The dogged ability of Frank Mason to drive to the rim coupled with the streaky outside shooting touch possessed by Devonte’ Graham are what gets noticed most about the smaller guards in the Kansas backcourt.
Yet each guard contributes in other ways, as evidenced by the 11 assists Graham distributed in the No. 4 Jayhawks’ last victory, a 95-57 rout of North Carolina-Asheville.
"I thought (Graham) was really good," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Frank scored the points (21), but I thought Devonte’ was certainly the facilitator."
Graham did so while surrounded by new starters.
Self altered his lineup to include freshman center Udoka Azubuike and sophomore guard Lagerald Vick. Each contributed mightily, combining for 32 points. Azubuike slammed seven dunks while going 8-for-9 from the field and Vick went 6-for-7 and grabbed nine rebounds.
Expect the new lineup, which also features one of the nation’s top freshmen, 6-foot-8 guard Josh Jackson, to remain intact as Kansas (5-1) continues a five-game homestand Tuesday against Long Beach State (1-7) at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
"If Dok and Lagerald play like that," said Self, "that’s the best production we’ve gotten all year long from those two spots, so it could be permanent."
That, of course, was meant as a motivational message, laced in truth, to the players they supplanted in the starting lineup, senior center Landen Lucas and sophomore forward Carlton Bragg.
Count on Mason and Graham to be regulars, however, along with Jackson.
Mason has topped the Jayhawks in scoring in five of six games and ranks second in the Big 12 Conference with a 21.5-point average while chipping in 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Graham averages 13 points and leads the Jayhawks in assists (34) and steals (10). Jackson averages 14.3 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds.
With those three players as mainstays, Self has the depth to use different combinations best suited for the opponents Kansas faces.
Considering Azubuike checks in as a 7-footer listed at 280 pounds, the Jayhawks have a frontline force who can impact the lane as long as he stays out of foul trouble.
"We’ll start based on scouting report a lot of times, and we haven’t ever done that," Self projected. "But if a team plays small, we’ll probably go small. If a team plays two bigs, we may go two bigs. But certainly it was nice to see Udoka have some success because, you know, he is a physical presence that we don’t have and he can get so much better."
Long Beach State, the preseason Big West favorite, will be making its eighth stop as part of a nine-game road swing. The brutal stretch has resulted in seven straight defeats — at Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, Washington, Binghamton and Florida Gulf Coast. The 49ers’ only win was at home in their opener against Cal State-Los Angeles.
In its most recent game, Long Beach scored the first five points in overtime but lost to Florida Gulf Coast 68-67 on a layup with 2.4 seconds remaining.
Although Dan Monson approved the grueling early-season run as a method to strengthen the 49ers’ resolve, and resume’, the 10th-year coach expressed some regret.
"I’m really concerned about them mentally because of all the years I’ve done this, this has been the hardest stretch and this team was not ready for it," Monson told the Orange County Register.
The schedule has also prompted Monson to look at various combinations. Ten players average 11-plus minutes.
Junior forward Gabe Levin leads Long Beach State in scoring (13.0) and rebounding (7.6).