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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jayhawks loaded but pieces still have to ‘fit’

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches as the players rapidly shuffle across the court during Boot Camp in the practice gym on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 just after 6 a.m.

Kansas head coach Bill Self watches as the players rapidly shuffle across the court during Boot Camp in the practice gym on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 just after 6 a.m.

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One of the biggest and most important challenges basketball coaches face each season is finding a way to blend lineups together, from cohesion among the starting five to which players work best off the bench and on down the line.

Throughout his time at Kansas, head coach Bill Self has done this as well as anyone, not always starting the most talented players but almost always finding the chemistry that maximizes the production of each particular team.

Injuries, attitudes, emergences and other unexpected factors ensure that the challenge is ongoing and different each season, but Self’s reliance on philosophical staples such as strong defense, sound fundamentals and maximum effort have helped the Jayhawks become one of the most consistent teams in college basketball and led to 12 consecutive Big 12 titles.

Even though things appear to be as clear as ever in terms of team chemistry and KU’s rotation, Self pointed out recently that plugging Carlton Bragg Jr. and Josh Jackson into the starting spots vacated by Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden will not automatically put the Jayhawks on cruise control.

“We're going to miss Perry,” said Self at last week's media day of KU's leading scorer the past two seasons. "There's no question about that. Perry was Mr. Consistency. But if you go back and look, there's a lot of games we're down six with five minutes left and Wayne makes plays. You look at the Kentucky game last year, and he made some big plays in Oklahoma. Florida the year before, he puts us on his back and wins that game for us. There's been a lot of games where Wayne was by far the best player in the game, and we're going to miss that without question.”

Missing that, at Kansas at least, becomes a relative problem. If most schools were to lose players of that caliber, they almost certainly would take a major step back the following season. All Kansas has done in the days since Ellis graduated and Selden left school a year early for the NBA is sign the nation’s No. 1 recruit in Jackson, become a fixture in the Top 5 of almost every preseason poll and be picked as the unanimous favorite to win a 13th consecutive Big 12 title.

The reason for that is simple.

“I do think the pieces have potential to fit,” Self said. “Last year the pieces fit as well as they could fit in my opinion, and we still came up short. This year, if the pieces fit as well, then I think you may have a little bit more talented group that may give you a chance maybe to play better when it counts the most. But certainly it remains to be seen if the pieces can get there yet.”

According to the handful of Jayhawks on this team who have experience playing for Self, that last part is a foregone conclusion and it’s merely a matter of time before it comes to light.

“Coach makes it fit,” junior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “He’s not going to let anyone force a shot or take bad shots or anything like that ... I wouldn’t say it’s don’t let coach down, because then you’re thinking too much. Coach doesn’t want you thinking like that. He just wants you to play and be aggressive and just play your game within the offense.”

This group of Jayhawks will find out just how skilled they are at doing just that in two weeks, when they open the exhibition season against Washburn on Nov. 1 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Comments

Mark Bernat 3 years, 5 months ago

Upperclassman.....this is why you want them: “Coach makes it fit,” junior guard Devonte’ Graham said. “He’s not going to let anyone force a shot or take bad shots or anything like that ... I wouldn’t say it’s don’t let coach down, because then you’re thinking too much. Coach doesn’t want you thinking like that. He just wants you to play and be aggressive and just play your game within the offense.”

Dan Burns 3 years, 5 months ago

With great respect for coach Self as well as the players now gone, I pretty strongly disagree. Perry is is a great player however he never had the killer instinct that someone like Niang had. When the game got rough or we were against taller opposition, he just didn't seem to have the ability to score and I never felt his rebounds were that of a 4 man. Selden again... very talented and he played a breakout games both in World Games and against Kentucky but for the season as a whole, he was quiet and never gave us what a shooting guard must accomplish. He just passed the ball and was not an exceptional passer. I am much more optimistic with our more developed underclassmen like Bragg, Vick and Svi. I'm expecting more off the bench and am very excited about our new starters and to see what our freshman do. It's going to be an epic year.

Mike Greer 3 years, 5 months ago

There's no doubt the team's going to miss Perry and Wayne, how can they not. Granted, not every talented player stays 4 years, but for Perry to be in the top 10 all time scorers, those are some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, as much as this kills me, I have to agree, there were times when the team really needed someone to take control of the game, and your Niang example is fitting, where our leading scorers just couldn't get it done.

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

"Making the pieces fit" is another expression for team chemistry. That chemistry is two fold: on the one hand it refers to an emotional feeling and confidence the players have for and between each other; on the other hand it also implies a well-orchestrated way of playing together on the court. Both are important. Having a nucleus of veteran players has the pump already primed for the kind of chemistry on the court that is being discussed. Jackson is a smart kid and his basketball IQ softens any concern I have about how he will fit into the offense. My only concern about chemistry comes with Udoka. He's so young! But I think his sheer size will cover a multitude of sins. The "chemistry factor" will come along quite nicely. I really feel that after the session of unlimited practice in December and having had a semester of basketball under their belts, the newcomers will have been seated comfortably into the offense and will make the typical "freshman spring" in January.

The pieces will come together...

Jason Stubbs 3 years, 5 months ago

Great another game I will not be able to watch this year and I live in the middle of KANSAS. Thanks Time Warner Cable. Thanks a lot!!!

Shannon Gustafson 3 years, 5 months ago

Just watch it on ESPN3/WatchESPN either live or as a replay whenever it's handy for you...typically the replay is better quality.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't pay the ridiculous price for cable and the extra charges either. I haven't seen a game since leaving lawrence. Someone like Self could take a stand and make it public.

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 5 months ago

Dittos to Mark, Joe, and Jay. I will be totally surprised if the pieces don't come together.

Also, how about the leadership being shown by the upperclassmen such as Devonte, Frank, and Landen. It's the "last college rodeo" for Frank and Landen, and probably Devonte, Josh, and Carlton too, so they will do everything they can to make it the success they want.

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