By RUSTIN DODD
LAWRENCE It's now nine days until Kansas opens its exhibition schedule with a game against Pittsburg State on Oct. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse. After watching Kansas practice on Friday afternoon and again on Saturday during a public scrimmage, here are five thoughts on Naadir Tharpe, Andrew Wiggins and the young Jayhawks — and five bits of video highlights if you missed Saturday's early morning scrimmage:
1. Andrew White III is making a case for reserve minutes in the backcourt. The question of whether White, a sophomore guard, is a candidate to redshirt should be put to rest for now. White ran with KU's blue team — the top seven or eight players — during Friday's practice and at the beginning of Saturday's scrimmage.
White played sparingly last season, but he is a natural marksman with good size at 6 feet 6. Self likes his ability to rebound and get the ball to the right spot on offense. And while White still appears to lack some lateral quickness on defense, his straight-line speed has improved, Self says.
It appears that a core group of six or seven players has emerged during the first month of practice: Junior guard Naadir Tharpe, freshmen wings Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins, sophomore forward Perry Ellis, sophomore forward Jamari Traylor and freshman center Joel Embiid.
For now, it seems White is right on the cusp of that core. After Saturday's scrimmage, Self said he expects freshmen guards Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene to all make strides over the next few weeks. So the final spots in the rotation are still in flux. But if White continues to play well, the final guard spot could belong to whoever can best serve as a back-up point guard for Tharpe.
Disclaimer: With six freshman, the rotation could look a lot different in January than it's looking right now.
Some action from Saturday's scrimmage:
2. Naadir Tharpe has established himself as KU's starting point guard. It's not all that surprising, of course. Tharpe and senior Tarik Black have emerged as the team's primary leaders, and KU will definitely need some stability and leadership during a tough non-conference slate.
3. Andrew Wiggins can wreak havoc on defense, but it may take some time. It's easy to focus on Wiggins' offensive skill-set, but while visiting practice on Friday, former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was impressed with Wiggins' defensive potential. Wiggins' length and quickness is a scary combination, and KU will need a lockdown perimeter defender to emerge after losing senior guard Travis Releford.
4. Could we see any four-guard sets? While speaking at Self's annual coaches clinic on Friday, Van Gundy told a story about how Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to play small with the Miami Heat. The short version of the story: Spoelstra saw that playing three guards with LeBron James — and spreading the floor with shooters — allowed James the space to maximize his potential.
For a 6-foot-8 swingman, Wiggins has the potential to be a solid rebounder. He can also get to the basket and set up for others. It'll be interesting to see if Self experiments playing Wiggins alongside a group that features Selden, Tharpe, another shooter, and either Joel Embiid or Tarik Black.
KU, of course, will need sophomore power forward Perry Ellis on the floor. But an occasional small-ball lineup could cause matchup nightmares.
5. Sophomore Jamari Traylor appears to have polished certain aspects of his game — passing, defensive spacing, court awareness — after his freshman season. Last season, Self liked to remind people that Traylor had only played competitive basketball for two season before arriving at KU. His shooting and offensive skills still need some work, but he could slot in as a quality fourth big man for KU.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.