Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Self’s test this year: give KU guards options


Interchangeable guards capable of initiating and leading the offense have been as much a part of Bill Self’s tenure as Kansas University basketball coach as sarcastic one-liners and 30-win seasons.

Having Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins on the same team meant Self always had two point guards on the floor on the 2008 national-championship team.

Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson, both hybrid guards, led Kansas all the way to the 2012 national-title game.

Outlet passers didn’t have to search for just the right guy to lead the break. They had options.

Self’s 10th Kansas team features a deep frontcourt stocked with skilled big men, athletic bodies, shot-blockers, bangers and shooters.

It’s in the backcourt where this edition will have a different look than his last seven teams.

“We’ve got some talented kids back there, but getting the pieces to fit, it’s a lot easier making the pieces fit if you’re playing with two point guards than it is when you’re playing maybe with half a point guard,” Self said. “To put our best team out there right now, you’re looking at a team that’s not a great ballhandling and passing team. There’s going to be some pressure on Elijah to play well this year.”

It’s not too difficult to find reasons to believe Johnson will be up to the task. He’s a blur leading the break, has a good feel for where the ball should go, has a nice passing touch and limits careless turnovers.

After that, when looking at the likely starting five of Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Perry Ellis and Jeff Withey, it’s a little unsettling to try to identify the second-best ballhandler.

“It’s probably Travis,” Self said. “But Ben’s getting better. But that’s the whole thing, we’ve always had guys who can make plays out there. Even on our championship team, we had three point guards out of our four perimeter players.”

Taylor had his wild moments, but he had Johnson’s steadying influence on which he banked.

“Those two combined were terrific,” Self said. “When you’re taking Tyshawn out of the equation, and adding Ben as far as playing the majority of the minutes, you gain so much in maybe shooting and size and that kind of stuff, but you do lose that guy who can just break a defense down and go make a play. That’s why Elijah has to get better and I think he will.”

Sophomore Naadir Tharpe and talented but wild freshman Anrio Adams will push for time backing up Johnson and at times playing alongside him.

“Right now if I was nervous about a position, it would be our point-guard play, just because it’s not as natural for Elijah, Naadir’s unproven and Anrio’s never done it,” Self said.

Naturally, Self’s ever-intense mind is pondering ways to maximize the efficiency of a backcourt that, at least compared to most of his, has an unconventional makeup.

“We don’t really change much how we play, but we tweak a lot more than what people think,” he said. “In the past, I didn’t care who fed the post. Now we might have to set it up where Elijah’s the one feeding the post, much like we did with Aaron Miles because we had a similar type situation with Aaron, Keith (Langford) and J.R. (Giddens). You know, it’s kind of similar.”

Self will do more than reflect on those days. He and assistants Joe Dooley, Norm Roberts, Kurtis Townsend and director of operations Doc Sadler will look closely at what worked well when having one primary ballhandler instead of two on the floor.

“We’ll go back and look at some of that film to see how we utilized putting Aaron in as many positions as possible to finish the plays,” Self said. “We haven’t had to play that way lately, but I could see us doing it more this year.”

They’ll figure out a way to make Kansas a top five team, but along the way will look sloppy at times, throwing the ball away before it gets into the hands of a powerful dunker or a shooter with a soft touch.


Hammertoe 1 year, 7 months ago

I thought it was Football Season.


mikehawk 1 year, 7 months ago

I still say Naadir is the wild card as I think he has a chance to surprise some people if he can be allowed to play on and not be yanked each time he screws up. Not that he hasn't got a lot of work to do to even reach that point. It seems he panics at times, and when he does, he immediately looks to put it up. That scenario, if accurate, will get you yanked by any coach, and especialy HCBS. What is interesting, he seems to have good passing skills but somehow still thinks shoot first, pass second. But with continued development and maturity, I think he could be the sleeper of the bunch.


Steve Gantz 1 year, 7 months ago

Getting a chance to check in as our power here in Baton Rouge keeps going out. Good article Keegan. Tharpe's gonna step up this year. EJ will be the steady influence in the back court and we'll experience another big 12 championship and deep run in the tourney. Isaac spare us!


bennybob 1 year, 7 months ago

"Self’s 10th Kansas team features a deep frontcourt stocked with skilled big men, athletic bodies, shot-blockers, bangers and shooters"

wow, i've come to expect keegan to write some rediculous one liners but that one might take the cake.

Nobody with any sense would call what our front court next year will be "deep".

Arizona has a deep frontcourt.

