Kansas center Udoka Azubuike boxed out Stanford forward Michael Humphrey during Thursday night’s game in Sacramento, Calif. Steve Yeater The Associated Press
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike boxed out Stanford forward Michael Humphrey during Thursday night’s game in Sacramento, Calif. Steve Yeater The Associated Press

University of Kansas

As Big 12 play looms, what’s the outlook for this KU basketball team?

By Jesse Newell

jnewell@kcstar.com

December 22, 2017 02:15 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif.

Devonté Graham held a stat sheet in front of him, reading the numbers as he walked through the curved hallway of Golden 1 Center following Kansas’ 75-54 victory over Stanford on Thursday.

A KU administrator spoke to him just before he reached the interview room.

“The next season begins,” he said.

“Yes sir,” Graham responded with a nod.

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This is the truth, especially at a school with expectations like KU.

The season is two months old, yet so little has been decided. The Jayhawks have not done anything yet to get closer to a 14th straight Big 12 championship, but they also haven’t limited themselves in any way from a potential Final Four run in March.

All that work, sweat and effort from November until now? It’s basically the equivalent of KU holding serve.

So it’s time to assess where the Jayhawks are at this critical juncture.

Start with Graham, the team’s leader and All-America candidate. How does he feel about this year’s Jayhawks?

He begins by saying he feels good about this team’s shooting ability, and the numbers back up his assertion. The team ranks third nationally in effective field-goal percentage — one that properly weights the value of threes — while also posting top-20 marks in both two-point and three-point accuracy.

The negatives? Graham said KU can always improve on defense.

“We had a couple breakdowns defensively communicating tonight,” Graham said. “Other than that, I think we were pretty solid.”

Kansas guard Devonté Graham talks about the team’s first-half success in a 75-54 victory over Stanford on Dec. 21, 2017 in Sacramento.

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Move onto Self, the Hall of Fame coach. Where does he see the team at this point?

He starts with the negative: The roster is still uncertain. The coach has been optimistic this week that forwards Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa will join during Big 12 season, but nothing is certain yet.

Self, even with limited numbers, has been pleased in a few areas. He’s happy with how his team can shoot it from the perimeter and also believes his players have unselfish thoughts — an asset on display during a crisp first half when the Jayhawks scored 47 points on 34 possessions.

There are concerns, of course. Self says the Jayhawks’ defense is “average at best” and also realizes that playing this small will hamper his team’s rebounding. He also remains frustrated with his team’s inability to draw fouls, as the Stanford game was KU’s fifth in a row where it attempted 10 free throws or fewer.

Kansas coach Bill Self talks about his team’s defense against Stanford forward Reid Travis, who scored 29 against KU last year but 12 on Thursday. Self spoke after his team’s 75-54 victory on Dec. 21, 2017 in Sacramento.

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“We’re just not a grind-it-out team yet,” Self said, “but if we get a little bigger, maybe we can become that.”

End with Jerod Haase, the Stanford coach who spent the last few days preparing for KU. He’s honest when he starts discussing the Jayhawks.

“They do have some limits,” Haase said. “Their bench isn’t as deep as it normally is. They may not have the depth up front that they normally have, but they have some pretty good players.”

And here’s where he starts listing off the positives. The Jayhawks are an excellent three-point shooting and passing team, he says, with physical defenders and a roster of guys who play hard.

“Obviously I don’t know what (Self’s) thoughts are on his team,” Haase said, “but they looked pretty good to me.”

We’ll learn for sure over the next four months. College basketball’s season is backloaded, set up to make everyone forget the first two months if teams can avoid early disaster.

KU, at 10-2, was able to do just that.

Now the “next season” will determine how this team is remembered.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell