With Auburn playing in a big game against a marquee opponent, it was time to roll back out the Q&As. So I appreciate Andy Mitts from Rock Chalk Talk for taking the time to answer my questions. I also participated in a Q&A with their site as well, and you can check that out here. They’ve got some incredible content on their page so I highly encourage you to check their site out to get ready for tonight’s game. Andy’s answers are in bold below.
1. It’s the first time in 15 years that Kansas didn’t win at least a share of the Big 12 Regular Season Title. I don’t think we’ll see a run like that again in the Power 6 Conferences but as we begin, as someone who follows Kansas, what did that streak mean to you personally, and how does it feel to come into the NCAA Tournament somewhat under the radar for a change?
“Most of the Kansas fanbase (including myself) had come to terms with the fact that the streak was going to end at some point. Whether that was a preemptive strike against the disappoint that would come from the end of the streak or simply a healthy acceptance of the inevitable, I’m not sure. And if you had told me at the beginning of the year that this would be the year it ended, I probably would have called you an idiot, given that this was the preseason #1 team that was absolutely stacked. But the fact that it took an injury to Udoka Azubuike, Silvio DeSousa being declared ineligible, Lagerald Vick leaving the team for personal reasons, Marcus Garrett getting injured for a stretch of the conference season, and 3 players who were expected to be big contributors go completely cold for them to lose the streak, and even then they were in it going into the final week of the season.”
“As for coming under the radar, I think being picked as the most likely upset added a bit of pressure, but also a great deal of defiance, despite the fact that Northeastern was poised to take advantage of our greatest weaknesses, at least on paper.”
2. The Jayhawks were the Preseason #1 team but obviously injuries and suspensions have played a role in the team not living up to those expectations (Auburn didn’t live up to expectations for a good part of the year). How has Bill Self been able to keep this team together despite losing guys like Udoka Azubuike and LaGerald Vick?
“I know it sounds cliche, but it really has to do with his ability to make the team come together as a real family. I think that really started to take hold when the Morris twins were at school, as they repeatedly used the hashtag #FOE in everything they did. Then when the team rallied around Thomas Robinson as he lost multiple family members over the span of a couple of weeks, the comraderie that the team built has just carried over from season to season since then. Despite having no seniors on this team by the end, the extra year that all the transfers spent in the system really helped them bond together and pull through the tough times they have encountered.”
“It also helps that guys like Billy Preston and Silvio DeSousa have stayed around the team and remained positive even while they were going through the various troubles they have had. Silvio this year has been one of the biggest sources of motivation for his teammates, despite being forced to sit out for the alleged actions of his guardian.”
3. Dedric Lawson has had a tremendous season for the Jayhawks, especially without Azubuike and Vick, and for us at Auburn, he’s the guy we are most worried about going into tomorrow night’s game. Just talk about his significance to this year’s Kansas team.
“It’s been huge. I mean, he was expected to be the best player on the team, even with Azubuike and Vick in the lineup, but without those guys, he has had to be THE guy for this team, since Quentin Grimes hasn’t lived up to the hype and Devon Dotson has been the only other consistent player. The biggest part of Dedric’s game that is overlooked is just how versatile he is. CJ Moore of The Athletic did a great feature on him right before the NCAA Tournament started that talked about how his parents refused to let him get pigeonholed as a big man, and that training has really paid off as he has taken more outside shots to open up the spacing and give him the ability to get into the lane and do more. And most impressive of all is that he consistently gets his points. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at the box score at the end of a game and said “How in the hell did he score 20 points?” He’s not flashy when he plays, so a lot of times his production gets overlooked.”
4. How does Kansas matchup with in terms of dealing with Auburn’s 10-man rotation?
“I actually think that Kansas will fair pretty well. Kansas has played some deep teams, and as long as they don’t get reckless, their starting 5 are very versatile. Kansas routinely plays 8-9 deep, with Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett and some combination of KJ Lawson and Charlie Moore coming off the bench, and all of them have come up in big spots before. The only thing that I’m really worried about is if Devon Dotson gets two quick fouls, as I don’t know how well this team will handle the Auburn pressure without their primary ballhandler for long stretches.”
5. Is there another team Kansas has played this year that shoots as many 3-pointers as Auburn does?
“They have played a lot of 3-point happy teams. Villanova, Marquette, Iowa State, Northeastern, and a few more that I haven’t thought of all try to light it up from outside. And Kansas has had varying success against those squads. I think Northeastern is probably the only team that is as consistently skewed towards 3-point production, but in general Kansas has had a good time guarding the 3 when a team doesn’t have a whole lot else going for it, or if it is the main thing they can focus on. That’s what we saw in the first round. While Auburn has more that they can do inside, I’m still a bit comforted by the fact that Kansas can focus a lot more on the perimeter than in the post in general, and so hopefully they should be able to challenge the 3 quite well today.”
6. Kansas has gotten some good contributions from freshmen guards Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji. What’s most impressive about Agbaji is he was originally redshirting to start the year as I recall. Describe the matchup between those guys against Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown?
“I actually think that you are going to see Marcus Garrett and Devon Dotson matched up on those two, just because they are our two best defenders on the perimeter. Garrett was arguably the best defender in the Big 12 this year, in a conference that was very defense-heavy, but his offensive game just isn’t there unless he can find open lanes to drive to the basket. I am more worried about how well Dotson (and Garrett when he is out) is able to keep a handle on the ball and avoid costly turnovers.”
7. Who’s a player on Kansas team that flies under the radar that Auburn fans should be aware of?
“Got to be “Prison” Mitch Lightfoot, or as I like to call him, Mitch GOATfoot. He is definitely the energy guy on this team, the one that can come in 5 minutes into the first half and spark a quick run or shut down a particular player with his seemingly random block angles. He is an absolute beast down low against everyone except the tallest centers, because he has a habit of disguising where his defense is going and sneaking in at the last second to take away an angle or a shot. He leads the teams in charges taken, and he is quick enough to jump out and defend on the perimeter as well. I expect most of his contributions to be on the defensive end today, but don’t be surprised if he leads both teams in blocks while only playing 15 minutes or so.”
8. I think this is going to be one of the best games on Saturday. Who do you think wins and do you have a score prediction?
“I really want to pick the Jayhawks here, but I’ve been worried about the poise of this Kansas team for a long time now, and Auburn is uniquely equipped to take advantage of both of the big weaknesses of this KU team: 3-point defense and ball security on offense. I don’t think this will be a blowout either way, and it will go back and forth, but ultimately I think that Auburn pulls it out at the end.”
And with the winner of this game going to Kansas City and our love for BBQ, I asked Andy this question on behalf of AUChief.
Bonus Question: Non-game related but one of our writers wants to know how much you guys eat at Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City?
“I don’t actually live in the KC area anymore, but I find it hard to imagine that people that do live there eat there all that often. But it’s not because it isn’t REALLY good, it’s just that there are approximately eleventy billion really good places in the metro area, and it’s hard to focus too much on any particular spot too much.”