Last years UNC team had a deep froncourt

Next years KU team has one established shotblocker(Withey), one over achieving, undersized, low major transfer(KY), and 4 freshman, only one of which looks capable of making an immediate impact at the D1 level(Ellis)


William Blake 1 year, 7 months ago

“When you’re taking Tyshawn out of the equation, and adding Ben as far as playing the majority of the minutes, you gain so much in maybe shooting and size and that kind of stuff, but you do lose that guy who can just break a defense down and go make a play. That’s why Elijah has to get better and I think he will.”

Translation: Convert EJ's offensive game to match TT's... and that means less 3s and more finishes at the rim. If EJ can make the change he has an opportunity to put up even better stats than TT, plus with much fewer TOs. Consequently, by taking less 3s we finally may take advantage of EJ's shooting touch because he won't force 3s any longer and will just take it when it is wide open.

EJ should have spent his summer with John Lucas. Here is a clip of TT at the Lucas camp. Notice the cones. Notice the emphasis of keeping drivers eyes down low in the paint (instead of focusing on the rim)... looking for a position advantage to score from or hitting a place to use a repetitively-practiced shot form. TT finally put it together his senior year concerning his finishing... he stopped speeding through the lane out-of-control and finished with an improved shooting stat.


jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

Part 5

PT concentrates upward, like wealth.

The game is now about marginalizing the unneeded without them noticing...before its too late for them to do anything about it.

It is now about relying increasingly on the best and using the rest less. About warehousing them. About using them mostly just to motivate the best to stay the best with fear. The fear is not that the lessers will be used more. It is the best will are in a zero sum game. Compete to get even more PT, more wealth, or fall into the lower classes. There is no expanding tent on the bench, or in society. The tent is shrinking. More and more are warehoused on the pine, so that more and more can spend more and more time on the pine. The End of Fouling makes it so.

This requires a lot of "looking at" at players early to make it seem like there is going to be more opportunity than there actually will be. A lot of using competition to find those most developed at any given moment and most willing to comply most completely, but no serious consideration of broadening the number of players actually used down the stretch.

The NCAA ought to reduce the number of scholarships to 7 for each D1 school and tell the talking heads to being talking about the virtues of running players and replacing them with new recruits that will perform better. Seven is all any coach really needs after the End of Fouling.

Then the athletic directors cartel, er, the NCAA, ought to open up DI to include all the DII schools too and let all of them have 7 scholarships, too.

The Madness could be expanded to a thousand teams.

Referees could be completely eliminated.

The End of Fouling would work just as well 7 deep at a thousand schools as 13 deep at 350 or so.

Violence and TV revenues would skyrocket.

The desecration of the game would be complete.


jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

Part 4

The result of this dynamic is that you only use 6-7 players to go deep in the Madness, if they are pretty good. Any use of backups is just for designated egregious fouling, or short rests for the 6-7 and during those minutes you just slow it up, protect, designated foul, and defend for 2-3 minutes, then bring back the guys after their blows and resume attack.

"The End of Fouling" makes this dynamic inevitable, and so team depth is just to motivate your own players. It is never to actually be used.

Self is already telegraphing what he is going to do given the underlying assumption and his historical operational logic appended from it. He's going to slow it way down the way he did with Miles, Langford and Simien, which got him to the Elite Eight. And he figures with a defender like Jeff, he could get this team to the Final Four at least.

After mid December, he's going to play EJ, Travis and Ben almost the entire game: 35-40 mpg, except on Saturday Monday games where the spread allows resting. Substitute EJ for Miles. Divide Langford's outside and inside duties at the 3b between Ben at the 2 and Travis at the 3. Wayne's money on the low block role belongs to Perry Ellis. Jeff just does stick backs and takes dishes. Kevin and Zach will spell Perry and Jeff.

After mid December, all the other bigs will just be designated foulers getting low, or no minutes. Tharpe and Adams? One will be a 3 minute/half man that Self will tell to slow it down and not turn it over, while EJ catches his breath for three minutes. Most of the bigs are going to watch, except for designated fouling for a minute or two each half.

(Note: either someone explained the reality of this to Milton Doyle, or Milton realized it and said this ain't for me.)

