Christian Braun earned his first start on Monday at Oklahoma State and took advantage in a big way.
The freshman from Burlington, Kan. finished the night as the leading scorer for Kansas with 16 points (going 4-of-8 from 3-point range) and adding in 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and one block. It was the second time he has led the team in scoring this season after scoring a team-high 20 points against Kansas State last week.
Monday also marked the most minutes Braun has played in a game this season (33) – bringing his average number of minutes to 25 per game during the month of January.
This increase in playing time is a clear indication that Bill Self is trusting the freshman more and more. That increase in confidence from his head coach appears to have helped Braun’s confidence as well, as evidenced by his recent production.
This emergence in confidence, playing time, and production could not have come at a better time for Kansas because it helps solve Bill Self’s starting lineup dilemma.
All season long, Self has talked about how the most effective lineup is when they play four guards and yet he has continued to start both David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike. The suspension of David McCormack for his participation in last week’s brawl with K-State – which is now over – forced Self to start small because he had no other choice.
Moss started in McCormack’s place on Saturday against Tennessee but Self clearly doesn’t feel comfortable leaving Moss in the starting lineup or else he would have made that move before McCormack’s suspension.
With Braun, Self appears to have found his answer and (much to the delight of Kansas fans) is finally willing to embrace the 4-guard starting lineup.
To win in March this team also needs someone who can knock down 3-pointers consistently.
With Udoka Azubuike being the centerpiece of the offense and the main focus for opposing defenses, KU’s guards need to be ready to hit outside shots when teams double Azubuike and leave them open.
Isaiah Moss has shown flashes but hasn’t been able to shoot from deep consistently all season. Braun has shot 11-of-22 from deep the past three games and it’s a big reason why they’ve won. Braun is also shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range this season compared to 37.9 for Isaiah Moss – which is best on the team among the eight guys who play consistent minutes.
Braun not only brings outside shooting but he plays hard and he’s got a swagger that this team needs more of.
If Braun can shake off the first-time nerves that often come with playing in March Madness and bring this outside shooting ability and energy each night, then he could be the spark this team needs to get back to the Final Four.
We’ll see if Self feels the same way when starting lineups are announced on Saturday as the Jayhawks take on Texas Tech.
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