Kansas one of handful of teams capable of winning Big 12
The non-conference schedule finally has ended for Bill Self’s Kansas University basketball team, now ranked No. 12 in the nation, so coach Self and his Jayhawks have turned their attention squarely toward the Big 12 grind.
Before KU (11-2) begins conference play, Wednesday at Baylor (11-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12), Self met with the media Monday afternoon to talk about the loaded league and where the Jayhawks stand entering the home stretch.
Here are some of the highlights from the coach’s Q&A:
• Freshman Cliff Alexander is the best candidate to be an enforcer on the defensive end. Self thought he played really well against UNLV. KU needs him to be that guy. Even if he’s not starting, as is the case right now, he’s still their best low-post physical presence.
• Frank Mason III, hands down, has been the most consistent player for Kansas and the team’s MVP. When Devonté Graham went down, that put even more on him, and Mason has been consistent.
• Now that the non-conference is over, Self thinks KU at least has improved a lot since the Kentucky loss. Although KU has been inconsistent at times, they’ve played good enough to win — with the exception of the Temple game.
• Kansas has rebounded the ball pretty well, but Self can’t say the defense has been good. KU played a pretty good non-con schedule but their activity level on defense hasn’t been there for the most part. On offense, execution has gotten better since November. Looking at their stats, Kansas is last in the league in field-goal percentage (.426) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (.419). But he doesn’t like to look at stats until teams have played four or five games in the league.
• The Jayhawks had a two-hour meeting the other day, when Self “wasn’t real happy with them,” and asked them what they can hang their hat on. What they came up with: they’ve won some games when they didn’t play so well. … They’ve met a lot since the team got back from the holiday break.
• Stats can sometimes be very overrated, but the reality is they’re not way off regarding field-goal percentage. It’s fairly accurate. The difference between shooting 43% and 48% isn’t what they’re running, it’s energy level.
• Lsat year was similar in terms of room for improvement at this time of year, entering Big 12 play. KU has improved with some individuals playing better.
• In Self’s opinion, there are probably five teams in the Big 12 that have a legitimate chance of winning the league. And if one of the other teams gets on a roll, they might have a chance. From what he’s seen, there are some really good teams out there. Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas all could win the league. Texas might be able to win it all, or at least make the Final Four. Watching OU and Baylor, those are two really good teams. And West Virginia is forcing 22.6 turnovers a game. … Self predicts injuries and timing of things will play as much a role in winning the Big 12 as anything else. You lose a key player during a really tough stretch and you could end up in a hole.
• Every year, at least privately, Self has wondered if his team has been good enough to win the Big 12. He thought there was no way KU would win the league by two games last year, following the loss to San Diego State. KU started off 1-2 when Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Brandon Rush were freshmen.
• Your non-conference schedule should put freshmen in position to be prepared for league play.
• Self looks at field-goal percentage defense, field-goal percentage and rebounding as being the stats that show how good you are as a team.
• Self would be disappointed every year if they weren’t a top-10 defensive team and they aren’t there this year. There is a lot of room for improvement on that end of the floor. KU can still become a great defensive team.
• With Baylor, every guy on the floor shoots 3-pointers. So the Jayhawks have to keep that in mind.
• There aren’t always plays in games where you get a chance to dive on the floor for a loose ball or jump to save a ball from going out of bounds. But as a coach you have to have your guys prepared to make those types of plays.
• Graham is doing some light running and cutting. This has just started and Self is hopeful they can put him in some kind of practice situation later this week. He’s in “terrible” shape right now. But he could be back to playing spot minutes pretty quickly. He’s progressed nicely. He hasn’t done anything full-speed. If it turns out he can’t be 100 percent or close a medical redshirt remains a possibility.
• KU’s bigs did a pretty good job on ball screens the past couple of games.
— Listen to the complete press conference here: Self discusses depth of Big 12, how often he has thought KU would win it