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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Kansas coach Bill Self puts onus on him to help Jayhawks’ struggling offense

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) is pressured by Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) is pressured by Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Whether rattling in and out, clanging off the rim or missing the mark altogether, making baskets and, therefore, scoring points has become quite a challenge for the Kansas men’s basketball team.

That issue, once again, played a big role in the Jayhawks’ latest loss — 73-63 on Tuesday night in Austin, Texas — and Kansas currently is riding one of its worst offensive stretches in the last five seasons.

The Jayhawks have scored 270 points in their past four games — three of them losses — and that total marks the lowest point production in a four-game stretch since the Jayhawks scored 269 points while going 2-2 against Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU and Oklahoma State back in 2015.

What’s more, the Jayhawks (16-5 overall, 5-3 Big 12) have scored 64 points or fewer in four of their five losses this season — all on the road — and have won just one game when failing to reach 70.

This from a team that opened the season by scoring 84 points or better in five of its first six games.

Of course, it’s not completely fair to call the late January version of the Jayhawks the same team as the one that opened the 2018-19 season.

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Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) drives past Texas guard Courtney Ramey (3) to score during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For starters, senior Lagerald Vick was James Harden-hot during the season’s opening weeks, and he’s been more in the Jerry Hardly mold during the first month of 2019. Vick has made just 50 of his 118 field goal attempts (42.4 percent) during the 6-5 stretch that began with KU’s first loss of the season five weeks ago.

Beyond that, the Jayhawks, back then, were playing with arguably the toughest individual matchup for an opposing defender in all of college basketball, in junior center Udoka Azubuike. And, today, they are without Azubuike for the rest of the season because of another wrist injury.

“We’d be ranked No. 1 in the country if we still had Dok,” Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said after Tuesday’s loss. “I mean, you think about it, we knocked off three top 10 teams when we had Dok. Not that we would’ve won them all (since then); I’m not saying that at all. But we would still be right up there at the very top, I would think, or towards the top. But we’re not.”

Instead, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks are heading in the wrong direction in the polls, dropping two spots in the Associated Press Top 25 in each of the past three weeks, with nothing but tough games and five more road challenges on the horizon.

From the sound of it, Self has seen enough.

Ever the coach willing to look at his own role during any rough stretches his teams might endure, Self on Tuesday night pointed the finger squarely at himself when trying to explain KU’s offensive woes.

“That’s on me,” he said. “We’ve got to find some way to play where I can help the guys offensively. And we just haven’t figured it out yet.”

Asked if he was surprised by how much of an issue running good offense and scoring points has become for this team, Self first provided some perspective.

“I’m surprised by the success we had early in the season,” he began. “But not surprised by (our struggles now). We’ve known all along that we had some limitations offensively. So it’s not a shocker to me by any stretch. But to the level that we’ve struggled, yeah, that has been somewhat unexpected.”

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Nick Krug

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets fired up during the second half, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The question now is not as much why the offense is struggling, but what to do about it.

Self had a few ideas on Tuesday and sounded determined to come up with a few more in the days and weeks ahead. On Wednesday night, during his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show, he hinted at exploring more changes to the starting lineup, which, for the first time this season, on Tuesday included freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who responded with a 24-point night.

“Our best passer doesn’t have anyone to throw it to right now,” Self said of junior forward Dedric Lawson, who, while still averaging 19.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per night, has been harassed by length and size in recent games. “It’s just kind of something that we’ve got to figure out.”

Could team speed and transition offense be a part of the solution?

“I do think Devon (Dotson is) fast with the ball and we need to play to try to get easy baskets as much as possible,” Self said. “We haven’t done that consistently well.”

Said Dotson when asked for his take on what might cure the ailing KU offense: “The key is just to keep moving the ball. If you get an open look, knock down shots. And just attack and be aggressive.”

Much of Dotson’s fix already has been mentioned plenty this season, but it’s worth noting that most of it is about attitude, not X’s and O’s.

Regardless of which areas Self and his coaching staff choose to tinker with as the Jayhawks head to February, there seems to be a consensus of opinion among the team that something needs to change.

If that change is major, it will bring Self and the Jayhawks into rare territory.

Though few and far between, Self has been forced into a few midseason offensive tweaks in the past during his 16 seasons at Kansas, and each was born from the idea of fitting a style of play to his specific personnel.

