Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Tom Keegan: It will take more than great coach to win loaded Big 12

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts after the Jayhawks were called for a foul during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts after the Jayhawks were called for a foul during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.


In college basketball, it has become a reflex for the winning coach to praise the losing one in the postgame press conference. Often, it’s with a throw-away “well-coached team” line.

Tuesday night’s remarks from the winning coach were far more memorable, long on substance and not delivered in typical perfunctory fashion.

“I think he’s one of the best coaches in the history of the game,” Texas Tech’s Chris Beard said of Kansas’ Bill Self after the Red Raiders scored a wire-to-wire, 85-73 victory in Allen Fieldhouse.

Beard said that about his friend because he meant it. Then he did a nice job of pointing to one specific way Self gains an edge.

“He gets a lot of credit for recruiting and being at Kansas, but you have to understand how hard it is to guard his X’s and O’s," Beard said. "Every timeout you come out of, he does something that’s not in the scouting report. He’s a great coach.”

Opposing coaches used to say similar things about Larry Brown coming out of timeouts. It was interesting to hear Beard speak to Self’s ability to throw in a wrinkle for which no one could prepare.

Regardless of whether Kansas finds a way to extend its Big 12 title streak to 14 seasons, Self’s standing as, to use Beard’s words, “one of the best coaches in the history of the game,” will remain untarnished.

Self’s just as equipped as a coach to get the most out of his team in ways that extend well beyond X’s and O’s. He’ll still apply the right touch and timing in alternately challenging players in raw fashion and fueling their confidence levels with spirited approval when they deliver.

Self's the same coach he was in leading KU to consecutive conference title Nos. 1 through 13, but he has a more difficult job this time because his general manager hasn’t supplied him with as balanced and deep a roster as usual.

In college sports, of course, the general manager is the coach. To steal a phrase from retired football coach Bill Parcells, Self shops for the groceries and cooks the meals. The head coach leads the construction of the roster with the help of his three recruiting assistant coaches.

Once the streak became a thing, Self consistently has answered questions about it by starting with some variation of, “It always helps to have the best players.”

He can’t say that this year. At least, the way the roster is constructed without Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, Self isn’t coaching the best roster in the Big 12.

The Texas Tech team that won in Allen Fieldhouse by a dozen points did so without a superstar exploding and with one tough-minded, deep roster. In many ways, it was like watching Self coach somebody else's players against one of his own teams.

This Kansas team has one center, one point guard, five wings and Mitch Lightfoot, a cross between a small forward and power forward.

Acquiring front-court depth, once the greatest strength in Kansas recruiting, increasingly has become more difficult in recent seasons.

Lightfoot is the No. 2 big man on the roster. Out of necessity, he averages 13.7 minutes a game. Part, but not all of that, can be attributed to the unexpected grounding of McDonald’s All-American Billy Preston. Chalk that up to bad luck.

Lightfoot averages more minutes as a sophomore than Cole Aldrich (8.3), Thomas Robinson (7.2) and Perry Ellis (13.6) as freshmen, and more minutes than Jeff Withey did as either a freshman (3.0) or sophomore (6.2).

Robinson became a first-team All-American, Ellis second-team, Aldrich and Withey third-team.

More than ever, talented players rush to declare for the NBA draft, ready or not, and antsy reserves transfer at a higher rate, rather than wait for their turn to arrive.

Those factors and guessing wrong in recruiting more often than in the past has contributed to KU having far too little talent up front.

Looking to fortify depth, KU welcomed Jack Whitman of William & Mary to the program May 2. Not even two weeks later, Dwight Coleby announced he was transferring. We’ll never know if Coleby would have stayed had Whitman not arrived. This much is known: Kansas could use Coleby as a backup to Udoka Azubuike and even to play alongside him at times.

The more distance Coleby puts on the ACL surgery he underwent during his red-shirt year at Kansas, the better he plays. He’s averaging 11.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 27.1 minutes a game for Western Kentucky.

Whitman spent seven weeks in the program before deciding it wasn’t for him. He left in July.

Even as raw as he has been, Azubuike has been the most productive big man recruited by KU since Joel Embiid, of the Class of 2013. (Landen Lucas was part of the Class of 2012).

Azubuike has reached double figures in rebounds in 5 of 25 games with the Jayhawks.

