After seeking faster, better starts than the ones they delivered in some of their recent games, the Kansas men’s basketball team opened Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma by hitting six of its first nine shots and racing out to a 16-10 lead.
Problem solved, right?
After the game, which went much rougher than the opening few minutes and turned into a 75-68 KU loss, Kansas coach Bill Self explained why he did not consider KU’s play in the opening minutes against OU to be a fast start.
“The way I look at this, and you guys will probably think I'm nuts, I look at it as where we would be if we weren't making shots,” Self said on Saturday.
In the familiar spot of trailing early is the answer to that question.
In recent losses to Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas — and even in their home win over OU — the Jayhawks misfired early and fell into 7-10 point holes as a result.
So while starting out last Saturday’s game at Oklahoma by making shots was a step in the right direction, it did not come close to solving KU’s biggest problem. Try as it might, this team still struggles to guard the ball, particularly late in the shot clock when the floor is spread.
Self further hammered home the point about defense being the key to this team getting back on track by explaining that teams that can defend at an elite level can open games with the feeling that they’re not playing very well and miss a few shots only to look up at the scoreboard and see they’re ahead by two.
“Guys just made shots,” Self said of KU’s start at Oklahoma. “But I don't feel like we took advantage of us making shots because we allowed them to as well.”
Had Kansas been able to pair its hot shooting start at Oklahoma with some better defense, Self believes the Jayhawks could have opened with an even bigger lead and taken more control of the game.
Instead, the KU offense quickly cooled off — making just three of 18 shots the rest of the half — and the defense disappeared altogether during a 14-0 Sooners run that put Oklahoma in control of how the rest of the game went.
“Really, what the game came down to, even though we didn't rebound very well and certainly didn't run great offense over a 40-minute period, was can you guard your man,” Self said. “They beat us off of basically going one on one.”
After the loss, Self pointed to his team’s struggles with transition defense, deflected balls going through players' hands and the Jayhawks’ inability, at times, to find their assignments and settle in defensively even after made baskets, as the things that drove him “crazy” about KU’s latest defensive effort.
“When we were ahead 16-12 or 16-14, it should’ve been 16-8,” Self said. “And if that's the case, that half finishes differently than the way it did.”
The numbers will show that this Kansas team has been good defensively this season. KenPom.com still lists KU in the top 20 of its adjusted defensive efficiency rankings at No. 19 overall at 91.4 points allowed per 100 possessions.
To put that in perspective, Baylor, which is ranked No. 2 overall and No. 1 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings, is allowing 87 points per 100 possessions. So it’s not like Kansas is that far off of where it needs to be and from where Self typically pushes his teams to play on that end of the floor.
But there's little doubt that this team's defense is trending in the wrong direction.
In its first eight games of the season, Kansas allowed just one opponent (No. 1 Gonzaga) to reach an offensive efficiency of 100 or higher. However, in the past seven games, five of KU opponents have cracked the century mark in that category.
Put another way, KU is 9-0 in games it keeps its opponent below 100 in KenPom's offensive efficiency rating and 1-5 in games when the KU foe tops 100.
They say defense wins. So it makes sense that no defense often loses.
The poor timing of KU's defensive breakdowns and this team’s inability to consistently guard all five spots on the floor that has contributed greatly to KU’s current three-game losing skid and left the Jayhawks looking for answers.
“We don't have great individual defenders that can lock in and really guard,” Self said. “And that was every evident late (at OU). … You’ve got to be turned up in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock.”
Reigning Naismith Award Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett said after Saturday’s loss that putting bad habits behind them — like soft close-outs, poor communication before and during defensive possessions and bad late-clock execution — is something the Jayhawks have to find a way to do if they want the rest of the season to play out to their liking.
“I just feel like we all just need to lock in defensively,” Garrett said. “It kind of feels like every time we make a mistake, we pay for it.”
Back-to-back road losses to No. 2 Baylor and now-No. 24 Oklahoma cost the Kansas men’s basketball team six spots in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.
