Recap: Bill Self has reason to be upset with his defense
Note: Here is a listing of definitions for some terms used in this blog. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below if something doesn't make sense.
Travis Releford played 13 minutes in the second half. And I think that might be the most important thing to take from KU's 82-57 victory over UT Arlington on Wednesday.
This really isn't a point about Releford. It's more about KU coach Bill Self. After watching KU's postgame press conference, and hearing Self talk frustratedly about his defense, I came away thinking that the coach's philosophy might be altered a bit from this point forward in the season.
Self isn't going to change. He's always going to emphasize defense. He loves getting after a team. He loves when his players take pride in taking an opposing team out of what it does offensively.
Right now, KU's players' mentality doesn't seem to match that of their coach. And it looks like it bugs him more than it does them.
Which is why Releford's 13 second-half minutes might be important, especially after Self said that Releford was the best defensive player for KU on Wednesday.
Through recruiting, Self has loaded his lineup with gifted offensive players. He has numerous guys who can shoot, leap, run and penetrate.
But right now, he only has a few guys that are giving him the defensive effort that he's looking for.
The coach has the ultimate motivator, though: He determines playing time.
All things being equal, I wouldn't be surprised if he increasingly opts for the players that are playing the best defensively.
A couple times in the press conference, Self talked about how interesting practices in the next week would be for his players. It sounds like an open audition for more playing time for about 10 Jayhawks, as few have been consistently playing well over the last handful of games.
This might be the time for someone — Releford would be a good example — to make a case for more playing time by guarding better than his teammates.
If Self can't convince his players on the court to be better defensively, I have a feeling he might start looking for other options.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
Thomas Robinson probably just played his best game as a Jayhawk.
The sophomore forward combined efficiency with high usage, posting 1.39 points per possession used while taking on a huge offensive load for KU (ending 25.2 percent of possessions).
He also continued to be dominating on the glass, taking down 32.2 percent of the available offensive rebounds (to put in perspective how high that number is, his 20.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage coming in ranked sixth in the nation) and 19 percent of the available defensive rebounds.
And he did it all without turning the ball over, which has been the biggest obstacle for him since arriving at KU.
A stat line of 20 points, 8-for-10 shooting and 10 rebounds is a good effort on any night, but the fact that Robinson pulled it off in just 24 minutes makes the feat even more impressive.
Self would prefer to have Robinson be a boost off the bench, but it's getting harder for the coach to do that with as well as the Washington, D.C. native is playing lately.
Room for Improvement
After the game, Self said that he believed his team's defense had gotten worse over the last month.
Statistically, it'd probably be hard to argue with him.
UT Arlington had the type of offense that the Jayhawks chewed up and spit out at the beginning of the season. Some examples: KU allowed 0.64 points per possession against Valparaiso, 0.61 points per possession against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and 0.56 points per possession against Ohio.
On Wednesday, the Jayhawks allowed 0.86 points per possession against the Mavericks — a team not as good offensively as the three listed above.
UT Arlington played a much slower pace than is normally does (66 possessions, compared to an average of 73), but it still was able to get good shots off late in the shot clock.
Because of that, the Mavs were around their season averages across the board offensively.
Their eFG% was 47.3 (compared to their season mark of 49.8 percent). They turned it over 24.2 percent of the time against KU (their season mark is exactly 24.2 percent).
KU's defense roughly held UT Arlington's offense to an average output this season. That's not a good thing, considering Mavs have played four non-Div. I schools in their first 11 games.
We'll probably look back and say that this was the worst game of Josh Selby's career at Kansas.
The freshman contributed just 0.52 points per possession while struggling to a 1-for-9 shooting night.
There's both good and bad to take from Selby's line. One good thing for KU fans is that, on an off shooting night, the guard didn't force the issue offensively. He used only 13.9 percent of KU's possessions when he was in, meaning he deferred to teammates more than we saw in the first two games.
Selby's misses also weren't always a negative for KU's offense. Because he draws so much attention defensively, oftentimes Selby allows KU's post players easy opportunities for offensive rebounds. That happened Wednesday, as four different times off Selby missed shots, one of KU's big men grabbed the offensive rebound and put in a stickback.
Then again, when Selby isn't producing offensively, KU might have better options on its bench. We've talked all along about how Selby's defense will improve, and it looks to me like the freshman is trying hard on that end. He's just not there yet.
Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Elijah Johnson all are more consistent defenders as of now, and all have the ability to keep the ball moving offensively if they are in. If Selby isn't scoring or creating for teammates, Self has the luxury of putting in a guard that might be a lower-risk, lower-reward player if the situation calls for it.
The Jayhawks used their advantage inside to pull away from the Mavericks. KU came away with 48.4 percent of the available offensive rebounds, (second-highest total of the year) and 74.3 percent of the defensive rebounds (third-highest total of the year). The Jayhawks also made 21 of their 33 two-point attempts (63.6 percent).
Still, KU didn't take a step forward defensively on Wednesday. Though UT Arlington slowed down the pace, it was still able to get off good shots at the end of the shot clock by beating KU's defenders off the dribble and making jump shots.
Coming in, one would have expected the Mavs to struggle much more offensively against the Jayhawks than they did.
Don't be surprised if Self tinkers with his rotation to see if he can boost his defense, even if it means the Jayhawks don't have their most gifted offensive players on the court at the same time.