McDonald’s All-Americans Cliff Alexander, Carlton Bragg (who recently left Arizona State, where he was red-shirting after transferring from Kansas) combined to reach double figures in rebounds in 3 of 114 games.

Self is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, lots of reasons, actually, but anyone who thinks that his presence is enough to rubber-stamp another Big 12 title for Kansas hasn’t been paying attention.

A college basketball coach’s ceiling is determined by the roster he assembles.

Self will find a way to coach his team to come close to that ceiling, but is it high enough to emerge from a loaded Big 12 field?


Edward Daub 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't know Jack Whitman from a "Box of Chocolates"! Where did he transfer to or is he simply not playing anywhere?

I think Coleby left primarily in search of getting more playing time. As Tom's article states Coleby is averaging 27 minutes per game for the Hilltoppers. He is having a solid season , roughly 12 points , 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

Of course, Dwight failed to predict that Billy Preston would be side lined for at least 1/2 of this season. I also have a feeling that Dwight felt he should have played more last year, instead of the "head case" Carlton Bragg? Just , my opinion.

DiscGolfer Jason 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't blame the transfers for leaving. They came to continue playing. Makes me wonder if or when Cunliffe will leave. Self has little depth on bench yet he doesn't use Cunliffe. Kind of have to wonder about next year with the Lawson brothers and Moore. Transfers.

Craig Carson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Cunliffe will eventually get playing time..though im not sure why he hasnt played more ??? as far as the Lawsons, Dedric will start most dont leave a 19 ppg 9 rebound per game guy on the he has experience..his brother may or may not start but he will play..his experience alone will ensure that he will see the court..Moore could very well start as well..Dotson may have hype, but he is still a freshmen..when was the last time Self started a freshmen at point guard?? Moore had a good freshmen season at Cal..he should start..the guys i wonder about is Lightfoot, Vick (if he stays) and Newman (if he stays)..those guys may get lost in the shuffle..especially Newman (unless he lights it up the 2nd half of the year)

Shannon Gustafson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree with much of what your saying.

One thing that I do not agree with is your assertion that Vick, a 17pt scorer this year who is shooting over 45% from 3 and will be a Senior next year, could get lost in the shuffle. There is a 0% chance of that happening. If he comes back, he's a starter.

Tim Orel 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't know if you're suggesting that someone like Lightfoot should transfer, but he's happy as can be playing as Jayhawk. This is his dream, whether he's playing a lot or a little.

As for Newman, IMO, he'd have to suddenly start scoring 20 pts/game to have any realistic dream of the NBA next season. I fully expect him to be fighting for playing time next year at KU.

Tony Bandle 9 months, 2 weeks ago

To any of the critics of Bill Self I say, just wait till he is gone then tell me how poor he was. I think Bill will give it another five seasons after this year and call it a HOF career at Kansas at 20 years.

Maybe we all need to step back, take a deep breath, look at this roster of available players and realize that maybe a Top 25 team contending for a conference title in one of if not the toughest conferences in Division One and earning ma NCAA bid, in reality, is a pretty damn good coaching effort in 2017/2018.

Win, lose or draw, however, we all need to keep the faith and cheer the Hawks on. Maybe the greatest record of all that gets forgotten is the 28 straight NCAA bids or even more, 32 out of 33!!!

Mallory Briggans 9 months, 2 weeks ago

UCF football team went 14-0 this 2 years ago they went 0-12.......but what is interesting is Scott Frosts roster had 51 players on this years team that was on the 0-12... I say that to say this Coaching involves preparation and instilling confidence in your players....this team has lost confidence in its ability...who is responsible for the players ....the coach.....To hear how soft they are to be told you are the softest team you ever had as coach of the jayhawks hear that you arent tough enough gets old ....Graham said himself....Always focusing on the negative aspects of your team wears on the team.Being outcoached in 3 blowout losses 2 at home Self has to ger some of the blame....sure we are outmanned but that is the hand we were dealt.....nobody in the big 12 feels sorry for Kansas....Confidence TCU ,TECH,OKLAHOMA, all have right now because of the coach.....not Kansas

Tom Jones 9 months, 2 weeks ago

They have confidence because they know they're good. If your point is that other coaches instill confidence more than Self, you are simply incorrect and the track record does not support this conclusion in any way.