The Jayhawks, who have lost three consecutive games since opening the season 10-2, fell from No. 9 to No. 15 in the latest AP poll released Monday.
Despite the drop, the Jayhawks added to their NCAA record of consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25, which now sits at 230. This week is the first this season in which Kansas (10-5 overall, 4-4 Big 12) has not appeared in the top 10.
The Jayhawks were one of three teams to experience significant falls in this week’s poll, with Tennessee dropping 12 spots from No. 6 to No. 18 after back-to-back losses to unranked Florida and then-No. 19 Missouri and Creighton dropping six spots from No. 11 to No. 17.
Mizzou’s win over the Volunteers propelled the Tigers to the No. 12 spot in this week’s poll.
KU, of course, defeated Creighton earlier this season, when both teams were ranked in the top 10, and the Jayhawks will play at Tennessee this weekend in this year’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which is slated for 5 p.m. on ESPN from Knoxville, Tenn.
Prior to that, KU will return to Allen Fieldhouse for a Thursday game with TCU. Tipoff for that one is set for 7 p.m. on Big 12 Now via ESPN+.
Oklahoma’s win over the Jayhawks pushed the Sooners into this week’s poll, moving OU from unranked to No. 24. And Oklahoma State is still just on the outside of the top 25, receiving 49 votes this week and sitting in the No. 30 spot.
Two other Big 12 schools moved up this week, with Texas Tech climbing from No. 12 to No. 10 and West Virginia jumping from No. 14 to No. 11. Kansas has wins over both programs already this season.
Top-ranked Gonzaga, No. 2 Baylor and No. 3 Villanova held onto their spots this week, and Texas also stayed put at No. 5.
Michigan, which has since pushed pause on all basketball activity for two weeks because of the pandemic, jumped into the No. 4 spot this week.
Here’s a look at this week’s complete poll:
1 – Gonzaga, 15-0, 1,597 (61)
2 – Baylor, 14-0, 1,539 (3)
3 – Villanova, 10-1, 1,459
4 – Michigan, 13-1, 1,376
5 – Texas, 11-2, 1,341
6 – Houston, 13-1, 1,281
7 – Iowa, 12-3, 1,214
8 – Virginia, 10-2, 1,067
9 – Alabama, 13-3, 1,039
10 – Texas Tech, 11-4, 954
11 – West Virginia, 10-4, 869
12 – Missouri, 10-2, 833
13 – Ohio State, 12-4, 810
14 – Wisconsin, 12-4, 757
15 – Kansas, 10-5, 665
16 – Florida State, 9-2, 656
17 – Creighton, 11-4, 640
18 – Tennessee, 10-3, 638
19 – Illinois, 10-5, 415
20 – Virginia Tech, 11-3, 242
21 – Minnesota, 11-5, 223
22 – Saint Louis, 7-1, 218
23 – UCLA, 12-3, 157
24 – Oklahoma, 9-4, 151
25 – Louisville, 10-3, 117
Others receiving votes: Boise State 108, Drake 75, Colorado 59, USC 50, Oklahoma State 49, Oregon 49, Florida 37, Connecticut 20, Winthrop 16, Xavier 14, Loyola Chicago 12, BYU 11, Purdue 11, Belmont 9, Clemson 8, St. Bonaventure 6, Toledo 4, Arizona 4
On Saturday afternoon, shortly after Oklahoma handed No. 9 Kansas its third consecutive loss in Big 12 play, KU coach Bill Self said he might explore making some lineup changes before the Jayhawks’ next game on Thursday against TCU.
But don’t let the talk of a new lineup fool you into thinking it’s a guarantee that we’ll see a couple of new faces in KU’s starting five in the near future.
We might. Self said that much.
“I think we need a new boost of energy,” he said. “(We) may need to shake things up a little bit lineup-wise.”
But we also might not see any changes because the most powerful thing that Self said in the wake of KU’s latest loss had to do with how he would determine whether lineup changes were necessary.
