Deep Kentucky frontcourt awaits Kansas big Dedric Lawson
Lexington, Ky. — At no point Saturday night at Rupp Arena will Kansas forward Dedric Lawson have to take on all four members of Kentucky’s frontcourt at once.
By the end of the blue blood clash, though, Lawson very well may feel like he just did.
The lone big in KU’s four-guard lineup and the most effective scorer and rebounder on the roster, Lawson is likely to play as close to 40 minutes as is reasonable against a Wildcats front line that will run large bodies on and off the floor, and on and off again, as much as UK coach John Calipari sees fit.
“They’re big,” Self said earlier this week when asked for his assessment of the Wildcats, ahead of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. “They’ve got enough fouls to give that they should never have to play shorthanded up front.”
Indeed, No. 8 Kentucky starts 6-foot-8 graduate transfer Reid Travis and 6-8 sophomore P.J. Washington up front. But Calipari said during this week’s SEC coaches teleconference he doesn’t mind switching things up inside, and letting freshman E.J. Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards prove their worth, too.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Calipari said of Kentucky’s luxury, being able to play four different bigs while expecting production. “All of them are getting better. They’re all taking on roles.”
Self knows Travis best, having seen the former Stanford big in person against KU each of the past two years.
“They all bring something,” Self said of UK’s big men. “But Reid brings, obviously he brings size. He’s an explosive jumper in tight. He doesn’t shoot a ton of 3’s, but he’s definitely a skilled perimeter player and can stretch it, as evidenced by what he did at Stanford as much as anything. He also brings a ton of experience,” Self added. “I would think that his value to the team is probably about as high as anyone’s.”
Even Richards, the fourth man in UK’s frontcourt rotation, plays more consistently (11.4 minutes per game) than either of KU’s backups to Lawson — junior Mitch Lightfoot averages 8.1 minutes on the season but has played seven or fewer minutes in five of the past six games; freshman David McCormack averages 6.6 minutes off the bench, with matchups and/or foul situations often dictating how much his playing time fluctuates from the one or two minutes to 10-minute range.
The Wildcats (15-3 overall, 5-1 SEC) may lack a surefire double-double type of big such as Lawson, who averages 19.5 points and 10.9 rebounds. But Calipari isn’t complaining, because his team possesses depth inside. UK’s coach has no problem going away from Travis or Washington if one of the backups is more effective.
“They’ve got to accept if someone’s playing really well you’ll get less minutes. And if he’s not playing well and you’re the guy, you become the starter in the middle of the game and he’s the backup,” Calipari explained. “Now he’s only subbing when you need a break.”
During Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak, the production and impact from its bigs has varied:
• 85-74 win vs. Texas A&M: Travis, 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block; Washington, 9 points, 5 rebounds; Richards, 5 points, 1 rebound, 2 blocks; Montgomery, 4 points, 2 rebounds.
• 56-47 win vs. Vanderbilt: Travis, 5 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks; Washington, 3 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block; Richards, 2 points, 1 rebound; Montgomery, 0 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block.
• 69-49 win at Georgia: Travis, 5 points, 5 rebounds; Washington, 10 points, 6 rebounds; Richards, 4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks; Montgomery, 6 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block.
• 82-80 win at Auburn: Travis, 17 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block; Washington, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block; Richards, 1 point, 1 rebound; Montgomery, 0 points, 1 rebound.
• 76-55 win vs. Mississippi State: Travis, 5 points, 12 rebounds, 1 block; Washington, 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks; Richards, 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block; Montgomery, 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block.
“So that’s kind of how we’ve done it,” Calipari said, “and it’s worked out well. Some games we need length, other games we need strength, brute force. And we have a little bit of both.”
Lawson will have help from Marcus Garrett down low in defending whichever two of UK’s quartet of bigs is on the court at any given time. And other KU guards certainly figure to be involved in doubling Kentucky bigs inside when the scheme calls for it. On the other hand, the Wildcats’ bigs should be able to take turns leaning on, jostling with and defending Lawson inside.
This will likely go down as one of Lawson’s most formidable challenges of the season, and if things go the Jayhawks’ way, their star player won’t spend too much time on the bench. However, there would be no better time or situation than in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge’s main event for Lawson’s fellow bigs to deliver.
Whether it’s by defending the paint and securing rebounds while Lawson takes a breather, or by challenging UK’s bigs on the other end of the floor by hitting the offensive glass and setting helpful screens for KU’s guards, the Jayhawks will need the best Lightfoot and McCormack have to offer against Kentucky’s front line.
One man — not even KU’s best player — can do it alone. Not against these four bigs, who average a combined 32.5 points, 21.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
The Jayhawks’ three-man frontcourt averages 23.3 points, 14.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.