Lagerald Vick could be ‘the factor’ in KU-Texas Tech showdown

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (24) pulls up for a three from the wing over Villanova guard Collin Gillespie (2) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

A starter in 18 of the season’s first 20 games, the most experienced player on the Kansas basketball roster was met with a demotion earlier this week.

Senior guard Lagerald Vick lost his starting job ahead of the Jayhawks’ trip to Texas. It wasn’t the first time his head coach removed Vick from the starting five. And it may not be the last.

At least for the moment, though, KU’s often unpredictable guard seems to be in as good a head space as one could hope. Bill Self indicated Friday afternoon, on the eve of his team’s home matchup with Texas Tech, that he has been satisfied with the veteran’s response since Self removed Vick from the starting five — at least for one game.

“He had a good day (Thursday) — his energy level was really good,” Self reported of KU’s first practice since losing at Texas, a game in which Vick played 23 minutes and scored 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting off the bench.

“And, you know, we need Lagerald to be good Lagerald, without question,” Self said with a grin, “because he can do some things offensively that’s better than anyone else on our team.”

Undeniably, Vick, a 6-foot-5 senior from Memphis who has played in 115 games and started 59, is KU’s best shooter. Entering Friday, the offensive-minded guard ranked 17th in the country in 3-point shooting, connecting on 45.3% of his 137 attempts.

When he’s draining shots, KU tends to benefit. Look at Vick’s splits in wins and losses:

• In KU’s 16 victories: Vick is shooting 50.5% from the floor and 49% on 3-pointers, and averaging 15.8 points, 2.2 assists and 2.6 turnovers.

• In KU’s five defeats: Vick is shooting 37% from the floor and 33.3% on 3-pointers, and averaging 10.6 points, 0.8 assists and 2.8 turnovers.

Sure, there have been instances when Vick was unproductive and KU still managed to win. But he hasn’t stood out offensively in any of KU’s losses, and shot 44.4% or worse from the floor in every one of them.

The Jayhawks’ offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders lately, with them losing three of their last four games. Self’s group needs all the help it can get, and the head coach understands how valuable a confident and productive Vick can be as he tries to navigate the team toward a more consistent and effective offense.

Vick’s worth isn’t lost on the teams trying to beat KU, either. The way Texas Tech coach Chris Beard spoke of Vick during his Thursday press conference, it seemed the No. 16 Red Raiders (17-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12) may be as concerned with shutting down KU’s mercurial shooting guard as they are with harassing go-to scorer Dedric Lawson.

A reporter asked Beard in Lubbock, Texas, ahead of the Red Raiders’ trek north, whether Vick may be the X-factor for No. 11 Kansas (16-5, 5-3) on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think he is the factor. Not the X-factor,” Beard replied. “He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in college basketball. He’s an elite, NBA athlete. He makes plays on both sides of the court, specifically on defense with his ability to get steals and block shots with his quickness. He’s a great open-court player.”

That’s high praise from Beard, particularly considering Vick has yet to burn Tech with his shooting. The last time Vick faced Tech, in late February of his junior season, he played 39 minutes and contributed 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting, to go with one rebound, one block, two steals and a turnover.

In four career games versus the Red Raiders, Vick’s averaging 4.3 points on 27.2% shooting, with a 1-for-13 overall mark on 3-pointers, while averaging 31.3 minutes.

But Beard doesn’t see senior-year Vick (14.5 points per game, 45.3% 3-point shooting) as the same role player who struggled against Tech in the past.

“I think he’s the latest example of Kansas’ player development, too. Last year, maybe their third or fourth shooting option; this year, maybe the best shooter in the league,” Beard offered. “Kansas gets a lot of credit and a lot of pub for their five-star recruiting and stuff like this. But their player development is some of the best in the country. Their guys get better. We saw that first-hand the last couple of years, with four-year players like (Devonte’) Graham and (Frank) Mason, and now we’re seeing it with Vick.”

Self hopes to see the optimal version of Vick reemerge in what should be a slugfest of a matchup with Texas Tech, one of the best defensive teams in the country. Big 12 opponents are averaging only 62.6 points per game and have hit just 29.5% of their 3-pointers against the Red Raiders.

A hot shooting hand on Vick could be the key to a Kansas victory.

“He can make hard shots,” Self said of one of Vick’s best qualities, “and certainly you’re not going to get a ton of wide-open shots against Tech, so that can be very important — having guys that can make semi-guarded shots. Because great shots are going to be few and far between.”

While Ochai Agbaji, the freshman who replaced Vick in the starting five at Texas, will remain a starter against Tech, Self said, there’s a chance Vick could regain his starting job, too. Self hinted Friday he “wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a little bit of a mixup” to the starting unit versus Tech, “just to create some different mojo.”

Will Vick take freshman Quentin Grimes’ spot? Or does Self have something else up his sleeve?

Either way, Self seems to think KU will get the aforementioned “good Lagerald.” Either that or he was trying to speak it into existence.

“I think he’ll have a big game tomorrow. I do,” Self shared. “I’m excited for him. And I’m excited for us to get out there.”


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