“I think it's time to go back to the practice floor determines who plays,” Self said.
If that’s the way they proceed, it’s entirely possible that the five starters who have started 14 of the 15 games for the Jayhawks so far this season will rise to the challenge and prove that they deserve those spots with their performances during KU’s upcoming practices.
If they don’t, they risk being replaced. But if they do, it could do wonders for this team moving forward.
Call it a clean slate. Or a do-over. Stats to this point do not matter. Junior guard Ochai Agbaji may lead this team in scoring at 14.5 points per game right now. And Jalen Wilson’s season scoring average still may be in the low teens (13.1) on the strength of his strong play during the nonconference portion of KU’s schedule. But those numbers today don’t mean any more or any less than Dajuan Harris’ 1.9 points-per-game average or the 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds Mitch Lightfoot is averaging this season.
It’s all about opportunity at this point. And all nine players who currently make up KU’s rotation, from Marcus Garrett, Christian Braun and David McCormack to Tristan Enaruna and Tyon Grant-Foster, all have the same opportunity in the week ahead.
Play hard and play well in practice and you’ll play in the game.
“You know, you go into a season and you want there to be five starters,” Self said Saturday. “You want there to be a little separation between your starters and your bench. And there has been for the most part this year. But (the play from the starters has) been too inconsistent of late. So I think we just need something to stir it up. That’s not being negative. It's just something to stir it up and try something different. And I don't know what that will be yet.”
It might be that the willingness to even talk about doing is the change that KU needs.
After all, Self said Saturday that his team’s confidence was shaken a little right now. But instead of them continuing to worry about wins and losses, Self wants them to get back to focusing on playing winning basketball.
That means a lot of things and can mean different things to different people. But for those around Self it primarily means elite execution in four key areas — defense, effort, attitude and toughness.
“Yeah, our psyche’s probably a little fragile right now,” Self said Saturday. “But good gosh, doesn't everybody’s psyche get fragile over the course of a marathon? I'm not going to use that as an excuse. We need to get some guys’ heads right. And I don't mean from a bad-attitude standpoint. But where we're thinking the right things more. That's obviously a concern, but you know that's the way it is everywhere. We just haven't had to deal with it much here.”
This team still has time to put it all together. Plenty of teams — even KU teams — have hit rough patches in January and February and still found a way to turn things around to the point where they’re peaking in March.
As Self put it Saturday, “it’s not lost by any stretch.”
But it is time for this group to find it again. To find their confidence. To find a rhythm. To find whatever helped the Jayhawks roll through non-con play with tough wins over ranked teams that carried the kind of swagger that Kansas is known to have.
Maybe that will mean new faces in the starting lineup. Maybe that will mean newfound commitment from the five starters who have been out there. Maybe that will mean more zone defense, better ball movement on offense and more of an attacking mentality on both ends.
Whatever it means and whatever it leads to all starts during the next few practices.
These Jayhawks will be this season what they decide to be this week.
In search of ways to lighten the load for senior point guard Marcus Garrett, in hopes of getting him fully going again, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self hinted at something on Thursday that might have provided a clue about Self’s plans.
“I do think he needs to look for his perimeter shot more,” Self said at the tail end of an answer about whether he might try to change the way Garrett attacks.
On the surface, that might sound a tad strange. Especially to die-hard KU fans who have spent the past few seasons emphatically stating that Garrett can’t shoot.
Problem is, he can. For his career, Garrett has shot it at a 48.6% clip from the floor and 28.7% behind the 3-point line.
Mario Chalmers or Svi Mykhailiuk he is not. But that 3-point percentage is dragged down quite a bit by sub-27% marks during his first two seasons as a Jayhawk.
If you take into account just his junior year and the games he’s played so far as a senior, Garrett’s actually a 32.5% 3-point shooter. That mark, for a single season, would put him among the top 100 3-point shooters in Division I this season.
