A Kansas Jayhawks season that has been good by most standards but underwhelming by Kansas standards suffered another setback on Thursday night, when head coach Bill Self announced that senior guard Lagerald Vick would be taking a leave of absence from the school to deal with “some personal matters that require his immediate attention.”
Self didn’t elaborate on what those matters were out of respect for Vick’s privacy, but he did say, “There is no timetable for his return.” Vick’s mother, La La, told the Kansas City Star that he would be going home to help out his family in Memphis.
“We need him here for a couple weeks,” she said. “I need him. There’s a lot going on. It’ll work out.”
Before Vick announced his leave of absence, Kansas was already missing seven-foot force Udoka Azubuike, whose season ended in early January because of a hand injury. The Jayhawks are also down promising sophomore Silvio de Sousa, who’s currently serving the first of what’s supposed to be a draconian two-year NCAA suspension because an Adidas representative gave money to his legal guardian; and to a less severe extent, top defender Marcus Garrett has missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
With all this adversity, Kansas is still 17-5, ranked 13th in the AP poll, and ranked 16th in Kenpom. But at 6-4 in Big 12 play, they’re a game and a half back of Kansas State (whom they just lost to on Tuesday) in a crowded conference field. Though the season started with a strong 10-0 run that included wins against Michigan State and Tennessee, the Jayhawks have dropped four of their last six, beginning with a particularly unlikely loss against West Virginia. They’re now in serious danger of losing their Big 12 crown for the first time since 2004.
Vick himself has had ups and downs during his KU career, and he’s frustrated his coach on multiple occasions, but he is the veteran leader in the backcourt, and during his leave of absence this lineup will be thrown into some serious disarray. Kansas already had issues with spacing, running the biggest share of their offense through Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Dedric Lawson in the post and mid-range. But Vick was the second-most important part of their attack—the one bonafide long-distance threat in the entire lineup. He’s shooting 45.5 percent on the year from three, best on the team, and his 66 field goals made from that range is more than double what anyone else on the roster has this year.
There’s no reason yet to believe that Vick is going to miss the postseason, so it’s not time for the Jayhawks to panic yet. But if they want to extend their streak of Big 12 titles to 15 in a row, their path just got a lot more difficult. Unless someone like Ochai Agbaji can find a groove like he did in his 24-point performance against Texas, or Quentin Grimes becomes a more consistent shooter, Kansas is staring down some tough road games against teams like TCU and Texas Tech, where their offense might just be an ugly, broken mess.