The "End of Fouling" is a concept I am using, like "The End of History," or "The Death of God," are concepts used in talking about our society and emerging dynamics in it. It doesn't literally mean there won't be fouling, any more than that people won't sense the passage of time after the End of History, or won't pray to god after The End of God. It means that the powers that be in basketball will cease making use of all their human resources at their disposal, because the rules have changed. The bench will still be full. And some good programs will have deep talented benches. They just won't ever be used to the fullest, as they might have been in the past, during some of Roy's hey days at KU. PT will be increasingly redistributed upwards to the most talented players, just as income has been redistributed upwards to richest persons. The old morality of the game, non contact, like the old morality of the country, acting in accordance with the influence of historical standards of conduct and God as limiters on what can be done to the less powerful, is over.


jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

Part 3

And Self is a genius, as I always say, so why won't he do it? What is the invalid assumption in my analysis?

Well, certainly Self is worried about scoring initially, about the need for three point shooting, and for high percentage shooting off the blocks,with his best bigs down there within spitting distance of the shooters box behind the rim. He wants at least two trey shooters in EJ and Ben outside to stretch it for two imposing bigs close in. As Michael Biehn once shouted at a then naive Sarah Conner regarding Arnold being a Terminator, "Its what he does. Its all he does!!!!"

But these are really the operational logic and historical tendency of what he has always done, not the why of it, not the apriori principle, then underlying assumption, that the operational logic starts from. Not the reason my scenario of mastering the obvious based on the talent at hand, will in fact, not play out.

He saw he could get by with seven players down the stretch last season. He saw that in the Madness with foul calling marginalized, 7, or even 6, are enough. UK did it effortlessly with six. The refs just don't call fouls in March and April on the good teams.

While he and the coaching staff have no doubt gone through the professional formality of considering all strategic options for best fit with current material, including the one I have proposed, long before I proposed it, in order to make absolutely sure they didn't overlook the obvious, they all probably knew in their heart of hearts the reviewing of other offenses were mere formalities.


Because they all knew the underlying assumption of today's game is that "The End of Fouling" occurred sometime the last four or five years. They all know that down the stretch of the regular season, especially in important games, few fouls will be called, and during the Madness, even fewer fouls will be called on the best players, and in any close games, down the stretch, none will be called on major players for anything less than a flagrant foul.

In the Madness, there are only two kinds of fouls: flagrant fouls by top players, and conventional fouls by lesser players.

Hence, the coaches understand, the object of the game is to have the best seven players and keep them on the floor as many minutes as humanly possible, because they can get away with the most hacking and the most charging. Players farther down the depth chart cannot be relied on for anything other than designated, egregious fouling, because if the players farther down the depth chart play it straight, the opposing coach will play his starters and hack and charge them to death and get away with it. This in turn forces the players down the depth chart to be pulled and replaced with the better players to get more equal treatment.


jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

Part 2

It also takes light and slender Jeff out of the paint on offense and so preserves him from constant, pointless beatings he will take inside in the hi-lo. It will avoid him wasting his energy trying to keep from constantly being pushed off the low block and so saves Jeff for the defensive end of the floor, where he is truly exceptional. On the offensive end of the floor, it makes the most of his height for offensive rebounding by putting him always in a position to crash in and use his 7-0 reach, rather than having to use his light weight to to squat and block out for position before attacking and jumping.

Again this is all mastery of the obvious.

This would be the toughest scheme for opponents to guard for these reasons:

1) Without a post clogging the middle, Elijah, a potentially terrific player with lots of experience, becomes a threat to penetrate anywhere on the floor, so they have to keep their best perimeter man on him, and someone hedging toward him to stop his penetrations;

2) Again, without a post man in the middle, Travis, a potentially fabulous get to the rim man against any two guard (he could physically overwhelm every two guard he will meet this season), can slash from anywhere on the floor;

3) today's muscle bound bigs are not nimble, or well-conditioned, enough, to guard highly mobile 6-8 wings like Ellis and Johnson (two guys with knacks for scoring) putting the ball on the floor in isolation for extended stretches of games;

4) Withey will probably only see three footers at most all season, so his j's from 15-23 feet will be mostly uncontested and he has a good touch, when unhampered by inside muscling.

Using Ben this way would be like using Sherron off the bench. The best offensive player on the team is coming off the bench. The advantage would be that Ben brings strong defense too.

The team in this scheme would overpower opponents with size defensively and offensively out of the blocks; then KO them with speed and offensive explosiveness at the 5 minute mark with a great shooter and a tough defender in Ben. A better and harder to guard team the first five minutes. A great player to play through the second five minutes. And so on alternating and spelling as needed.

This is not rocket science.