So he can shoot. And if Self thinks he should be shooting more, there has to be a reason why.
In actuality, there are probably two.
The first has to do with the overall flow of the Kansas offense. If Garrett is a threat to shoot from the outside and actually does let it fly more than the two times a game he’s currently pacing at, opposing defenses would have to consider extending out to guard him tighter more often and that would open up more driving lanes for Jalen Wilson, Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji.
Basic stuff there. But important stuff, too.
The other reason Self might want Garrett to shoot the ball more addresses an idea that might speak to Kansas fans a little more directly.
Perhaps Self’s desire to have Garrett shoot the ball more from the outside is a tonic of sorts to the concerns about playing Garrett and redshirt freshman point guard Dajuan Harris together.
Harris has shown the impact he can have on the Kansas offense. But he’s not exactly a shooter. He can shoot. And he likely will become more comfortable doing so as his career progresses. But it’s not a strength of his today, it’s not the first thing he thinks with the ball in his hands and it’s not exactly what the Kansas offense needs.
Self has talked in the not-too-distant past about the desire, in today’s game, to have three shooters on the floor at all times.
Even with Garrett and Harris out there together, which would boost KU’s defense and ball handling, KU could have that if Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson are the other three on the floor.
What’s that give you? Five guards. And although we’ve seen that from Kansas at times this season, that approach has not been used nearly as much of late.
The reason? KU big man David McCormack has become a more reliable option down low and Self has had a hard time taking him off the floor. Even though McCormack’s range reliably extends out to 15 feet, he does not provide any real outside shooting.
So if the Jayhawks want to have McCormack (or surging sub Mitch Lightfoot) out there the majority of the time and also want to play Garrett and Harris together during certain stretches, they’re going to need one of the two point guards to be that third shooter.
Garrett’s the choice.
And it’s time for him to let it fly more often to see what that — and, in turn, more minutes for Harris — can do for this Kansas offense, which averaged 82 points per game in nonconference play and is down to 70 points per game since opening competition in the Big 12.
Encouraged by the play of his reserves during Monday’s road loss to Baylor, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said this week that he would like to see even more production from the KU bench in the days ahead.
But Self made sure to put reasonable expectations on his current batch of back-ups, who are not known for their scoring prowess. He also emphasized that better bench play would not eliminate the need for big games from KU’s starting five.
Tuesday night, during “Hawk Talk” with Brian Hanni, Self said that while reviewing the game film from the loss to Baylor, “the anger emotion crept in a little bit because we were so close and that could’ve been such a different (game).”
“We’re not that far off,” Self added of a Kansas team that has lost two straight and sits at 10-4 overall and 4-3 in Big 12 play. “But we need everybody playing well. We’re not a good enough team to have three out of five starters or two out of five starters play well because our bench isn’t going to be a scoring-type bench.”
KU reserves Tristan Enaruna, Dajuan Harris and Mitch Lightfoot combined to play 55 minutes against Baylor and contributed 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. That nearly doubled what that trio was averaging as a group entering Monday’s game.
“I thought our bench was better,” Self said after the loss. “I thought Mitch and Tristan and ‘Juan all did some good things.”
With freshman Bryce Thompson out of the equation for a few more weeks with a broken finger and junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster still working to find his role — Grant-Foster has played a total of just 27 minutes in KU’s seven Big 12 games — the Jayhawks figure to lean on Enaruna, Harris and Lightfoot a lot the rest of the way.
Positionally, that works out well. Enaruna is the first wing off the bench and can be plugged into the lineup in multiple positions. Lightfoot is the clear backup to starting big man David McCormack. And Harris is the clear backup to starting point guard Marcus Garrett.
Self said the idea of playing Garrett and Harris together is not off the table, but because neither player is known for his outside shooting, Self said the Jayhawks have to exercise more patience and emphasize execution in the halfcourt when those two are in the game.
With Enaruna, who Self has said could be one of KU’s best players come February, the focus is on consistency and continuing to take more pride in his role on this team.