Coach Self always has and always will call it like he sees it. The team is currently playing soft. This is obvious to all. If that hurts, Devonte...fix it. Coach can't set screens for you or guard people better. It's all about effort.

John Brazelton 9 months, 2 weeks ago

As soon as Self gets one additional Big Man cleared to play, he will right the ship. Right now, Doke has to play less aggressive because of his back injury and no back-up at center or Power Forward. If Self gets both De Sousa and Preston cleared, he will start riding the team until he gets the production that he wants.

Craig Carson 9 months, 2 weeks ago

if he gets both of those guys he should abandon the 4 guard lineup..I know we can shoots 3's but Im tired of seeing them shoot 30 a night LOL

Harlan Hobbs 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Indeed, you have to have players, but a lot of coaches have had players but couldn't mold them into a consistent powerhouse.

The fact is that this isn't the first or even second time in KU's streak of conference championships that we likely did not have the best team day in and day out. In many cases, Coach Self has had to use baling wire and whatever else he could scrounge together, both physically and psychologically, to get the job done.

Yes, things don't look so good right now, but don't count KU out.

Mallory Briggans 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Harlan that is true ....I believe Self had 2 teams that had all new starting 5's .....But each year each team is different ...the reality is its not that we're getting worse ....everyone is getting better .....we have to face the fact that everyone feels in the big 12 that they can be that team to break the streak.......TCU OU WEST VIRGINIA TECH All feel they can ...

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

When reading the article before Sam became eligible I had hope that he would be the hard nosed player Coach yearns for. Playing tough D and getting Rs. So far I haven't seen that to be the case. Not that he's bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just appears that he's an athletic player that is still trying to figure out what tough means so there really isn't a distinction between him and the players that Coach has become familiar with. I wonder what his energy pts per minute is. That's what Coach is looking for while most of us can't begin to wrap our brains around in. What's his shooting percentage?

It certainly would be nice to have Dwight on board though it looks like he made the right choice as a graduate. As much as we could use him it's still unlikely that he would be getting 25+ mpg. Glad to hear he's having a good season.

Matthew Gaylor 9 months, 2 weeks ago

In reality, the reason KU isn't winning is because this is one of the worst roster's Self has had. Let's go through the old rosters since Danny Manning left and compare them to this one.

2012/13: PG: Johnson (SR) SG: McLemore (Sat out year before, top recruit. FR), SF Releford (SR), PF: Young (SR) C: Withey (SR). Bigs Bench included: Ellis as a freshmen, Traylor as a freshmen. Backup guards were White and Tharpe.

2013/14: PG Tharpe (JR) SG: Selden (FR) SF: Wiggins (FR) PF: Ellis (SO) C: Embiid (FR) Bigs Bench included: Black (SR), Traylor (SO), Lucas (FR). Guards bench: Mason, Greene, White.

2014/15: PG: Mason SG: Selden SF: Oubre Jr PF: Ellis C: Alexander Bigs Bench: Traylor, Lucas, Mickleson. Guards bench: Greene, Graham, and Svi

2015/16: PG Mason SG: Graham SF: Selden PF: Ellis C: Lucas Bigs Bench: Bragg, Traylor, Diallo, Mickleson. Guards bench: Svi, Greene, Vick

2016/17: PG: Mason SG: Graham SF: Svi PF: Jackson C: Lucas Bigs Bench: Bragg, Coleby, Lightfoot. Guards Bench: Vick,

2017/18: PG: Graham SG: Svi SF: Garrett PF: Vick C: Azubuike Bigs Bench: Lightfoot. Guards Bench: Newman, Cuncliff.

Ultimately, as you see the starters and bench from 2012 until this season, KU's always had a good big who could post, whether it was Ellis, Withey, Traylor, or Lucas. They also had a big off the bench, whether it was Traylor, Ellis, Diallo, etc. This year, they don't. If Preston gets eligible, he likely starts, Vick moves back to being a guard where he belongs, and KU still doesn't have a big off the bench.

Also, look at the guards/forwards KU has had since 2012. McLemore was a top pick, Wiggins and Embiid went 1st and 3rd, Oubre Jr went 15th, 2016 Diallo went in the 2nd round, but KU had Ellis who was a great college player. 2017 Jackson went 4th overall, and Mason, who was a great college player.

