X

Silvio De Sousa Is the Surprise Star Kansas Needs Heading into NCAA Tournament

Tully Corcoran@@tullycorcoranSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 11, 2018

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 08:  Silvio De Sousa #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks dunks during the Big 12 Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the Sprint Center on March 8, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When Silvio De Sousa called for the lob from Devonte' Graham, he was a high school kid who was playing shockingly well in the first half of the Big 12 Championship Game in Kansas City, Missouri. By the time he landed, De Sousa was the newest thing to keep an eye on in college basketball, and the main reason for discarding the idea that Kansas has no depth.

This may still be the most vulnerable Kansas team of the Bill Self era, depending what you think that word means. But sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot has, late in the season, proven himself as an energetic and shockingly bouncy 4-man. And now here comes De Sousa, getting 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half against a West Virginia team with the most intimidating defensive presence in the country, Sagaba Konate—who terrorized Kansas with 18 points, three blocks and a number of altered shots in what wound up being an 81-70 Kansas win, the Jayhawks' third of the season over West Virginia.  

Konate fairly well demolished the Jayhawks in the first half. Lightfoot—Kansas' starting big man now that 7'0" center Udoka Azubuike is tending to a knee sprain—spent most of it on the bench in foul trouble. If this had been the Silvio De Sousa of early February, the Jayhawks would have been in big trouble.

De Sousa was in prep school until the end of the first semester of this school year. With their anticipated 5-star forward, McDonald's All-American Billy Preston, off to faraway lands, the Jayhawks were looking for pretty much any large man who was eligible to play. They even brought over a tight end from the football team, James Sosinski, but he could use further seasoning. Kansas told De Sousa he could play, like, right this minute if he could get eligible.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

He did play, but woof. Fran Fraschilla kept saying what De Sousa was attempting was like jumping on a treadmill that was already running at full speed. The description was apt. He had the happiest feet and kept getting called for traveling and other misdeeds. You couldn't blame him, but still.

The thinking for most of the year was that Kansas' frontcourt wasn't much with Azubuike and was totally hopeless without him. The Jayhawks play a four-guard offense that relies heavily on their excellent three-point shooting. Azubuike—or "Doke," as they call him—is a walking dunk. He shoots 77.4 percent from the field. He is so gigantic that most of his dunks aren't even contested. As is often the case for a man fitting that description, he draws a lot of fouls, although foul shots are not his thing.

Right before the tournament started, KU announced that Doke had a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He definitely wouldn't play in the Big 12 tournament, but he is expected to be back on the court next week. What that means for the NCAA tournament is up in the air, but until Thursday, it was hard to imagine KU beating many good teams without him.

Then, out of nowhere: "Martini Room Mitch," or, as Devonte' Graham knows him, "numbnuts."

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Silvio De Sousa #22 after the Jayhawks defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 81-70 to win the Big 12 Basketball Tournament Championship game at Sprint Center on March
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Mitch Lightfoot is a 6'8" sophomore who's all elbows and knees, who's been described as a player that will "screw up going hard" by Coach Self. Martini Room Mitch, on the other hand, is a running, jumping, dunking 4-man who yells "gimme that" when he blocks a shot and can hit an open three. So Martini Room is the starting center, but he picks up two fouls and you gotta go to the high school kid.

De Sousa exploded in the first half, and he finished it with a brilliant run the length of the floor and a finger to the sky at Graham, whose lob De Sousa flushed home to pull Kansas within one. De Sousa went 8-of-8 from the field, scoring 16 points to go with 10 rebounds and a steal, and Kansas beat West Virginia by 11 without any points from Azubuike or Lightfoot.

In the Big 12 tournament overall, De Sousa finished with 30 points and 29 rebounds and shot 14-of-18 from the field.

Kansas' backcourt of Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman can really shoot, and they showed it in the conference tournament. The Jayhawks made 15 of 27 threes against the Mountaineers, 11 of 28 in the semifinals against Kansas State and eight of 20 in the quarterfinals against Oklahoma State. That has been the case all season. What's new is that Saturday saw Kansas go from having one good big man to three, thanks to Lightfoot and a high school kid who grew up fast.

"He needs to play great," Self said on the ESPN broadcast. "We need him to."

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.