Against Baylor, Self said Enaruna played one of his better games, impacting the game in a positive way even when he was not scoring.
“I look at Mitch and I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, good energy,’ and all that stuff,” Self began. “But the thing about it is, when Mitch wakes up every day he’s about 6-8, 6-7 and a half. And when ’Juan wakes up every day he weighs 155 pounds.”
That’s a far cry from what Self has been used to throughout his Kansas career, when future NBA lottery picks and all-Big 12 players have been on his bench on semi-regular basis.
Having those types of players to turn to when one or two of his starters has an off night, is invaluable, Self said.
“I mean, we won a national championship and I don’t believe all five starters always played good,” he said. “But we had Sherron Collins coming off the bench, who was our best, most talented player. Can you imagine, on our team right now, having a bench guy be the best player in an Elite Eight game (Sasha Kaun vs. Davidson in 2008) or a bench guy being your most talented player (Collins). We just don’t quite have that yet.”
“We’ve got to get more bench production,” Self added. “Because (when we don’t) it puts too much pressure on your starters all to be good.”
Marcus Garrett’s five-turnover effort in Kansas’ 77-69 loss at No. 2 Baylor on Monday was borderline historic and underscores an issue that has plagued the Jayhawks throughout the 2020-21 season.
What’s more, it marked the second game in a row inside Baylor’s Ferrell Center that the KU point guard has turned it over five times.
Prior to Monday night, Garrett had turned the ball over more than four times in a game just twice in his 114-game Kansas career.
Both of those games came last season, when Garrett gave it away five times in a win at Baylor and coughed it up six times in a road win at West Virginia.
Other than that, the Dallas native has been remarkably solid with the ball in his hands, committing two or fewer turnovers in 85% of his games as a Jayhawk and one or none in 68% of his outings.
Given those numbers, along with Garrett’s propensity to handle pressure of just about any kind from his freshman season on, we can draw two conclusions from the data.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that Garrett’s role has changed dramatically from his first three seasons to this one and that is impacting his play.
In each of his previous seasons, the Jayhawks had another true point guard on the floor with Garrett — Devonte’ Graham in 2017-18 and Devon Dotson in 2018-19 and 2019-20 — who both handled the ball and initiated the offense, leaving Garrett to attack and make plays for himself and others at the right time and against less resistance on both ends of the floor.
“He’s always been kind of Robin and somebody else was Batman,” Kansas coach Bill Self said on “Hawk Talk” Tuesday night. “And this year he’s Batman and really doesn’t have a Robin when you talk about ball handling. … If you’re going to handle the ball as much as him, you’re going to have two or three turnovers. You have to understand that. I think a lot of that is fatigue.”
The second conclusion is that Garrett might simply be playing out of position.
Self said as much last week while previewing KU’s upcoming game with Iowa State that wound up being postponed, and the fact that nearly 25% of Garrett’s career games with more than two turnovers have come this season illustrates the point, as well.
“We’ve talked about that a lot as a staff,” Self said. “Last year or the year before or the year before that, he was really a 3 guard that could play point. He didn't have the ball hawk guarding him and he had more space when he caught it, usually, because of the way people guarded or the way the other personnel matched up. This year, it just seems like he has to labor so much to get what he gets.”
Although he has praised Garrett’s point guard skills in the past, Self recently called Garrett “the prototypical 3 guard,” and noted that the new role has cut into some of Garrett’s effectiveness.
“We’re asking a lot of Marcus,” Self said. “I think Marcus is better when he's not on the ball so much, but we really don't have as many choices not to put him on the ball unless he and (freshman Dajuan Harris) are in the game together.”
Ninth-ranked Kansas (10-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12) has tried that at times this season, but only in small stretches and not even every game.
The reason is simple. Harris, though talented and described by everyone as a true, pass-first point guard, has not quite progressed to the point where the KU coaches can hand him the keys to the team on a full-time basis. Some of that has to do with his understanding of Self’s system, shortcomings as a shooter and experience in the offense. Some of that has to do with his defense. And some of that has to do with his size.
