Originally published December 31, 2011 at 09:46p.m., updated December 31, 2011 at 11:28p.m.


KU’s bench needs work

Kansas head coach Bill Self adjusts his tie as he watches from the bench next to assistant Kurtis Townsend during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self adjusts his tie as he watches from the bench next to assistant Kurtis Townsend during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.


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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 84-58 victory over North Dakota on Dec. 31, 2011.

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Highlights: KU vs. North Dakota


KU vs. North Dakota

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Kansas head men's basketball coach Bill Self addressed the media after defeating North Dakota, 84-58, on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Lost in the justifiable marveling at just how terrific — substantively, stylistically and statistically — a game Thomas Robinson played Saturday was the nagging reality that the junior forward has so few teammates ready for the rigors of Big 12 basketball.

If most Bill Self benches are made of steel and bolted to the ground, this one’s made of plywood and balanced on golf tees.

Self considers senior marksman Conner Teahan one of his six starters. Based on that guideline, post player Justin Wesley, ’tweener Kevin Young and rookie Naadir Tharpe form the bench. They combined for 49 largely encouraging minutes in Thursday’s blowout victory against Howard.

Saturday, in the final sparring session before the relentless Big 12 schedule begins in Allen Fieldhouse against always-physical Kansas State, the three newcomers vying for minutes off the bench only played a combined for 18 minutes in an 84-58 tagging of North Dakota.

Self second-guessed Self for giving each player six minutes of time on the floor in the final game in a long while in which he could experiment without risking losing.

“I think I played them more than they deserved to play,” he said, without naming names. “There were guys out there, to me, they started their New Year’s Eve festivities around 2 p.m., whatever they’re going to do. I shouldn’t have played them as much as I did.”

He lumped starting center Jeff Withey (two points, two rebounds and two turnovers in eight minutes) into that category.

In 18 minutes against North Dakota, the bench trio didn’t contribute a point or an assist, a blocked shot or a steal, and had two rebounds and two turnovers.

Tharpe, who played so well in the exhibition season and in the season opener against Towson, hasn’t yet looked comfortable against stiffer competition, has made 4 of 19 shots on the season and just 1 of 10 against schools from BCS conferences. He didn’t look confident against North Dakota either. He might be a year away from making a major contribution.

Wesley works hard defensively and on the boards, but has shaky mitts and averages 8.7 personal fouls per 40 minutes.

Young has had flashes of brilliance, most notably a 14-point effort in the victory against Ohio State. He shoots well, skies, and has the speed to beat opposing big men down the floor. Yet, he sometimes seems surprised when the man he’s guarding does what the scouting report tells him to do, which is blow by him on the dribble when you have the ball, cut hard to the hoop and be rewarded with an easy bucket when you don’t have it.

“You look at it from my perspective,” Self said. “Two guys on our (Thomas Robinson and Travis Releford) team got an offensive rebound, and we’re getting ready to play K-State on Wednesday. Not good. Not good.”

He stated the qualifier that he wasn’t counting the last two minutes of garbage time in citing that statistic.

“That’s a bad sign,” he repeated. “And when you have your other bigs, the balls hit their hands and we don’t secure rebounds, which happened six or seven times in their limited minutes, that’s a bad sign when you’re getting ready to play K-State on Wednesday.”

Did he happen to mention Kansas State comes to Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday?

In keeping with the tradition established in one year in Manhattan by Bob Huggins, it can be said of Frank Martin’s teams that their best offense is a missed shot. They crash hard at both ends, and Robinson will need more help than he received against North Dakota.

Self coached against the Fighting Sioux — the mascot is dead, long live the mascot, more egg on the NCAA’s face — and the Wildcats on Saturday. He continued to coach against Kansas State during his post-game remarks.

Asked again about the bench, he said, “It’s just awful. I like them, but I mean, they know what I want from them. To just play so soft ... so soft. Point guards have a certain role they have to do; big guys, everybody’s got a role they’ve got to do to give our team the best chance, and tonight I could have played those guys more, but I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think they deserved to be out there.”