During Self’s second season at KU, when Wayne Simien was injured midseason, Self and his staff came up with an offensive set known as “fist,” which is a modern-day staple and incorporates more ball-screen action instead of relying solely on the high-low offense in which Simien flourished.

Three seasons ago, with KU’s strength being on the perimeter, Self installed a 4-guard offense, with Josh Jackson playing at the 4, in order to take advantage of KU’s abundance of athletes and shotmakers on the perimeter.

Both moves worked wonders, but it’s debatable whether either is working today.

Coming into the season, with so many big, talented bodies on the KU roster, the plan was to return to the two-big man approach for which Self always had been known.

And that still might be a part of the solution moving forward, with junior Mitch Lightfoot and freshman David McCormack being options to play next to Lawson in the future.

However, an injury to Azubuike and NCAA eligibility issues hanging over sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa have left the Jayhawks shorthanded in the front court and forced to rely on young guards.

“Teams guarding Dedric the way they do puts a lot of pressure on guys to do some things that maybe they’re not as good at doing yet,” Self said after Tuesday’s loss at Texas. “I’m not trying to be negative, but you play a certain way and you anticipate having guys play a certain way and you don’t shoot it great and you don’t pass it great. That’s hard to do when you’re playing small.”

There’s little doubt that Vick, Dotson or Quentin Grimes finding their outside shots, or Agbaji, Grimes and Marcus Garrett hitting the offensive glass for easy buckets, would help this team.

But what’s even less of a mystery is the fact that, win or lose, 60 points or 90, the Jayhawks are going to have to figure it out with the players they have and no one’s going to feel sorry for them while they do.

“Certainly disappointing, very disappointing,” Self said after Tuesday’s loss. “But we’re going through stuff 99 percent of teams in America go through. We just haven’t gone through it much here. And we’re just going to have to grind, lean on each other, hopefully get a little bit better in certain situations, but, also, we’ve got the team that we’ve got. We’re not very big. This is who we are. We’ve got to just be a little bit better in all areas. We can get it flipped, but right now, obviously, it’s a grind. It’s a grind.”

Comments

David Robinett 6 months, 2 weeks ago

More McCormack and Agbaji - guys that hustle.

I don’t care that Vick can hit a 3

Brian Wilson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Exactly...and....to those that heckled me....just read this article! It suggests we try McCormack alongside Lawson. I have said that since Dok went out. We should start McCormack at center.

Given a few games I am pretty sure Dave will find his way. His job would be to play defense, rebound, dunk the ball on occasion and receive underneath passes from Lawson taking shots from less than 4 feet or kick the ball outside. This would be good for his strength and inside development as well as our team. This would get Lawson back to his best position, PF, and take the rebounding and post responsibilities off his back. Lightfoot can rotate.

Also, If it were me....It might be time to play both the Lawson brothers together a little more. Sometimes there is something to be said for that "reading each other's mind" thing and letting the brothers have 15 minutes of fun together. This team looks like they are not having any fun. Loosen Dedric up, let the brothers play, spread their brotherly ornery attitude throughout the team. Rotate KJ and Vick at the 3. Start Agbaji along with Dotson. Bring Garret and Grimes off the bench. IMO, we can't keep sitting around waiting and whining about Silvio. Silvio might not play this year and we have to move forward.

Jason Venable 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Unfortunately, seems like Self is too concerned about another conference title. I personally don't give a flying fart about it. Player development is more important and with development I would think that gives us a better chance in advancing in March. Has it really come down to just being happy about a conference title? Bill can't expect to plug in some guys that have limited playing time and then expect miraculous results. It doesn't work that way.

Travis Clementsmith 6 months, 2 weeks ago

If you don't win games, period, they don't let you into the NCAA Tournament, either. It doesn't work that way. Since those games are Conference Games, it might be a good idea to win them. For those of you that think, "Oh, we have some good wins already, we'll get in on the strength pf those", don't forget, the Selection Committee can take into consideration injuries to major players. Our best victories came when Dok played on the team. Just because a player plays, doesn't mean they are magically going to get it or contribute in a mostly positive way. Maybe they would. I just think, if Self thought McCormack was ready to contribute more positive than negative plays, he would have jumped at it because its a style he prefers and the team started out with in the preseason. He's going this route because he believes it gives the team the best chance to win.

Dane Pratt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

We are 16-5 and have wins over 5 of the current top 20 teams. It would pretty much take a total collapse at this point to keep us out of the tournament.

