Kansas Jayhawks Q&A: Let’s dive into the KU basketball frontcourt

Welcome to another edition of the Kansas Jayhawks Q&A mailbag!

It’s been quite an eventful week around KU athletics. The Kansas men’s basketball team is in a bit of a rut. The Jayhawks lost their third straight game, a 75-69 loss to Baylor, on Monday at Ferrell Center.

Kansas heads to Lexington to play Kentucky on Saturday, with the Jayhawks looking avoid their first four-game losing streak since the 1988-89 season. It would also be the first four-game losing streak during Kansas coach Bill Self’s tenure.

On the football front, Kansas football officially announced the addition of 13 new players.

All of them are on campus and enrolled for the 2023 spring semester. KU’s transfer class has plenty of Division I experience, boasting a combined 250 games played.

Now let’s dive into these questions. The first few questions are from the KU Sports Twitter Spaces, which I host every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Thank you for all the questions!

How is coach Bill Self trying to handle the younger guys with size, overall minutes? KJ Adams is an amazing player, but he has some size limitations. It’s evident when he goes up with guys with size. What’s the solution for the lack of big man depth—@jpahmahmie

This is the million-dollar question for the Kansas men’s basketball team.

No matter how good or bad KU has played in this stretch, the thing that worries me most is there is no clear front-runner for the first big off the bench.

Lately, center Zach Clemence has seen an uptick in minutes. Before it was Zuby Ejiofor. Early in the season, Ernest Udeh Jr. saw some minutes.

KU desperately needs one of the trio to step up and provide 10-15 consistent minutes off the bench. It gives Kansas more versatility with lineups and the opportunity to try different things on both ends.

The issue has been any time Adams sits (whether due to foul trouble or rest), there’s been a clear drop in play from his bench replacement.

The bigs have to play better in practice because it’s too far in the season for Self to play any player in anything but spot minutes.

Kansas plays against arguably the best big man in the nation in Oscar Tshiebwe on Saturday. I asked Self on Thursday which big he plans to bring off the bench first; he said he doesn’t know yet.

That’s a telling answer — especially coming off a season in which KU’s one-two punch (David McCormack, Mitch Lightfoot) was pretty much set in stone.

The only way Self will consistently have that answer is if one of them plays well in practice and does well whenever they step foot on the court.

I saw in the past few games that Cam Martin wasn’t dressed out and I know it’s because the shoulder was still bugging him. Do you have any updates there? —Connor Schmidt

Self said Martin and guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. are both steadily progressing. The pair are currently practicing in a limited capacity, but it’ll be a bit before either player is game-ready.

I’m not sure I totally agree with the assessment that Self can’t recruit bigs (besides Joel Embiid) that can contribute to KU in their freshman or sophomore years.

This year alone, KU has Adams, a sophomore, contributing quite a bit.

In previous years, obviously before Embiid, the list includes players such as Thomas Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich and Darrell Arthur.

Now, I’m not saying that list includes a ton of recent names — and compared to the number of quality guards and forwards that have come out of KU, the list is comparably smaller.

I don’t think that’s a Bill Self issue but a national college basketball issue.

It’s tough to develop as a big because you have to limit mistakes on both ends, which any player can struggle with, no matter the position. The issue for bigs is their mistakes are magnified. Teams need their bigs to be competent on defense because you can’t hide them like you can a guard. So if they are bad on defense, they have to be elite on offense to offset that.

This is especially important for a defense-oriented coach like Self.

So the key to contributing for any young Kansas big comes from playing well enough on defense that Self trusts them ... which leads to real minutes.

Then, the big can prove how valuable they are on both ends. I think the hurdles a big has to go through to contribute is why you don’t see a ton of KU bigs play a lot early, though they usually develop nicely as time goes on: Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack and Landen Lucas are recent examples.

Honestly, I’m feeling pretty good. In college, I was good for a solid eight points per game in my intramural league.

This one time, I was red-hot and dropped 13 points.

... We lost 85-21.

If we cloned my 5-foot-9 self five times and put me out on the basketball court? I’d shudder for what the Kansas basketball team is in store for. I’ve gotten a little bit stronger, bigger and tougher. I’m a coach’s dream with my solid fundamentals.

In the post, I am somewhere between prime Kwame Brown and Anthony Bennett. On defense, I liken myself to Isaiah Thomas.

My mentality while shooting the ball is akin to Dion Waiters.

So if we factor all this in and I did the calculations right, the final score would be:

Kansas 220, Shreyas’ Clones 3.

Hey, I’d have to get fouled at least a few times right?