Bill Self has had it up to here with these guys, and he’s ready to get dirty. Self announced with a certain amount of fanfare this week that guard Lagerald Vick had been loafing around and would be benched in favor of forward Mitch Lightfoot.
This substitution radically changes the No. 10 Jayhawks, who dropped to 18-5 with a loss at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday. A four-guard team becomes a conventional three-guard team, and Lightfoot, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, will work the high-low game with center Udoka Azubuike.
So who in the world is Mitch Lightfoot?
He’s one of those annoying guys that are all elbows and knees and are always taking charges and never seem to get tired. But he’s got a lot more bounce than he looks like he’d have, and he can make the occasional 3-pointer. Per 40 minutes, he averages 10.7 points, 9 rebounds and 4.6 blocks, but until now he’s only been playing 14 minutes per game.
You’d think the 7-foot-2 Azubuike would be KU’s best shot blocker, but it’s actually Lightfoot who causes the most trouble down there. He was a Rivals.com four-star who had offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Cal, among others.
His insertion to the starting lineup was probably inevitable, but it is about a year ahead of schedule. Billy Preston was supposed to be the 4 this year.
Lightfoot got four minutes per game last year, and the thinking was he might turn into a nice player as a junior or senior, after some maturity and time in the weight room set in. Self has had a lot of big men not thought to be especially talented who grew to play indispensable roles for the Jayhawks, most recently Landen Lucas.
I also suspect Self is not crazy about the four-guard thing, even as a concept. He has allowed this team to shoot a tremendous number of 3-pointers this year, and they have mostly done a great job at it. But they don’t shoot many free throws, they don’t get many rebounds, and they don’t get many junk baskets — those lucky tip-ins, sneaky offensive rebounds, fouls generated.
Were Vick playing the “Dwyane Wade Lite” role he sometimes looks destined to play, this would be a difficult decision. But anybody who has seen KU play recently would have to conclude Lightfoot is affecting games more than Vick is — plus, he’s shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line. He’s not going to pull up and stick one in transition, but you have to keep an eye on him out there.
Self said this would not be a temporary shakeup. This is the lineup Kansas is going with for the rest of the year. If the Jayhawks are going to screw up, they’re going to screw up hard.