Trials and tribulations piling up for Jayhawks this season
Perhaps because he’s spent so much of this season in college basketball’s version of crisis management mode, Bill Self on Friday afternoon turned one question about the at times tedious nature of a season into a nearly 3-minute long public service announcement about the state of the Kansas basketball team.
Whether it was the Jayhawks’ four losses in their last six games (with all the defeats coming on the road), dealing with another injury to a starter, having a senior guard take a leave of absence in February, or, you know, the whole Silvio De Sousa fiasco that had him revved up, Self’s state of mind during an otherwise typical media session fueled a monologue.
In his career, Self was asked outside the locker room in Allen Fieldhouse, when he has sensed that basketball has become tedious to his players, how does he help them recapture “the joy?”
“It happens with every team. And I think that’s kind of an unfair question, because you’re stating it right after losses, and that’s when everything is magnified,” Self began in his response. “Positively it can be magnified if you win and negatively it can be magnified if you don’t. And 50 percent of the teams that play each and every night lose. So the whole thing is you can’t let things become situations because of disappointment in a short-term deal. Is it hard to get players to understand that and do that? Absolutely. We haven’t experienced that a lot here. But it is a situation where all teams go through something — they all go through something.”
The trials and tribulations seem to keep piling up on the perennial Big 12 champions this season, Self’s 16th at KU.
From the significant fallout to De Sousa’s recruitment, to Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury, to Marcus Garrett’s less serious ankle injury that is expected to keep him out yet again as the Jayhawks play host to Oklahoma State, to Lagerald Vick’s out of the blue leave of absence, there have been no shortage of pitfalls in the chase for the program’s 15th consecutive conference title.
By the way, don’t even bring that up. Not right now anyway.
“It’s not right to talk about the league race, because right now we’re not even in the league race — at least the way I see it,” Self said. “Until we start, you know, doing some things to create some positive energy and wins moving forward, because there’s so little margin for error.”
No. 13 KU (17-6 overall, 6-4 Big 12) enters the weekend sitting 1.5 games behind the Big 12’s current leader, Kansas State, 1 game behind second-place Iowa State, a half-game behind third-place Baylor and tied for fourth with Texas Tech in the five-team jumble atop the standings.
A win against Oklahoma State (9-13, 2-7) is a must for the Jayhawks, but it won’t do anything to improve the national perception of this team. Kansas has dropped in the AP Top 25 each of the past four weeks, and next week will be no different, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
The constant unrest that has characterized this season, Self wanted to remind everyone, has pushed KU out of college basketball’s upper echelon.
“The thing about it is that I don’t think people understand on the outside: we’re not the same team we were when we were preseason No. 1 in the country,” Self said. “I mean, we’re not. We’ve got four of our top seven players (Azubuike, Garrett, Vick, De Sousa), most talented players, who are not going to be in uniform tomorrow. So naturally we’re not the same team. So do we temper expectations? I’m not sure I buy into that. But we’ve also got to be a little bit realistic knowing that when you have less margin for error there’s a greater chance that something negative can happen, such as not winning the game.”
In KU’s current reality, which at least will get a boost when Garrett is able to return, perhaps in a week, a Big 12 title isn’t a foregone conclusion for a change. You can talk yourself into this being the year the streak ends as easily as you can that it will continue.
The challenge for Self, who said they can’t make excuses, will be getting the players to tighten up every aspect of what they do, what with those aforementioned slim margins.
And when KU inevitably endures another loss?
“You can’t approach the next day like it’s the end of the earth,” Self said, “because there’s a pretty good chance that could’ve happened anyway.”
It’s not as if, Self pointed out, KU has the personnel of the Boston Celtics. If he was coaching that type of talent, he would be more concerned about the team’s 1-5 road record.
“But we don’t have that right now,” he said. “And certainly you can’t hold the players accountable to a level that when the other team tries just as hard and they have all their pieces and they’re already just as good, something bad could potentially happen.”
Those negative outcomes have become a road-game trend for this team during what has been a tumultuous first few months to the season by KU basketball standards. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble getting another home win on Saturday. But until they start proving they can play with the type of consistency that has lacked throughout the season’s first 23 games, the ceiling for this team will keep looking lower and lower.
“In order to win games that are against good teams you have to play on that particular night, at that particular moment, on that particular possession,” Self said. “And we just haven’t been doing that enough.”