LEXINGTON, Ky. — On Thursday, coach Bill Self told reporters that depth might force Kansas to play some zone defense against Kentucky.
Kansas has had depth issues all season, but the frontcourt depth only got worse Thursday with the suspension of sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr.
As for matching up against Kentucky’s forwards, Self said that he wanted to play man defense, “but the reality of it is with our depth situation and certain things and maybe depending on how they're shooting the ball ... it may dictate that we play some zone.”
Carlton Bragg Jr. has been suspended indefinitely. The suspension is not related to the McCarthy Hall rape investigation.
Opposing big men have been a frequent thorn in Kansas' side, highlighted by West Virginia's Esa Ahmad’s 27 point performance and Stanford's Reid Travis’ 29 points back in early December.
There have been two significant instances where zone defense has come into play: November 22 against Georgia and January 24 against West Virginia.
The appearance of zone defense against the Mountaineers was a result of the Jayhawks' ability to stop their offense with man defense.
After Ahmad exploited his matchup against freshman forward Josh Jackson, Self switched to zone defense where, in this case Bragg bailed out Ahmad with a foul.
Later, Ahmad is in a similar situation. Kansas’ zone defense keeps him out of the paint and forces him to take the lower percentage shot.
In this case, senior center Landen Lucas’ defense is enough to force the miss and, as a result, Kansas scored on the fast break.
Results were largely mixed against West Virginia and as a whole, and the defense wasn’t good enough at any point of the game to come out of Morgantown with a win.
Despite the imperfect execution at West Virginia, Kansas has had success with the zone this year. It came months earlier in a win over Georgia.
At this point in the game, Kansas had already brought freshman center Udoka Azubuike and junior forward Dwight Coleby off the bench to stop Georgia’s Yante Maten who, to this point, had scored 15 points.
After switching to zone, Georgia is forced to take tougher shots while Maten goes both possessions without touching the ball. Here, Georgia passes the ball around the outside and Pape Diatta, a 30.8 percent three-point shooter, takes the shot instead.
Even when Maten got the ball, he was pushed away from his successful inside game and forced to take a tough jumper.
In the seven minutes remaining in the half after Kansas moved to zone, Georgia only scored five points, three of which came from free throws.
On Friday, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Kansas’ defense.
"We don’t know what they are going to do," Calipari said. "They may go zone. They may go triangle and two. They may trap the post. They may go small and make us go."
Kansas' stingy defense against Georgia definitely doesn't indicate prolonged success of zone defense, but if Kansas hopes to stop Kentucky's elite backcourt, it may be worth challenging them to shoot against a different kind of defense.