Aside from Withey, the other five “starters” averaged more than 31 minutes in the blowout.

“We made it real clear at halftime,” Self said of the other rotation players, “they each got a minute to prove me wrong. They didn’t. So they knew. Jeff has really had a pretty good year so far, but that was ridiculous tonight.”

The brutally honest words might help Withey to channel his Duke performance and Young his Ohio State effort for the conference opener, which has a shot at shaping up as a thriller.

• A previous version of this story has been updated.


kusayzone 10 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

parrothead8 10 years ago

"In 18 minutes against North Dakota, the bench trio didn’t contribute a point or an assist, a blocked shot or a steal, and had two rebounds and two assists."

How is it that they "didn't assist" but still somehow had "two assists?"

Jesse Newell 10 years ago

He meant "two turnovers." It's fixed above.

mattiesdad 10 years ago

I think Keegan also started his New New's festivities early. Several of these sentences were incoherent.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

Seriously..2 assists and you think that's qualifies enough to challenge the premise? Conference play will break this team if all they can generate off the bench is 2 assists against weak competition.

parrothead8 10 years ago

If the premise is that they had NO assists, then yes, two assists is enough to challenge the premise.

As it stands, it was a typo and it was corrected. End of story.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

lmao at 2 assists being enough bench production in conference play..

ahpersecoachingexperience 10 years ago

Water is wet... Sky is blue... White men can't jump...

amatxjayhawk 10 years ago

On the same day T Rob scores 30 points and brings in 21 rebounds Keegan pens an article on bench weakness. That's akin to writing about the ninth guy in the order failing to get on base the day Don Larson pitched his perfect game. Damn!!! I'd hate to spend my days looking at the world through this moron's eyes. He makes Chicken Little look like a cockeyed optimist.

Kye Clark 10 years ago

I have absolutely no problem with Keegs writing this article on the struggles of our bench. You criticize him for writing this article on the same day TRob went for 30 & 21, how about Coach Self? Keegan didn't generate those quotes. Those came from the boss man himself. Those are very harsh comments, but accurate. TRob going for those numbers is great, but in the grand scheme of things for the season what is more important? Sure it's nice to put up those numbers, but Self has his eye on bigger things than a win (and accumulated stats) against North Dakota. Nobody had a problem lauding our bench for it's improved play against Howard. I think it's a very appropriate article as we head into conference play.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

Thank you least someone has some perspective.

Mark Lindrud 10 years ago

I am not a fan of Keegan and probably won't ever be. I would have liked for him to do more grammar check in his writing because he still screws that up, but we don't have a very strong team this year. There is no doubt we don't have a very good bench. Teehan is hot and cold in shooting and his defense is average. Wesley is good on defense, but seems to be worthless on offense. KY is erratic along with Tharpe who plays out of control at times. Honestly, one game against Howard didn't make me think we now have a great bench. We blew them out so the bench got a lot of minutes.

This year maybe rough, but with the talent we have coming in let's take this year for whatever happens knowing the future is bright.

WilburNether 10 years ago

Really, amatxjayhawk? Here's a clue: Keegan's column is based on Coach Self's comments in his post-game interviews. I heard them, first in the Field House on the PA system, and then on the radio. Keegan is reporting and commenting ON WHAT COACH SELF SAID. It was COACH SELF who was extremely critical of the play of the bench guys.