Harris remains a promising part of KU’s puzzle. And as he continues to improve, the opportunities will be there to play him with Garrett a little more often.
Until then, though — and most likely even after that — KU’s best chance at success continues to be with Marcus Garrett in the game.
“I don't really see that changing a lot,” Self said recently. “I think it's just something that we're going to have to play through and he's going to have to play through with it.
“We can say what we would like to do that’s in the best interest of Marcus, but what's in the best interest of our team is still having have the ball in his hands rather than somebody else. He needs to play; he needs to be in the game.”
The Marcus Garrett Turnover File:
• 30 career games with 0 turnovers
• 48 career games with 1 turnover
• 19 career games with 2 turnovers
• 10 career games with 3 turnovers
• 4 career games with 4 turnovers
• 2 career games with 5 turnovers
• 1 career game with 6 turnovers
The Kansas men’s basketball team remained in the Associated Press Top 10 this week, falling three spots to No. 9 after a mid-week loss at Oklahoma State last week.
Kansas now has appeared in the AP poll for an NCAA Division I record 229 consecutive weeks, this coming on the same week that fellow blue blood program Duke dropped out of the poll for the first time since 2016.
In fact, neither Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina is ranked in this week's poll, marking just the 14th time in 1,213-week history of the poll that none of the three were ranked, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The last time it happened was Dec. 18, 1961, when the AP poll consisted of just 10 teams each week.
Unbeaten Gonzaga (14-0) and Baylor (12-0) held onto their spots at the top of the polls, with the Zags losing a first-place vote this week to Baylor.
Villanoava (8-1) also held its spot at No. 3, with Iowa and Texas flipping spots at No. 4 and No. 5.
Texas lost its second game of the season last week to Texas Tech in a thriller in Austin.
Villanova has not played for almost a month (Dec. 23) because of two separate pauses brought about by COVID-19 issues.
Tennessee (10-1) made one of the biggest jumps of the week, climbing to No. 6 from No. 10. Michigan, Houston, KU and Wisconsin round out this week’s Top 10.
No. 12 Texas Tech and No. 14 West Virginia remained the only other Big 12 programs ranked this week. But Oklahoma State, on the strength of its win over Kansas, moved to the brink of cracking the Top 25, picking up 119 votes and sitting at No. 28.
Here’s a look at this week’s complete AP Top 25:
1 – Gonzaga, 14-0, 1,598 (62)
2 – Baylor, 12-0, 1,538 (2)
3 – Villanova, 8-1, 1,445
4 – Iowa, 12-2, 1,420
5 – Texas, 11-2, 1,289
6 – Tennessee, 10-1, 1,242
7 – Michigan, 11-1, 1,197
8 – Houston, 11-1, 1,155
9 – Kansas, 10-3, 1,072
10 – Wisconsin, 11-3, 939
11 – Creighton, 10-3, 833
12 – Texas Tech, 11-4, 792
13 – Virginia, 9-2, 778
14 – West Virginia, 9-4, 732
15 – Ohio State, 11-3, 631
16 – Virginia Tech, 11-2, 536
17 – Minnesota, 11-4, 507
18 – Alabama, 11-3, 487
19 – Missouri, 8-2, 462
20 – Clemson, 9-2, 354
21 – Oregon, 9-2, 235
22 – Illinois, 9-5, 232
23 – Connecticut, 7-1, 209
24 – UCLA, 11-2, 195
25 – Saint Louis, 7-1, 172
Others receiving votes: Louisville 155, Colorado 148, Oklahoma State 119, Florida State 112, USC 74, Duke 43, Drake 42, LSU 20, Boise State 15, Xavier 7, Belmont 5, Michigan State 3, Winthrop 3, Toledo 2, Utah State 1, Purdue 1
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has always demanded that his teams play great defense.