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

We're also 6-5 without Dok and as stated, the committee does take into account what a team is doing lately and what injuries have done to a team. I agree we're a long ways away from not making the tourney but if we only won our home games the rest of the way, things would get interesting as we'd be sitting on a 21-11 record and we'd be 11-11 the last 2/3 of the season without Dok. We'd likely still make it but we'd we sweating it a little bit.

My personal opinion is since this team has NO chance of a deep run as constructed this year, what's the point of trying to be bad now in hopes of being good in March if the ceiling of this team isn't anywhere high enough to make a deep run? Might as well try to win now, try to tie for the league title, and hope to make it to the second weekend in March. If DMac is part of winning now then that's great. If he's not, he'll have 6 months to prepare for a larger role next season.

David Robinett 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes to more KJ as well. We lack CHEMISTRY!!! And the brothers have it when playing together! KJ played great against Tennessee.

I think coach is sort of a perfectionist (can argue much there), but letting Big Dave or KJ screw up every other time down the floor would be way better than having absolutely NO offensive flow. They will get buckets and hustle-steals & blocks.

Barry Weiss 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I think we need to go back to a two bigs offense. The four guard deal is not working since none are jump shot artists.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months, 2 weeks ago

What two bigs? I am a big fan of Lightfoot and his never backing down hard-nosed defense but he just isn't big enough and he cannot spread the court with his outside shot. At one time, we had Silvio, Dok, McCormack, Dedric, and Lightfoot.

I think using two bigs would most likely get McCormack and as Dedric into early foul trouble as they sometimes do... Unfortunately, using four guards only works well if you can hit the three. This team lacks that ability.

David Robinett 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Plus, what have we got to lose by playing DeSousa at this point?

Dane Pratt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

A sanction by the NCAA. We are in effect daring them to penalize us.

Dane Pratt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Bill, it's your own dam fault. 14 consecutive conference titles! What the hell were you thinking.

Bryce Landon 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not sure I understand where you're going with this. We have 14 straight titles. We have the record for most conference titles in a row all to ourselves after ripping it from UCLA last year. Even if that streak ends this year, it will be generations before another team exceeds our feat.

Bryce Landon 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The biggest thing Self can do for his guys is get them to have fun again. Right now they do not look like they are enjoying playing basketball at all.

Bill Corrigan 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt: At this late date, why is the NCAA unable/unwilling to issue a verdict on Silvio DeSousa's eligibility? At this juncture, there can't be that many unresolved 2018-19 NCAA Division I basketball cases that are still in limbo. This interminable situation is so unfair to Silvio, regardless of the final outcome of the investigation.

Matt Tait 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I think a lot of it has to do with when the NCAA actually received the reinstatement request from KU, which only came in January. Before that, even though it seems like it has been forever, they were unable to even begin reviewing his case. And that's why it is where it is today.

At least that's my best guess...

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The time it took to put it in their hands certainly didn't help anything.

They have also lately tended to use the strategy of "we're not really sure what to do so we'll just sit on it" which is a penalty without the NCAA officially serving it. It took them years to make a decision on Mizzou's tutoring issues. It took them like 6 years to decide to do nothing to UNC. It took them 6 months to make a decision on the kid from Miami.

Michael Sillman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

It sure seems like McCormack is our only option as an impact big even though he doesn’t appear at all ready. Why not throw caution to the wind and start him with Lawson, Dotson and Ogbaji plus either Garrett or Grimes. At least we’d be building for the future. Lawson would have some help on the defensive rebounding side to perhaps trigger more fast breaks baskets.

Craig Carson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree...it isnt like it cant be any worse than this 4 guard offense...at least with David we'd give up less offensive rebounds and perhaps a lil more inside points

Steve Zimmerman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Dotson: “1 - The key is just to keep moving the ball. If you get an open look, knock down shots. 2 - And just attack and be aggressive.

1 - No, it's not just keep moving the ball the way you guys do in each game. Weaving proves to be TO-prone: intercepted, or charge calls. Besides, how many times you guys don't see open teammate because you always weave towards the other direction? Find other ways to move the ball, but you have to look - look who's open, who's cutting, who can chase and grab the ball to make easy baskets.

2 - No, 'Just attack and be aggressive' is not enough. You attack with skills, style, with strength while being aggressive. If you 'just attack' like Garrett's layup, I'm sorry, kid. While I like Garrett's aggressiveness, he lacks of strength, style, skills to the basket. I've seen only a few flashes he could be a more effective attacker: Euro-step, a dribble drive with authority. Use fakes, use shoulder, there are many ways to attack the basket effectively without getting BLOCKED. Grimes, he opts to throw floaters while he could've just finished to the rim strong or gotten and-1. McCormack, he better dunk those putbacks or bunnies under the rim. Are you kidding me?

