KU Basketball: Where do the Jayhawks Turn Without Key Big?


In a blow to an already thin KU basketball frontcourt, freshman center Udoka Azubuike is out for the season. What does it mean moving forward for Kansas?

Who, if anyone, replaces Azubuike’s role?

Due to Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas’s struggles, Azubuike was inserted into the starting role against UNC-Asheville, and didn’t give it up. Over those six games, he averaged 7.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. He was also KU basketball’s best rim protector, with two blocks per game over his last six. Replacing that production won’t be easy, but it’s possible with the current Jayhawk roster.

Landen Lucas is the most obvious candidate. Bill Self will insert him back into the starting lineup right away, where he’ll have to play big minutes at the five spot. Since he was benched, Lucas has stepped up his game, especially recently. Over the same stretch, Lucas has scored 7.6 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, in just under 17 minutes. I’d look for Lucas’s playing time to increase by up to 10 minutes per game. Lucas brings some things to the lineup that Udoka didn’t. He’s a much better free throw shooter (30 points better), rebounder, and position defender. Lucas isn’t a rim protector, but his other strengths make him a solid, if unspectacular, replacement.

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Another chance for Bragg?

Bragg has unquestionably been the most disappointing player for KU basketball this season. We expected him to have a breakout season, with all-conference honors possible. However, he’s looked out of sorts all season, and was suspended for a game after an incident at an off-campus party. He looked to get back on track against Davidson, with a game of seven points and eight rebounds. With Azubuike sidelined, KU needs Bragg’s production.

Even with Self utilizing a four guard lineup most of the time, the Jayhawks need big bodies and the ability to score in the post. Bragg is without question KU’s best scoring big man, even though he doesn’t have a developed post game. He’s improved his rebounding rate as well, and can utilize his 6’10 frame to defend some bigger forwards KU will face in conference play. Bragg’s skill and big frame could be a big asset to KU, and more valuable without a lot post depth.

Who occupies the other big man spot?

At their best, this edition of the Jayhawks plays four guards. It differs from every other Self team in that there were really only three big men in the rotation: Bragg, Lucas, and Azubuike. Without Udoka, the third spot falls to either junior Dwight Coleby or freshman Mitch Lightfoot. Neither exactly inspires confidence among Jayhawk faithful.

Self will likely use each depending on the matchup, and Coleby’s health. The Bahamian still isn’t the player he was at Ole Miss, and is still struggling with his surgically repaired knee. Lightfoot is a high-motor and bouncy athlete, but lacks the size and bulk to be a regular contributor. Self could use Coleby against a more traditional lineup with two big men, and Lightfoot against a smaller, quicker opponent. Eventually, I hope Coleby heals to 100% and can get back to the explosive athlete he was at Ole Miss.

Bottom line

While Udoka’s loss is a major blow to KU’s season, it’s not the end of the world. This is still Kansas, and there are talented players on the roster. They all have to work to replace what Udoka brings, other than the big man’s unique size. Look for the KU juggernaut to continue, if differently than before.