So do you think Coach Self "spend[s] his days looking at the world through...moron's eyes?" Hmmm?

rcaltrider 10 years ago

Some people just want to criticize Keegan no matter what he writes. It's pathetic really.

hawk316 10 years ago

I agree. It gets extremely old reading the ridiculous, petty criticisms of Keegan and others on this site. Nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone's opinion, but let's be gracious in doing so.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

Agree..Keegan should have written a follow-up on TRob instead of mentioning the pathetic play off the bench.

yates33333 10 years ago

I guess everyone, certainly Self, noticed how KU players get pushed out from under the hoop by smaller men. Sometimes these opponents go over the back, and the refs do not call a foul. When this happens the KU players need to accept the fact and start pushing on their own. Robinson pushes and shoves, but none of the rest seem to do so. Self is right. Either because of the competition or because of innate easy going natures KU doesn't (of at least didn't) fight back with vigor in last night's game.

Moreover, Johnson and Releford are still not playing up to expectations. Robinson and Taylor are, and to some extent so is Withey. KU needs all five plus more off of the bench. Wesley and Young could really help if they played consistently at the level they have in their better games. Tharpe is a freshman and somewhat a project that time will smooth into a terrific point guard.

hawk316 10 years ago

Fortunately, our recruiting is excellent and has been for years. Unfortunately, the coaching staff cannot always control every factor (like BMac and Traylor being ruled as partial qualifiers). With those two in the rotation this would be a different team.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

We've had a few setbacks on the recruiting trail the last couple of years and I have to give credit where its due... HCBS will have plenty to work with in the upcoming season. He has a knack for picking up players in the late signing seasons. Hoping he can pull one more nugget next year/. And 2013 is already up and running.

Dyrk Dugan 10 years ago

this k-state game is a scary one. TRob and Tyshawn have to will us to victory these first few games.....we'll need a bench somewhat for the long haul, but for Wednesday, these guys' play and leadership should be enough.

an 0-1 start...even though it's just one game, would not be good. the confidence thing would go out the window pretty darn quick with this bunch.

Tom Gillaspie 10 years ago

If you haven't yet realized that Keegan is a horrible writer, this article should solidify the fact. If you haven't yet realized that this basketball team is the poorest talent-wise we have seen in years, these last few games should solidify the fact. But take heart; every team has down years and recruiting misses, and recruiting mistakes. Be thankful that this team is an anomaly not the norm. The talent level is on the rise, the next couple of years will be much better, and Keegan still won't be able to write a coherent thoughtful article.

Steve Corder 10 years ago

+1 This will be a brutal season and also one of Self's most challenging as a coach. But 2 or 3 players can carry a team with decent role players.

hawk316 10 years ago

Although I do not agree with you about Keegan being a horrible writer (and apparently, others must concur since this site wins so many awards for excellence which, admittedly, involves more than Keegan, but does include him), I do agree that this team is not very deep. But hey, we knew that going in. Why the surprise?

I am actually encouraged by the play of both Young and Wesley. Though very inconsistent, they have made some good contributions, and as they mature, they will improve. I suspect that Young may be the type of player that performs best when the competition is strongest. If so, he especially may be an important factor off the bench during conference play.

jaybate 10 years ago

KU fans stop gripping.

This is the team that might have beaten UK on a good shooting night.

This is the team that would have beaten Duke on a good shooting night.

This is the team that would have beaten Davidson on a good shooting night.

This is the team that shot brilliantly against Howard, and terribly against the North Dakota Fighting Queston Marks, and so is do for a decent shooting game against KSU.

Only Bill Self could whip up such self-doubt among KU fans, after two massive blow outs of cup cakes, plus a very very good showing against some of the best pre-conference competition in the country.

Self is button pushing here to try to get his inexperienced team and his green wood bench focus on a very tough game of smash mouth coming up.

Self let TRob hang a 30/20 on a hapless team to do a psych job on KSU's bigs. Self is no dummy. He knows the only way KSU can win is to out intimidate KU. So: Self has given KSU's players and Martin something to worry about--TRob. Self knows that without that gaudy line score of TRob's Frank Martin would have sent his players on the floor amped to the max to out smash mouth every KU player, position by position.

But with this gaudy line score of TRob's, no matter how much Martin tells his guys it doesn't matter because it was done against a cup cake, KSU's players are going to walk on the floor wondering if they can stop TRob, not assuming they can.