The biggest stressor to an opponent of the set up I describe is that both Travis and Ben would swing between the 2 guard on a high wing and the 3 on the low wing. It lets Self look for the best MUA for each player by letting them show up both places until its clear where they do the most damage.

Really, this is the way to play it.


jaybate 1 year, 7 months ago

"The Use of Talent During the End of Fouling"

Part 1

Everyone anticipated a guard shortage, and too many bigs since last April.

My solution from the moment Ellis was signed was:

a) Ellis at the 3;

b) Travis at the 2;

c) stop playing the high-lo;

d) start playing Wooden's old UCLA high post with Withey at 18-23 feet top of circle;

e) Ellis and Young on opposing low wings;

f) EJ and Travis out front in a tandem guard set;

g) Ben subbing Travis, Travis sliding over to sub Young;

h) Zack, Justin and Landon subbing Jeff:

i) Zach subbing Ellis; and

j) Naadir and Rio subbing Elijah ever so briefly.

The idea out of the blocks is to score out of the low wings Ellis and Johnson, two players with frequent MUA on offense, and score inside and outside with EJ and Travis. More specifically, use Jeff's soft touch to draw their post man out to the free throw line. Then use Perry and Young to score under their postmen by using which ever of Perry and Young holds the most MUA to overpower their man by putting it on the floor and taking it to the rim in isolations. Quickly foul up the opponents bigs and then destroy them with isolations. Whenever the subs enter (and either Travis or Ben moves to the low wing), shift primary points of attack to Ben and Travis and use poor shooting substitute bigs to screen for the 2 and 4.

This is a much more fitting and effective use of existing talent, than the hi-lo, because it creates 3 full time slots for the 6-7 bigs he has, eliminates the need for feeding a post, a talent most of his perimeter players lack, and so minimizes the amount of ball handling skill he needs at each of only two full time guard slots to fill.

Any competent high school coach could figure this one out.


ParisHawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Interesting article and discussion. Breaking things down a bit:

Coach Self addresses specifically feeding the post. EJ can do that, so can Travis.

He talks about the ability to "break a defense down and go make a play." How many times have we had 3 of those guys, or even 2? EJ is going to have to step up. Travis can step up some. Ben et al. may get a chance.

Others mention the fast break. Yes, outlet passers are going to have to look for EJ - when he's on the court.

HEM mentions pressure. That is a serious potential weak spot. The team can compensate as they did last year by spacing all over the court and passing the ball up. They may not be able to attack the pressure but should be able to limit turnovers.

Different problems, different solutions - all of which involve EJ playing mucho minutes...


Jayhawks Rock 1 year, 7 months ago

Let the hate and doubt begin. What a great bunch of "fans" posting here. Good times. To the non-haters, I appologize.


Ron Franklin 1 year, 7 months ago

Remember two years ago when they couldn't even run a fast break.

That's where we are headed if Trav is our second best ball handler.


Phoghorn 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't know what is more annoying, the word "skeds" or the phrase "Kansas University".


hbjayhawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Keegan...C-, showing improvement


Martin Rosenblum 1 year, 7 months ago

With our stronger and more balanced play at the 3 and 4, I think we'll see more aggressive, "come to the ball" scenarios than in the past. This will minimize the sloppy passing and could result in less emphasis on guards dominating plays as when we had more talent at those spots. EJ is very capable distributing the ball. But, he hasn't been as proficient so far to put the team on his back. We now have a ton of options down low and will shift to their strengths for our success this season. What irony, Danny being gone this year and we have the best incoming forward class in a very long time. This is where we'll see just how valuable HCBS truly is. He'll compensate for the experience Danny brought and will shine in his new emphasis on the post players.


LAJayhawk 1 year, 7 months ago

First, solid piece, Keegan. Covers a significantly important topic for this team, and gives some good insight into Self's feelings on it. Nice work.

Second, “'It’s probably Travis,' Self said."

Uh, if Travis is our second best ball-handler.... yikes. That's no offense to Travis. He adds a TON to this team in many ways. But if he's our second best ball-handler...... um.... yikes.


Phil Leister 1 year, 7 months ago

Keegan, I'm proud of you. You managed to write a half-way decent article.


VailHawk 1 year, 7 months ago

He doesn't trust Naadir...yet. But Russell Robinson got the hook his freshman year every time he turned it over, too. But he stuck it out and started (from NEW YORK NEW YORK!) on a national title team.


741hawk 1 year, 7 months ago

Alot of copy . . . very little communication.


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