This is what I expected, we relied so much on hi-low, taking Dok for granted. Also, thinking Lawson is our solution. No, coach. You have to develop each and every player. Groom them, teach them skills, expose their strengths, give them confidence, set them free, let them fail and get back up. From what I see, each game they are confined with this X's and O's. And I think coach is wrong, even with Dok playing right now, any B12 team could still beat us.

Steve Zimmerman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Redshirting Ochai showed what kind of offense coach BS wanted this team to be initially. Think how many games Ochai would've benefitted from playing, how he could've gelled with his teammates had he not been redshirt. How in the world an HOF coach could not judge how good of a baller Ochai was and decided to r/s him.

Jay Scott 6 months, 2 weeks ago

MAYBE...just maybe... he had difficulty seeing how a player who was unranked and barely recruited was going to unseat the 1)McD AA projected as a lottery pick OAD 2) established defensive stud 3)returning 12 ppg 40% 3pt shooter senior 4) 12pts/8 reb transfer who all play the same positions.

Remember Steve-o, the coach has to decide with no game action...

But Chicken Littles like you all have glorious coaching resumes of your own, in your fantasies..

Steve Zimmerman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Fair enough Scottie. You've been loyal to coach BS. I hope you'll get what you wished for.

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

The original plan was to only play 3 guards at a time which made Ochai the 6th or 7th guard on the depth chart, assuming Grimes played like an All-American, KJ was the 10 and 8 guy he was in Memphis, and Moore could make a shot (like he did at Cal). Rather than waste a year give Ochai 5 minutes a game, he decided to redshirt him with the hope of having him 4 full years where he'd actually play.

Doke gets hurt, all the sudden we've got 6 guards left and are playing 4 at a time so instead of having a full roster of backup guards (3 playing, 4 on the bench) we've got 4 playing and 2 on the bench. That's not enough, especially when Moore hasn't been able to figure it out and KJ is hit or miss depending on the night. Compounding that problem is that Grimes is playing like a walk-on instead of an All-American and now we've got 3 guards actually producing and 4 barely doing anything most nights.

Enter desperation mode since we're no longer in a position where we are overflowing with too many quality guards than we have minutes for. Bring in the kid that's improved greatly practicing against tough competition, hello Ochai.

Edward Daub 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I just stumbled across my copy of Street & Smith's Pre-Season College Basketball Magazine. They predicted that KU was the #1 Team in the Country Pre-Season!

Their article on KU stressed the impact of our three transfers, Dedric, K.J., and Charlie.

K.J Lawson was the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2017.

Charlie Moore averaged 12.2 points and dished 120 assists as a CAL Freshman.

Quentin Grimes was touted as a "Difference Maker" who could be the next KU freshman lottery pick. After FIBA, Bill stated "He's probably as complete a guard as we've ever had."

I think we all know that losing DOK to Injury and SILVIO to NCAA purgatory are two critical reasons for KU's struggles.

However, the great expectations from several newcomers has yet to pan out! Rock Chalk!

David Robinett 6 months, 2 weeks ago

KJ has not been given much of a chance IMO. He played great against the best competition (TN).

Kenneth Johnson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

He's also played like a freshman several times.

Dan Philipps 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I've always been confident in HCBS's ability to motivate his players and run his traditional offensive schemes; it's a huge reason why he's sitting in the Hall of Fame. Tweaking the offense mid-season will be a great test for him and I'm excited to see how the team evolves from this point forward. I've always had a lot of respect for Brad Stevens and Eric Spoelestra because I feel like they have had to adapt to challenging lineups their entire career. Let's hope HCBS can meet the challenge as well.

On a side note, thank you Kansas for being such an amazing program. Without the fans, players, coaching, facilities, university, etc..., ESPN and CBS would not broadcast almost every game of the season. It is such a treat to live away from Lawrence and still be able to see us play (win or lose).

I remember going through some tough stretches as a student-athlete while at KU ... These players are too strong and talented not to persevere.

Brian Hosfelt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

sorry but Garrett has to come off the bench.....he isn't a threat from 3 and last 2 games he struggled with length going to the hoop....that's why Lawson is getting double teamed so easily.