Next, Self calls his team soft before a big game.

When have we heard this before?

Two to three times each season of Self's tenure; that's when.

This does not mean Self lies about this sort of thing.

This means that Self is done laying in the offense and defense and the wrinkles he is going to lay in, and he is done with the two-a-day practices that sapped this team to within an inch of reserve on its gas gauge.

This means Self is taking the next step of team development. Self is chumming the waters by throwing his players a psychological curve ball and a challenge of their manhood.

The team thought it had put it together against Howard. The team thought they were now exemplars of playing with bounce instead of show boating, of playing for a full game, of playing on tired legs from XTReme Practicing.

But pow!!!!!!

Self says, nope, you're not ready yet; that was a cup cake.

And this North Dakota is a cupcake.

And Self says we're not ready.

And what Self says goes.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

'This is the team that might have beaten UK on a good shooting night' We couldn't beat Davidson on a poor shooting night...and they weren't lights out either. I made my yearly pilgrimage to MSG and even w/good shooting...we had far too many defensive breakdowns. S Dakota broke us down too many times.

Agree on Duke...but against UK, we need to shoot well, limit turnovers, beat them on the boards and get back on defense.

jaybate 10 years ago

25% trifecta vs. UK triggered the loss.

45% trifecta vs. UK would have completely altered the game. UK would have had to play defense on the perimeter instead of sagging on Thomas and playing bounce ball and using their length to get up and down the floor.

No team can beat a top ten team when it shoots 25% or less from trey. It is an extreme statistical improbability.

Any team that shoots 45% from trey against a top ten team has an even up chance at a win.

You may be right that KU might have lost even with 45% trey shooting.

But more likely what that 45% trey shooting would have done was open up the middle for TRob and Withey to achieve 50% FG shooting inside and would kept KU from gambling to get back into the game. In turn, the fewer pop tarts would have been baked. In turn the probability of KU defeating UK would have increased significantly.

I'm not saying KU could have certainly won the UK game with 45% trifectation.

I'm saying it would have been a 50/50 proposition.

Rock Chalk!

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

I think KU should play more zone... I personally like the basic 2-3. It should help slow so many dumb fouls.

jaybate 10 years ago

And so Self takes them down a notch by insulting his bench with scant PT in a blow out, and by calling them soft and on and on.

Now, the practicing will taper off to nothing to be replaced by intense mental preparation for KSU and stopping what it likes to do, and how to answer smash mouth with smash mouth and stretching the defense.

But here's the thing. Self was really not sending a wake up call to his bench. They are what they are.

He was sending a wakeup call to his starters--the guys who played well, and those that played not so well.

Out on the Canal, out in the jungle, when the shizz starts to fly, you first six, you are it. You can't expect reserves. You can't play as if someone will save you. There is no cavalry coming on The Canal. The fleet sailed to save itself from being cooped up in The Slot. You are all alone on the Canal and the enemy, the big boy enemy is coming. And they have come to take the real estate the hard way. And you better be ready.

Self made his point the only way he could.

He made his starters play the way he expect it likely to go down against KSU.

Withey is very likely to get in trouble early. He is very likely not to be able to take the kind of heat Martin will have KSU dishing out.

There are going to be extended stretches where Withey, and the green wood on the bench, have to stay on the bench.

Conner Teahan, he of the challenged height and hops and athleticism is going to have to be out on the floor to keep KSU from packing it in on TRob.

Withey may not yet have the kind of strength needed to play on the blocks against KSU's XTReme Muscle.

Justin Wesley may lack the offense to keep KSU honest and he may be in foul trouble before he has been on the floor for 3 minutes.

Kevin Young?

Kevin Young is up and down.

Kevin Young looks good at times and bad others.

