Kansas freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor were never going to be immediate stars. Chances are, they wouldn't have even been starters. But their dual loss, thanks to the NCAA's preseason decision to rule both as partial qualifiers (neither is eligible to play in games; both can begin practicing with the team now that the fall semester is over), is the root of the biggest problem the Jayhawks face right now. That problem? A lack of depth.
Following Monday night's upset loss to Davidson, Kansas coach Bill Self explained why that depth -- or the lack thereof -- matters so much. And it may not be why you think. From the Lawrence Journal-World:
“To me, this is what I really think, and this could be coaching, this could be a lot of things, so I’m not putting the blame on the players,” Self said. “I’m not putting the blame on really anybody. But the reality of it is, depth is such a great thing. But depth isn’t great because of injuries, and depth isn’t great because of foul problems. Depth is great because when guys don’t play the way you want them to, they don’t have to play. That’s why depth is great. Everybody who says other things, no, that’s it.
“We just don’t have guys who can come in yet and us not skip a beat,” Self said.
Journal-World writer Tom Keegan analogized the problem well: "Any coach’s two best friends are his carrot and his penalty box. ... It’s much tougher for Self to dangle a carrot or point to a seat on the bench when handcuffed by such a shallow roster."
That sounds exactly right to me. Self's benches have almost always been stocked with elite talent, guys waiting in the wings for their chance at stardom (see: Thomas Robinson) while the likes of Cole Aldrich or Mario Chalmers or Sherron Collins or insert-All-American-here commanded the majority of the playing time. This is the first year in many in which that simply isn't the case.
It's not about rotation, or about being able to go nine or 10 deep. Most coaches, including Self, choose to limit their distribution of minutes in favor of building a cohesive core rotation anyway. It's about Self being able to sit a player who isn't performing, or reward a player who showed up in practice. If he can't do that, he's stuck rolling with the punches. His mid-game options, as in the loss Monday night, are limited. And so the Jayhawks' development this season may be limited, too.