Monday, March 12, 2018

Jayhawks eyeing relaxed but aggressive approach to NCAA Tournament

Kansas head coach Bill Self loosens his tie as he makes his way from the court following the Jayhawks' 82-68 win over Oklahoma State, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas head coach Bill Self loosens his tie as he makes his way from the court following the Jayhawks' 82-68 win over Oklahoma State, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


On Monday afternoon, Kansas point guard Devonte' Graham was named a first-team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Graham, a legitimate national player of the year candidate, who has seen his name land on several All-American lists already this month, is preparing to lead his Jayhawks, one more time, into the NCAA Tournament, once again as a 1 seed and once again with the ultimate goal being to break through and take Kansas to its first Final Four since 2012.

There are a dozen different factors that can determine whether a team has success in the postseason or not, and, for KU coach Bill Self's money, one of the best is just how relaxed a team can be.

“My best times in the tournament have been when we've had the most fun,” Self said Sunday. “The most productive my teams have been is when we've had the most fun. And the most pressure (we've felt), it seems like to me, is when we've been dealing with crap or distractions.”

Although the 2017-18 season has had its share of disturbances, — most notably the eligibility quests of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa — the top-seeded Jayhawks (27-7) have been pretty distraction-free during recent weeks, with the growing list of Graham's postseason accolades drawing as much non-basketball attention as anything for this team of late. Luckily for Kansas, the man receiving those honors is one of the more selfless players to come through the program, so there's no worrying about where Graham's focus is heading into Thursday's opening-round clash with 16th-seeded Penn at 1 p.m. at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita.

“Everybody deals with them,” said Self of off-the-court issues. “It could be agents, runners, it could be family members, it could be whatever. It could be injuries. There's a lot of things. But when you can go into it with fresh minds and fresh bodies and you're in it for the right things, to go out and take it, rather than go out and protect it, I think those teams usually do the best and (are) the teams that have the most fun playing.”

Although it remains to be seen if this year's Kansas team operates with that approach, Self said he entered the week supremely encouraged that that would be the case given the way the Jayhawks played last weekend en route to the Big 12 tournament title in Kansas City, Mo.

“I don't think that we've had a team, in recent memory, that has enjoyed playing the game more than what those kids did (Saturday) night,” said Self of his team's 81-70 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 title game. “That's been something, as you guys know, that's been a pet peeve of mine all season long. We haven't shown that visibly when we're out there playing. So I hope we're in the right mindset that we can go out and have fun and enjoy it.”

The alternative to having fun, of course, is wilting under the pressure. And although the past two Kansas teams have shown plenty of March Madness moxie in getting to the Elite Eight, Self admitted that pressure has been a factor in the past.

He vows to not let that be the case this season and it starts with taking a loose-but-locked-in attitude into this week's preparation for Penn.

“This could happen a lot,” Self began, taking us through a not-so-hypothetical scenario. “So, you win the league by two games and you want to go to the Big 12 tournament and, instead of having the mindset of let's just go have fun, no we need to go validate what we did. Sometimes (it's), 'Well, we got a 1 seed, now we've got to play to that seed.' I've actually thought that at times. I'm not going to do that with this team.

“I think we'll do much better if we are enjoying playing rather than thinking we have to do something.”

That, according to Self, is where his first-team All-American and Big 12 player of the year is most valuable. Rare is the day when Graham looks anything but overjoyed on the court. And Self said that attitude and energy can serve this team well in the coming weeks.

“I do think that's where Devonte' is probably as valuable to us as any player is in the country to their respective team because he gives us so many intangibles,” Self said. “... I really like our team right now, after this past weekend. It's been an up-and-down season. I think we're on an uptick right now. We've had some good teams going into the tournament and I think this is one of those teams.”

Graham agreed and said he thought everyone on the roster had taken the right steps toward entering this week with equal parts focus and free spirit.

