a foul situation standpoint.”
KU’s options are limited because of a roster crunch. With four transfers sitting out — guard Sam Cunliffe will be eligible at semester — and another scholarship lost following Jack Whitman’s departure, the Jayhawks are thinner up front than any other year in Self’s tenure.
The challenge will be even more difficult going up against Kentucky, a team that Self says is “1 to 5 is about as long as I can remember them” in coach John Calipari’s nine seasons.
“When you look at basketball bodies, when their length is four or five inches longer than what their standing height is, that’s usually a great basketball body,” Self said. “It looks like to me they have several of those guys that are actually even longer than what their height is.”
Self understands his team’s lack of size and numbers could present problems, especially against top teams.
“It’s hard to play that small (like KU did Friday) when you’re playing against bigger guys,” Self said. “And when you have little depth and you play that small, it’s hard to create havoc for 40 minutes, which could possibly be your advantage if you’re playing against bigger guys. But you can’t do that because everybody’s going to play 35 minutes.”
One option for Self would be to slow the pace — hoping that fewer possessions could help with foul trouble and also keep players fresher — but doing that would go against his team’s strengths. The Jayhawks have been effective in transition the last few seasons, and Self also doesn’t want to create a situation where his guys aren’t playing aggressively.
“We need to not let teams get comfortable and be in a total rhythm the whole time,” Self said. “ … Regardless of how many players we have, I don’t think we would change how we play.”