Steve Zimmerman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

He's been starting already, and busting his butts off while you're sitting on a couch.

Robert Brock 6 months, 2 weeks ago

KU’s half-court offense is pitiful. No movement. Looks like zone offense. Easily defended. Forget winning road games.

Jason Venable 6 months, 2 weeks ago

In other news, ISU thrashed WVU and I'm not sure how much longer Manning is going to last at Wake. He's just not very good there.

Matt Gauntt 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Love to see Danny come back to Lawrence as an assistant. Not sure he would step back down to assistant after tasting the job as head coach.

Michael Maris 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Matt, you never know. With his wife being from Southern Kansas, they may be open to coming back (as an Assistant Coach and working under Coach Self). Sure worked out for Norm Roberts. Danny's legacy is in Lawrence, Kansas. And I'm betting that Danny has done a fine job of securing his retirement funds (for his future). So if Danny was let go, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of his family ending back in Lawrence, Kansas.

Craig Alexander 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm sure Self will figure something out but one of the main differences I see with this team vs others in the prior years is mental toughness and competitiveness. Do you remember a year in which Self has taken the blame multiple times in losses like this year? In prior years he has always said we are just not that good right now, we aren't tough, etc. He has called his players out in prior years and kids like Devonte, Mason, Svi responded because he was calling our their manhood.

This team is soft right now. Ochai brings a little swagger to the team when it seems like others blend into the background when things get tough. Marcus has the toughness and defense but the tough type of leader they need is the guy who will take the ball into his hands down 1 or 2 and drive it to the bucket for layup, not the type that dribbles aimlessly at the 3 point line to chuck something up. We literally have looked like KSU, Baylor, etc on those "game is on the line" closing possessions where all of us have laughed at the coaching ability of Weber and Drew. KU is soft this year and certainly could end the streak unless somebody steps up. This does remind us all though that these are 19-22 year olds who in some cases have not been challenged athletically until now. It could take time.

Jason Venable 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Is it possible that there isn't the right chemistry among the players???

Shannon Gustafson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, that's certainly possible when the only two that have played together in games last year is Vick and Garrett. They might as well all be Freshman from a chemistry standpoint. You could say Mitch as well but since he doesn't play this year it doesn't really have any effect on chemistry now.

Brian Mellor 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Pretty sure at this point last year the sky was falling as well. 4 days from the anniversary of the home pummeling by OSU, in fact, at which point with 3 home losses the whole season had obviously been written off and we were obviously going nowhere etc. etc. For whatever reason, it does seem like mid-Jan to mid-Feb are always rough.

Funny how nobody remembers doubting last year any more.

Of course, the reason that all the suggestions here are so good is because they're not going to be implemented. That's the best thing about being an armchair coach! You can live in a perpetual state of knowing the right answer. If they only did what you suggested, things would be a lot better than they are now.

Me, I think that the main issue is that it's not an assist friendly team, right now. Probably the result of a young backcourt, the loss of the key piece that going in to the season was the 1st focus of the offense, and Lawson having to do too much to make up for it.

We'll figure it out. Or maybe we won't, and we'll finally break the streak of 15-consecutive conference titles and have a rough tournament run the year after making the final four.

Craig Carson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

I personally think Self should just start McCormack along side Lawson..the guards aren't shooting 3' at a high enough volume for them to play a 4 guard lineup..Azibuike avoided double teams last season because KU had 4 effective shooters around him, this team hasn't been as effective..Lawson is getting triple teamed...this team isn't lacking talent or ability, they are lacking execution...

Stuart Corder 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Coach Self has had the Jayhawks ranked in the AP Top 25 since 2009, with 193 consecutive AP polls. The longest active streak by far. (North Carolina is 2nd with 93 consecutive AP polls 2014 - 2019).

http://collegepollarchive.com/mbasketball/ap/appearance-streaks-weeks.cfm#.XFOe0LdMElQ

That’s arguably as impressive as 14 straight Big XII conference championships.

He’s brought us a decade of elitism and over a decade of conference titles.

This article tells us that Coach Self is re-evaluating this squad and looking at this talented group with fresh eyes and an open mind. There is no other pair of eyes or any other basketball mind I’d rather have doing exactly that.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Tim Orel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Duke's immunity to any kind of NCAA scrutiny sure seems to.

Steve Zimmerman 6 months, 2 weeks ago

well, that's an exception, until someone proves decades of conspiracy theory.

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