They found a way to grind out a narrow, hard-fought victory over the highest-rated opponent they’ll face until Big 12 play begins.
Kansas had plenty to be happy about after its 65-61 victory over Kentucky on Tuesday night were it not for concerns about the eligibility of their most decorated freshman.
Bill Self announced before Tuesday’s game that Kansas was holding out freshman forward Billy Preston indefinitely pending a review of the one-car accident he was involved in Saturday night in Lawrence. The statement from Self is purposely vague, but the potential issue appears to be how Preston acquired the car he was driving.
“After I learned about the incident, I reported it to our administration,” Self said. “The administration determined that we needed a clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle. We decided to hold him out of tonight’s game and will continue to do that until the review is complete.”
Self informed Preston of the decision before Kansas’ pregame meal on Tuesday. The freshman was understandably distraught, especially after sitting out the Jayhawks’ season opener on Friday night after missing class and curfew earlier in the week.
“Needless to say he was disappointed and crushed,” Self said. “He was very excited to make his KU debut. We hope to have the situation resolved as soon as possible.”
The absence of Preston is a big blow to a Kansas team teeming with talented guards but lacking much frontcourt depth.
On Tuesday, Self started four guards around Udoka Azubuike, the team’s primary rebounder and rim protector. The only other Kansas big man to play was 6-foot-8 Mitch Lightfoot, who logged a mere four minutes against the long, athletic Kentucky front line.
Preston, a skilled 6-foot-10 forward rated No. 11 in his class by Rivals.com, certainly would have given Self another frontcourt option. He isn’t renowned for his interior toughness, but he scores mulitple ways and he’s an excellent passer and ball handler for his size.
Without Preston, Kansas had only seven scholarship players and put 6-foot-8 guard Svi Mykhailiuk at power forward for long stretches, creating a mismatch at both ends of the floor. Mykhailiuk led Kansas with 17 points on 18 shots, but he also struggled to contain Kentucky stretch forward Kevin Knox, who erupted for 20 points and 7 rebounds.
While Kansas’ unusually soft early-season schedule could buy time for the school to further review Preston’s accident, the Jayhawks will need their freshman forward by Big 12 play. Otherwise they will need Azubuike to play 34 minutes per game and avoid foul trouble or worse yet injury.
Credit Kansas for overcoming the absence of Preston against Kentucky by attacking the offensive glass, forcing 18 turnovers and generating just enough offense to win.
But for Kansas to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2012, Preston will probably have to be doing more than cheering his teammates on from the bench.
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