But after watching Oklahoma State carve up KU’s D and hit KU for 37 points in transition during Tuesday night’s loss in Stillwater, Okla., Self believes it’s time for his current team to grab a better understanding of what playing great defense actually means.
“They ran by us like we were standing still,” Self said during Thursday night’s episode of “Hawk Talk” with Brian Hanni while reaffirming what he said after the loss, that the Jayhawks don’t make other teams play poorly, they hope other teams play poorly.
Self pointed out that most years he and his coaching staff would not even have to point out a breakdown like that. For the past two decades, most of Self’s teams have featured several players who made defense a priority and measured the team’s success under that microscope.
“It has been for years, that (when guys) look at a stat sheet from the game, the players don’t turn to see who scored, they turn to see how many the guy they guarded got,” Self said on “Hawk Talk.” “I mean that’s kind of been the mindset.”
Self admitted that things are different today than they have been in the past, primarily with defenses designed to switch so often and run different schemes based on that. But he said he still would like to see his players take some more pride in getting stops.
“They had 25 points with 12 minutes left in the first half,” he said of Oklahoma State on Tuesday night. “And I said, ‘Guys, they're on pace for 125.’ And there wasn't that pride of saying, ‘All right, OK, enough's enough.’ We’ve got to get better at that.”
One of the big reasons Self is starting to emphasize his team having more pride on the defensive end is because he believes they have enough weapons on offense to get what they need to get even on off nights.
But he noted that this Kansas team does not have the margin for error not to be good on the defensive end.
“We didn't guard Texas (on Jan. 2), but they played at an athletic level that was superior to us that day, that even if we would have guarded them a little bit better, it may not have been enough. That wasn’t the case the other night.
“You can’t play nine minutes hoping the other team doesn’t score,” Self added.
Asked by Hanni to ID some of the players who took their studying of the postgame stat sheet the most to heart, Self listed Brandon Rush, Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor, Udoka Azubuike and Frank Mason III, while saying there were several others, as well.
“Every team that we’ve had that’s been good had a guy that was a stopper,” he said. “But it’s also a team thing. The guys have to buy in if you want to be a great team. The great teams all buy into being able to identify who they are and the roles and the strengths and the weaknesses of the individual players and the team.”
Like always, Self wants this team’s identity to be tied to its play on the defensive end. And he appears to be poised to emphasize that to his players more than he has thus far in the coming days and weeks.
“You keep yourself in games and you win close games because you guard,” Self said. “That wasn’t the case the other night. We didn’t guard.”
Self said on “Hawk Talk” that that point was hammered home to him during a Thursday phone conversation with a longtime female coach at a major Division I program.
“She said, ‘Bill, I watched you guys play early in the season and you weren't very good offensively but you guarded. Now, you're not guarding,’” Self relayed. “Coming from another coach, that's actually kind of tough to hear. But that’s the fact. We’ve got to get back to guarding.”
Given the way he started the season, exploding onto the college basketball scene as one of the country’s top breakout players, Jalen Wilson’s past two games have not exactly lived up to the standard he set for himself.
In a close-call KU win over Oklahoma at home last weekend and Tuesday night’s loss at Oklahoma State, Wilson scored a total of 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting — including 2-of-7 from 3-point range — and turned it over 10 times while playing his usual workload of around 30 minutes per game.
There’s probably nothing to panic about here. Sometimes a guy’s shot just doesn’t fall. Wilson got four pretty good looks from 3-point range on Tuesday night and missed them all in a variety of ways.
But off shooting nights plague just about every player at one point or another. And, maybe, after a red hot start, Wilson is simply coming back to the pack a little.
The 10 combined turnovers is the more surprising of Wilson’s statistics during the past couple of games, when he just hasn’t quite looked like himself.
Wilson turned it over just 11 times total in KU’s first seven games of the season. And he coughed it up just four times in the three games leading up to the past two outings.
All of the things we’ve seen from the talented freshman during the past two games — from the moments of frustration to the missed shots and uncharacteristic turnovers — led me to wonder if something had changed for Wilson between now and his hot start.
