Jayhawks need big men to step up against UNC Asheville

UNC Asheville Bulldogs-Kansas Jayhawks preview

Landen Lucas combined with fellow starter Carlton Bragg and backups Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike to post five points, eight rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in Kansas' most recent win.

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The answer Kansas coach Bill Self provided when asked what was wrong with the play of his big men in the No. 5 ranked Jayhawks' latest win was simplistic, yet complete.

"Everything," Self replied.

He did not need to elaborate on details. The box score revealed enough.

Starting forwards Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg combined with backups Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike to post five points, eight rebounds, two assists and three turnovers on Nov. 22 as Kansas beat Georgia 65-54 in the championship game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

The need for more production inside is becoming acute with the 4-1 Jayhawks scheduled to face North Carolina-Asheville (3-2) on Nov. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse.

"They're just not playing very well and they're not playing very smart, and not contributing," Self said of his bigs, Lucas and Bragg in particular. "They're good kids and they want to do well, but for whatever reason they both have really struggled."

Conjecture over Kansas using more four-guard lineups circulated throughout the preseason and remains a possibility, especially with its frontcourt issues. So far, Self has maintained the same starting lineup, looking to get high-low production from Lucas and Bragg in the post.

Against Georgia, Self was inclined to play a 2-3 zone because the Kansas defense was gouged by Bulldogs forward Yante Maten, who scored 15 of his team's first 18 points and finished with 30 points and 13 boards. His teammates, however, shot just 8 for 37 while failing to solve the rare zone employed by Self.

"Maten's really good. I mean, he's a really good player," Self said. "But we're going to go up against some other guys that are really good players too, and to have one post guy get 30 and 13 on your guys that don't scratch, I mean, we can't win that way."

That point will probably be stressed by veteran players too.

There is a more forceful identity the Jayhawks feel they can project by shutting down opponents in man-to-man defense. In fact, Self estimated his team had practiced zone looks in practice for no more than 10 minutes before adjusting to that alignment against Georgia.

"It worked pretty well for us," conceded senior point guard Frank Mason, "but hopefully we don't have to use zone again. We take pride in guarding our man and just try to guard man-to-man the whole game."

Mason remains the Jayhawks' leading scorer with a 21.6-point average, though freshman forward Josh Jackson was named the most valuable player of the CBE Classic after recording his first collegiate double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia.

UNC Asheville has won three straight behind junior guard Ahmad Thomas, who leads the Bulldogs with averages of 16.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, as well as 12 steals and five blocked shots.

In a 64-58 victory at Furman on Tuesday, freshman guard MaCio Teague drained a three-pointer with 5:15 remaining to give Asheville the lead for keeps. Teague went on to net a career-best 22 points, going 4 for 9 from behind the arc.

While converting 20 turnovers into 18 points, Asheville snapped Furman's 11-game home win streak.

"I thought we just found a way to win on the road against a very good Furman team," said Bulldogs coach Nick McDevitt. "It was a back-and-forth game and we were able to get a few key stops."

UNC Asheville, picked in the preseason to finish third in the Big South, opened with road defeats at VCU and Georgia. The matchup with Kansas is, for both teams, the last of four games affiliated with the CBE Classic.