KU Q&A: Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa, Sam Cunliffe and a Big 12 projection

By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

Let’s fire up a quick Kansas Q&A. Thanks for all the questions, and be sure to follow me on Facebook if you haven’t yet.

Might as well get this out of the way, as these two basketball players were the source of about half the questions I received from KU fans.

With Billy Preston, there isn’t an update yet, but KU coach Bill Self made it seem Thursday at his news conference like some sort of resolution could be coming soon.

Here’s a quote directly from Gary Bedore’s story:

“I haven’t talked to anybody today (in KU compliance). (We) visited about it yesterday. When you (reporters) say there’s no movement, that would probably be a false thing to say, if you just looked at it like it’s not like your car being towed and it’s just sitting over there. When you say there’s no movement, there’s no movement on conclusion. There’s certainly a movement on trying to do everything to get a quicker conclusion. I personally don’t see it happening in the next two days. We can be hopeful.”

From the start, this has been an incident that KU has been self-investigating, with its compliance department looking into the financials of Preston’s car. Because the issue hasn’t been resolved yet, it’s a safe bet that the ownership of Preston’s vehicle has been in question.

Once KU’s compliance department finishes its report — from indications, it sounds like this is coming soon — more than likely KU will share what it has found with the NCAA before waiting on a final ruling. Who knows how long that timeline might take.

It’s all a long way of saying: Preston’s status is still uncertain, though it seems like more will be known soon.

As far as Silvio De Sousa goes, his potential early enrollment at KU appears to have hit a speed bump this week. Gary explains it all in this story (are you following him on Twitter yet?), but the basic gist is, De Sousa will need a better score on a standardized test Saturday to be eligible to join KU this month.

It’s hard to fly under the radar when ranked No. 2 by both polls, but I agree that a lot of the talk nationally seems to be focused on Duke and Michigan State. The natural reason for that is both those teams have played more high-profile, marquee games, while KU has mostly stayed at home while beating up on high-mid-major opponents.

Make no mistake, though: We absolutely should take something away from the huge margins of victory KU has been posting lately. The South Dakota States and Oaklands and Toledos of college basketball aren’t used to losing by 34, 43 and 42 respectively, and that type of possession-by-possession dominance is why KU is ranked No. 1 in Ken Pom, BPI and Sagarin.

As far as national respect is concerned … I don’t think that will come when KU adds more depth. I think it’ll happen when the Jayhawks are able to beat top opponents in nationally televised games.

Those types of opportunities will be here soon enough.

I think the offense can translate to conference play, simply because this four-guard lineup is likely to cause almost any opponent issues because of the Jayhawks’ ability to both drive and shoot from the perimeter. KU already has set a new top offensive mark for a Self team this season, and it followed that up with a 1.69 point-per-possession first half, two games later against Toledo where the Jayhawks made 9 of 11 threes.

The question moving forward, though, will be whether KU can continue to defend at a high level with this lineup. The Jayhawks haven’t faced many big 4 men (think Stanford’s Reid Travis or Texas’ Dylan Osetkowski), and with those matchups, it’ll be much tougher for guys like Lagerald Vick who will be giving up multiple inches and dozens of pounds in the post.

The other worry will be defensive rebounding, which should be a major point of emphasis against Syracuse on Saturday. Udoka Azubuike is only the Jayhawks’ fourth best defensive rebounder, with Self continuing to push him to become better in that area.

It’s not hard to figure out why this facet might be tougher for KU this season. Without Preston, the Jayhawks have only one big guy in a majority of the time, which means everyone needs to chip in to scrap for boards more than in years past.

If KU can simply have a middle-of-the-pack-type of Self defense, the offense should be able to carry this team. There could be some tougher times moving forward, though, as the Jayhawks become accustomed to playing bigger opponents.

Sam Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Arizona State, will be eligible for KU second semester. That begins Dec. 16 with a road game at Nebraska.

As far as expectations … I would say they’re not too high at this point. Self has commented many times about Cunliffe helping the program more in a few years than he will this season, as he’s still getting accustomed to KU’s playcalls and also his role in the offense.

What he will provide, if nothing else, is a bit of depth. If foul trouble hits, he’s an athletic player who can shoot and also should easily be above KU’s walk-ons in the pecking order for minutes.

That’s the million-dollar question, right?

To be fair … there are many, many programs that would accept a regular-season conference title and Elite Eight appearance as their “letdown” seasons. So much is about perspective.

But Self, his staff and those around the program would all tell you KU needs to get past that second-weekend barrier, especially after the recent struggles. The problem is, there’s really no secret formula that works in the tournament that is different from the regular season. You need to have a strong team that is playing well that also gets a little bit of luck at the right time.

The good news for KU fans is that Self always puts his team in the game. The Jayhawks will likely be a 1 or 2 seed again this year, which will give them decent-but-not-overwhelming odds to make the Final Four. That’s simply the reality of a tournament that provides plenty of excitement but also does a crummy job of rewarding the nation’s best teams.

I haven’t followed him too closely, though I did see from social media that he had a SportsCenter Top 10 play this season.

His advanced stats show that he’s thriving with Western Kentucky. He’s made 62 percent of his twos, is a top-200 rebounder on both ends and also has blocked shots at an elite level.

KU could definitely use him given this year’s depth issues. And one would think that if KU’s coaching staff envisioned a bigger role for him this season, it definitely could have done more to discourage him from leaving.

For whatever reason, though, that didn’t happen. Coleby was slow last year to recover from his knee injury, he never fully gained Self’s trust and Jack Whitman also became a player who could only arrive at KU if a spot opened up.

That last part, obviously, didn’t go as the Jayhawks planned. Whitman left the team in July, which has left KU a scholarship player short in a year where it needs that spot filled more than most.

Then again, the lack of bodies has forced Self to a four-guard lineup, which has led KU to five blowout victories. The Jayhawks have navigated their weakness so far, and if they continue to do so, perhaps both Coleby and KU will end up OK with how everything turned out.

I think 14-4 absolutely does it, though 13-5 will likely be good enough to earn a tie. At the moment, each Big 12 team is ranked in KenPom’s top 58, meaning there will be no gimmie road games for anyone. KU always seems to win more than its fair share of close games, though, which always makes a 15-3 or 16-2 mark possible.

Definitely not a bad problem to have. For as thin as KU’s frontcourt is this season, next year could be quite a battle for playing time among Dedric and K.J. Lawson, top-35 recruits De Sousa and David McCormack, Mitch Lightfoot and potentially Azubuike or Preston if they chose to return.

Keep this in mind, though: Even if KU’s recruiting class next year included LeBron James and Michael Jordan in their primes, it couldn’t be ranked any higher than the Jayhawks are right now in KenPom.

Self, with his ability to bring in players, has made it easy for KU fans to look ahead to the future. It’s probably too soon to do that now, though — especially with this team’s impressive start.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell


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