Michael Bratisax 10 years ago

I see Young and Wesely making huge contributions this year and definably next year

jaybate 10 years ago

But my hunch here is Self was sandbagging a little about Kevin Young. Yea, maybe he wasn't up, but the point of the North Dakota game was to give KSU some video to study that was all about what KU does not usually do.

Self wanted Martin and KSU not only to have to prepare for the team KU has been every game up to this game, but also for the team KU showed in this game. The logic probably was KSU is strong, but they are not that smart. Let's give them lots to think about.

KSU and Martin are going to walk onto the floor not knowing what team they are apt to see first on the floor and for how long.

KSU and Martin are not going to know what to expect about Kevin Young. Is KY a serious threat a la Ohio State, or an in-over-his-head stick?

Self is masking big time here. KSU doesn't know right now if KU has a bench, or not, if Young is for real, or not.

None of us can know that but Self and KY.

But what we can know is that KY is skiiiiiiiiiiiiinny and KSU is going to be playing bang ball with bodies recruited for bang ball.

Self knows his team cannot play bang ball with Jeff Withey and Kevin Young...except for spurts.

So Self practiced his team extensively for how Self intends for them to counter Bang Ball, if Withey and KY prove ineffective, and Justin gets fouled up quick.

And Self must expect, because he game the regular four with Conner a lot of work.

It is going to be four shooters and TRob.

It is going to be stretch KSU's bangers to the trey stripe and let TRob work inside and EJ and Travis slash like we haven't seen yet this season. At last we are likely to see Self use his three long and athletics on the perimeter as so many have hoped for, as a "who's gonna slash next" shell game.

Tough defense, good outside shooting and a return to respectable free throw shooting spell victory over the smash mothers from Silo Technology State.

But if our guys don't bring it, whew! They are going to take a physical beating like they have never had.

I say KU by 15, after bloody hand to hand.

Bradley Sitz 10 years ago

Bob Knight commented that this KU backcourt is fundamentally challenged. Specifically, they do not take charges on defense. Fundamental issue: The do not provide weak side help. They simply do not even consider getting in the way. They do not get to the foul line: Issue: They are not aggressive on the offensive end. The guards are so pre occupied with passing alround the three point line and feeding the post - that they forget that the easiest way to free up the post player, is driving down the center. Their defensive footwork is attrocious. Taylor is simply an accident in motion. Why do anything easy, if your total focus is trying to make things spectacular. Translation: Way too many unforced errors. They simply do not price each possession. Conclusion: KU is in for a very long conference season...

jaybate 10 years ago

Simply doubtful.

KU played very well against the best teams in the country.

KU blew out the cupcakes.

KU got upset by Davidson on a bad shooting night.

KU is simply good.

But not great...yet.

Michael Sillman 10 years ago

Development of first year players is one of only two areas where I have problems with Self's coaching. The other one is 3 point defense.

Kids will not get better if they do not play. Kids will not develop confidence if the coach slams them after a game.

Unless Self is forced to play a first year guy (example: Henry and Selby as one and dones or the twins since he had no one else), he pulls them after every mistake. If Taylor and Johnson were pulled after every mistake, they would spend most of the game on the bench.

Hold your nose and use the pre-league season to get the young guys comfortable in front of a crowd. If you see lack of effort, then pull them. Why play your starters for 30 + minutes when you are ahead by 20 points.

Now we go into league with no bench and will be forced to play the top five for 35-40 minutes a game. By the time March comes, they will be worn out. When they get in foul trouble or have bad nights, we'll have no one to bring in.

Michael Sillman 10 years ago

Wow, sorry to put you in a uproar. That's a lot of exclamation points.

I certainly know that it is Bill Self's show to run and that I am a nobody.

I think he is a great coach but that does not mean I can't disagree with him on a few points. That is the great part of being a fan and an alumni who has seen coaches come and go over the 40 years since I was on the hill. I don't have to make the tough decisions.

In reality, you do not address any of my points in your reply. You simply castigate me for questioning any aspect Coach Self's approach.

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