In 2018, KU's projected draft picks are all in the 2nd round, and none of them are great college players. KU has no post player besides Azubuike who doesn't actually make post moves, he just dunks it. I think you can clearly see the drop in post productions since Ellis left. Lucas was the same way last year. He didn't make a ton of post moves. The biggest difference is KU has no 1st round talent to save the team. So when you add in that they have no post player, and then no first round talent at the guard/forward spot, you understand why KU has lost 2 home games this year, WITH A WEAKER SCHEDULE.

Rae Bricil 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Nice analysis and agree with most of what is said. My only issue is that KU even with its second round talent still has more possible NBA players than any other team. I did not see another team with more than 1 and WVU has 0. I agree and know post play is an issue but i just see it more as effort and grit. The talent is here its just not living up to its potential.

I have also zero issue with winning and losing but rather how they are playing. Similar to shots being good shots and bad shots--good and bad is not determined so much by result but rather selection. Similarly, it doesn't bother me that they lose but watching this team is painful. The lack of rebounding, effort for loose balls (don't recall seeing a jayhawk on the floor v TTU), careless turnovers and defense is hard to watch. I recall one play where TTU had just shot and Dok was at mid court?! This teams worries too much about getting points and not the fundamentals and effort plays-no attention to detail and nuance--they play like its an AAU game and not college.

Overall, i really like this team they seem like a great group of kids but completely lack toughness to this point--i know this has been said a ton but still a little surprised by it--that can change but regardless its been a fun run while it lasted. not counting them out by a long shot but they are not trending in the right direction.


Steve Zimmerman 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Ok, Matthew, nice recollection of rosters there. Agreed with some of your points, but I don't believe we always had a good big who could post circa 2012. Ellis was ok - if he's good he'll average >50% 2PT, Lucas was slightly better but didn't attempt scoring as many as Ellis. Diallo, meh, didn't get to see him that much. Sorry, I also thought we had a weak schedule, but....

In 2018, KU has a GREAT post player in Udoka. KU has a prized guard recruit out of HS in Newman. Cunliffe is top 10 in his position according espn100. Take a look at TT, WV, TCU. What's the difference other than the players? With all due respects to BS, but coaches have weaknesses, too. Even a HOF coach has weaknesses. It's not fair if we all just look at the players and compare them with the past ones. Also, we'll see a totally different team if our team practice with disciplines - be it in defensive position (sliding instead of chasing around, get low), rebounding (get low), more zone-D, conditioning; or if we adopt different offensive style, say scoring off of pick-n-rolls more, or using bigs to seal for penetrating guards instead of lobs all the time, more mid-range jump-shots (2 players of TT made step-back jumpers), etc. etc.. I've said this so many times, our offensive style needs an upgrade. Big time.

We have all the tools in 4 guards, 1 great big. Coach should be able to maximize their abilities, their strengths. We're not playing fast at all, some of you might have stated this. We've got quick guards. We still fail in finishing fastbreaks most of the time. No kidding, even in 2-vs-1 situation. As coach said, we've got a lot to deal with if we want to improve our record. It involves coaching staff and the players, collectively.

Matthew Gaylor 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Ellis was a great post player, as teams used to have to double team him anytime he caught it near the block. Lucas wasn't as big a threat as Ellis to score, but still scored. Udoka only scores on dunks. He doesn't actually make post moves.He just catches and dunks. So if Udoka gets it on the block, teams aren't as scared as they would be if they were facing Ellis or even Lucas, because they know Udoka hasn't played long enough, nor does he know how to do many post moves.

Newman was a top recruit, but he has never shown that. Not at Miss St, and not at KU. Cuncliffe wasn't a top recruit, even if he was top 10 in his position.

I do agree on Self's style, and I would attribute that to losing Danny Manning. Like I said, up until last year, Self's always had a post guy he could go through, and a lot of that was because Danny did so well with those guys. Self switched to playing with a 4 out 1 in style offense instead of 2 post players, and because he had Josh Jackson, it worked last year. This year, it hasn't worked because nobody can step up, and there's no depth.

I do believe, if Preston gets available, KU will move more towards that 2 post style offense, because it's what Self is comfortable in.

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