“Yeah. I think we are,” Graham said, when asked if the Jayhawks were ready for the mental and physical grind of what's to come. “I think this past weekend helped out a lot.”


Steve Grimm 6 days, 20 hours ago

Had we lost early in the Big 12 tournament and still been awarded a 1 seed, I think this team may have really felt the pressure of validating their seed. But with the great showing, I think there is much less pressure.

I agree that, in the past, KU teams have seemingly been the most uptight than other teams. I believe Bill has learned that and has recently been taking more conscious steps to try to take the pressure off his teams

Marcia Parsons 6 days, 20 hours ago

I love it when Devonte makes a three and turns and skips toward the other end of the floor.

Len Shaffer 6 days, 19 hours ago

I love that Self admits he's let pressure affect his thinking in the past. It's yet another mark of how great a coach he is that he's willing to face his issues (and open up about them) and work on them.

I think last year's loss to Oregon was affected by KU pressing, but I think the loss the year before was just a tough loss to a great Villanova team. I think in general KU has been most affected by pressure in the tournament when they've been facing a big underdog and the underdog has been keeping it close or dominating early. We've certainly seen that a lot over the years. So in at least that way I'd be less worried about MSU or Duke than I would be about, say, New Mexico State or URI. We've all seen those upsets way too many times.

Marius Rowlanski 6 days, 1 hour ago

I don't think there's any doubt about it. It seems when we take the tougher route against the tougher opponents, we seem to do better. Everything I just said is conjecture but it definitely seems like we struggle the most with the teams that have the least chance of winning at all.

Shannon Gustafson 6 days, 16 hours ago

Hopefully since they've been doubted by so many people, media, etc. this year they can use that "underdog" mentality to their advantage. Most years they don't have that luxury but some of their post game interviews have mentioned that they have this mentality. We'll see over the next few weeks!

Steve Zimmerman 6 days, 14 hours ago

Dear coaching staff and seniors, please play tapes starring Mason & Jackson from last season, show to the team. Those tapes will keep our team focus, determined and Masonize their minds and souls, Jacksonize their wills and efforts. Let's finish what they almost accomplished last season. Bring that championship trophy to Lawrence!! ROCK CHALK, JAYHAWK!!!!

Brian Leslie 6 days, 1 hour ago

I think it would be daunting to show how good Frank and Josh were, and they STILL came up short in the Elite 8. It's a new team writing its own story. Who are you playing Josh Jackson highlights for, Vick? Lightfoot? First of all, they were there, but they can't ever be Josh Jackson. They've got to find their own path to give this team what it needs.

Brad Watson 6 days, 9 hours ago

Be relaxed and play free...the season is already a total success...go out there have fun and see what happens....blinders game at a time...only Penn matters right now......its a title game......from here on out......every game is a championship game....its all about passion and high make sure to do your Jerod Haase homework every night.......bring the ultimate warrior mentality....concentrate on every single free throw...seriously... .... and things will turn out like you want....we love you guys...and are behind you 100%.!!!!..Your best basketball is still inside of you...

Tony Bandle 6 days, 1 hour ago

"...relaxed but aggressive...", Is that like a lioness yawning out of boredom as she bites off a chunk of an antelope she just chased down???

Brian Leslie 6 days ago

It seems that KU under Self is always chasing that elusive single factor for tournament success. Back in 2011, we were saying that the Sherron / Aldrich / Reed kind of players were too "nice," and so when we heard of the Morris Twins trash-talking VCU and nearly getting into a fight between practice times, we thought, "finally, we're talking tough and going to back it up on the court." Obviously that one didn't work out.

Intensity and focus and doing every little thing like you've been coached to do are what win games. You don't want to be tight, but you want to be a machine executing what you've been coached to do. Joyful results should (but don't always) follow from that.

Danny Hernandez 5 days, 21 hours ago

VCU shooting lights out from the 3 didn't help either. And we shot what, 2 for whatever

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