Examining the impact of the departure of former Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa

photo by: Nick Krug

Blue Team center David McCormack pulls back to dunk during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, at the Horejsi Athletic Center. In back is Red Team forward Mitch Lightfoot.

It’s been a couple of years since now-former KU forward Silvio De Sousa made a real impact for the Kansas basketball program on game night, so it’s hard to say his recent decision to step away from basketball will hurt the Jayhawks much.

But that doesn’t mean De Sousa’s departure won’t have any effect on the program. It could, for instance, change the way the Jayhawks structure their lineups this winter.

Earlier last week, before De Sousa announced his departure on Friday, coach Bill Self held his first meeting with the media of the 2020-21 season, and he lauded the depth of his team — which, at the time, included De Sousa in the frontcourt.

“I think we could play 11 (players),” Self said. “And, depending on how things fall out, there’s times where maybe we could play all 13 (scholarship players).”

With KU down to 12 scholarship players, that obviously will no longer be the case. The big question now: How will De Sousa’s departure affect the rest of the roster?

With De Sousa gone, the Jayhawks almost certainly will play the way they have for the majority of the past three seasons — with four guards and one big man. That probably was going to be the case most of the time anyway, but Self was still intrigued by the idea of playing two bigs some of the time.

Even before the De Sousa news, junior forward David McCormack was going to get the first shot at filling the role vacated by Udoka Azubuike and being the anchor of the KU frontcourt. McCormack will still be that player, and his importance is only slightly greater than it was with De Sousa around.

It’s not that McCormack now will be asked to do a lot more for the Jayhawks. Rather, it’s that his presence as an experienced and legitimate big body is suddenly even more valuable, because he now represents 33% of KU’s frontcourt options instead of just 25%.

But De Sousa’s departure could have a much bigger effect on the two players behind McCormack: senior Mitch Lightfoot and freshman Gethro Muscadin.

When De Sousa was still in the mix, Muscadin was almost certainly going to redshirt this season. Now, he’s one injury away from having an important role as a reserve.

However, as long as Lightfoot and McCormack stay healthy, there’s no reason to think that those two will have any trouble splitting the 40 minutes available at the 5, making the idea of playing Muscadin an option but not necessarily automatic.

If anything, I think De Sousa leaving has a bigger impact on Lightfoot than it does Muscadin.

Before De Sousa’s announcement, I thought there was a strong chance that Lightfoot was going to get a handful of starts at the 4 this season. In that scenario — perhaps during the first couple of weeks of the season — Self could have elected to start both McCormack and Lightfoot, knowing that he had De Sousa available to back up both of them and that he also could play four guards a good chunk of the time.

Now, however, Self needs Lightfoot to fill the important role of being McCormack’s primary backup.

If the Jayhawks encounter an opponent that plays big, Lightfoot and McCormack could still both play as much as needed to match up. But those types of teams are becoming rarer in college basketball. Therefore, putting both bigs on the floor to open games seems a little too risky, both because of foul trouble and because the inexperienced Muscadin would be the lone backup for both of them.

The silver lining here might be that the Jayhawks can settle into a solid rotation sooner than they otherwise would have. It took Self and company a couple of months to abandon the two-big approach last season, even though they knew that the Jayhawks’ best lineups were with four guards on the floor.

This year, there likely will be no delay, and that should play right into KU’s strengths, with a backcourt that is loaded with depth, talent and versatility. Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun all can play big or small, and Marcus Garrett is able and willing to do anything the coaches ask.

That group, along with McCormack, Lightfoot and Muscadin down low, should be more than enough to keep Kansas in position to compete against anyone.


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