Were teams defending him different? Was he not getting the same looks or being as aggressive when they came?
In order to try to find out, I went back and rewatched Tuesday’s loss and focused my eyes on Wilson the entire time. What I saw surprised me.
Except for just a couple of times when he looked a little hesitant to pull the trigger from the outside — OSU freshman Cade Cunningham may have had something to do with that — Wilson looked pretty much like the same player he has been all season.
He hit the glass, competed, looked to attack off the dribble and tried to play smart, winning basketball, reversing the ball when needed, feeding the post when required, etc.
While that’s good news for Kansas, the rewatch did not answer the question of what might have caused Wilson to look a little different during the past two games than he did during his first 11.
Remember, we’re talking about a guy — a freshman — who already has three 20-point games on his resume this season, who also recorded three double-doubles in a four-game stretch against Kentucky, North Dakota State and Creighton.
His averages during those three games? 20 points, 12 rebounds and 14 shots.
Any time a player riding that kind of streak quietly puts up 11 total shots in a two-game stretch, it’s going to catch your eye.
If anything changed — other than makes turning into misses more often — it was probably KU’s approach on offense.
It’s no coincidence that Wilson’s two quiet outings came while junior forward David McCormack enjoyed two of his best games of the season.
Rather than leaning on Wilson and others to score from the outside, the Jayhawks pounded it inside to McCormack over and over during the past two games, hoping to take advantage of his hot hand and clear size advantage against the Sooners and Cowboys.
It worked. And McCormack combined for 41 points on 18-of-32 shooting.
Wilson salvaged the OU game with a couple of huge 3-pointers late and 11 rebounds. He was not as fortunate in the OSU loss. But, for the most part, he did take the shots when they were there and he threw it into McCormack when that was the smarter play.
I wondered for a minute if it was OSU’s zone that caused Wilson some discomfort. But he worked pretty well from the high post, and one of his better plays of the night came when he caught a soft pass at the free throw line and immediately turned and drained a quick shot for two points. No thinking. No hesitation. No stress. Just an athlete making a quick play.
That was different from how Wilson looked when he shot the 3 against Oklahoma State. On most, if not all, of his 3-point tries against the Cowboys, Wilson looked more like he was thinking about shooting rather than catching it and letting it fly in rhythm and with confidence.
Had just two of Wilson’s four 3-point tries fallen instead of bouncing out, KU very well may have won the game and Wilson would have added another double-digit scoring night to his game log. So it’s not as if this is some kind of major situation that’s developing.
It might take some time for Good Jalen and Good Dave to figure out how to play well at the same time, but, provided they do, the Jayhawks will be better off in the long run with both of them having the experience of carrying the load offensively.
The bigger thing to watch is Wilson’s mindset. As long as he keeps hitting the glass and defending — his work as a team defender on Tuesday night was far superior to that of his individual defense and he, like many of his teammates needs to be better as a transition defender — he’ll continue to be out there.
He was on the bench for the 6- or 7-minute stretch of the OSU game when KU stormed back from down 16 to take a 3-point lead in the final 10 minutes. But that probably had as much to do with what Bryce Thompson and Tristan Enaruna were doing as it did what Wilson wasn’t.
More and better energy is always going to be the answer for any player in a slump, even one as small as the one Wilson’s in right now.
And bringing it consistently in that department might lead to easier baskets on a couple of possessions or better overall feel and rhythm when he does decide to let his jumper fly.
The smart money is on Wilson delivering a strong bounce-back game in the very near future, perhaps as soon as Saturday versus Iowa State or on Big Monday at No. 2 Baylor.
Now that he has established himself as one of KU’s top players and go-to scorers, he’s going to get that kind of attention from opposing defenses.
But as long as he’s willing to work through the time it takes to adjust to that, which appears to be what’s happening now, the expectations for Wilson to continue as one of KU’s top players and most reliable weapons should remain right where they are.