Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bill Self: Jayhawks’ defense needs work

Kansas center Jeff Withey looks for a block against Ohio State forward Sam Thompson during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Kansas center Jeff Withey looks for a block against Ohio State forward Sam Thompson during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.


Kansas University’s basketball defense, which received rave reviews for holding Ohio State to 30.8 percent shooting in a 74-66 road victory on Dec. 22, might be a tad overrated at this point, coach Bill Self says.

“I’ve watched us play (on film). People are saying too much about our defense. It’s not that good. It’s not,” Self said Wednesday on his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show. “Of all the possessions we have defensively in a game, I guarantee you, 50 percent are bad possessions compared to 50 percent good possessions. The result may end up good because they may miss a shot or they may fumble the ball or make a bad pass or something that doesn’t have much to do with us. I think the biggest area of improvement for us would have to be the defensive end.”

KU, which takes an 11-1 record into Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. home game against Temple (10-2), has allowed 59.0 points a game, which ranks 40th nationally. KU’s field-goal-percentage defense (34.7 percent) ranks No. 5 overall. KU ranks second in blocks per game (8.1), 94th in three-point field-goal-percentage defense (30.9 percent) and 151st in steals per game (7.3).

“We make a lot of mistakes (on defense),” Self said. “We have had some teams miss open looks. Sometimes we get a false sense that we are guarding people. That is one area and rebounding where our team can make the biggest jump.”

KU ranks 59th nationally in rebound margin (5.8).

Offensively, the Jayhawks rank 26th in scoring offense (78.4 ppg), 10th in field-goal percentage (50.4), 39th in three-point field-goal percentage (37.8) and 10th in assists per game (17.4).

“Offensively, we run quite a few sets,” Self said. “Last year, at the end of the season, our play card had 74 plays we could call that night. Right now we are up to about 42 that we may tweak or add to. We don’t run near as much stuff as we used to.

“A lot (of KU’s offense) is off freelance, a lot is off dribble penetration or feeding the post. I used to be a big ‘set play’ guy. I am not anymore. I’d rather guys learn how to score by ball-and-body movement within the confines of what we are trying to do. It may look bad sometimes, but believe it or not, there’s a strategy.”

Owls next on tap: KU’s next opponent, Temple, has lost to Duke, 90-67, in East Rutherford, N.J., and at home to Canisius, 72-62. Temple defeated Syracuse, 83-79, on Dec. 22, in Madison Square Garden. The Owls have also beaten Kent State (80-66), Rice (77-63), Delaware (80-75), Buffalo (54-39), Wagner (70-62), Villanova (76-61), Towson (62-61), Alcorn State (63-46) and Bowling Green (75-57).

Smith to Georgetown: Former UCLA center Josh Smith has decided to transfer to Georgetown, according to and other outlets.

Smith, who stands 6-foot-10, and is reportedly well over 300 pounds, also considered KU and Washington. The Kent, Wash., native will be eligible to play in games in December of 2013. He will have one semester of eligibility remaining.

Smith averaged 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds while logging 13.5 minutes a game in limited duty this season.

This week’s slate: Self, who has been holding two practices a day since the return from Christmas break, today will have the players look at film, but not hit the court.

“Bodies are tired. We’ll try to get their legs back under them then practice Friday and Saturday and get ready to play Sunday,” Self said. “We’ll give them tomorrow (today) off from a fatigue standpoint, get bodies rested. Then we play four games in eight days. We need to be fresh going into the Temple game.”


Joel Thomas 9 years, 8 months ago

Surprised by the set play comment. Though I bet he still wants to up the amt of plays he can call.

SaltLakeHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

I feel educated more than surprised by Bill's comments in this story. They give some great insight into his coaching philosophies.

Nice article, Gary.

Steve Quatrocky 9 years, 8 months ago

With less talent, you need more set plays to score and right now we are blessed with an abundance of very athletic and talented scorers where we have an advantage 1-5. Last year we needed more plays as the scoring was being directed thru 2 guys, TRob and Tyshawn, and occasionally thru Jeff.

Michael Sillman 9 years, 8 months ago

I've also noticed this year that the team gets the ball back in bounds much more quickly after a made shot or free throw than last year. Self seems to want to push it up court harder with this year's group of athletes.

I always loved how William's teams would fast break after a made free throw.

Kit Duncan 9 years, 8 months ago

Last year Coach Self didn't want to run T-Rob into the ground. Withey didn't appear to be as conditioned last year either. He gets up and down the court pretty well this year. With Perry and Jamari able to provide some relief, Jeff seems to be strong at the finish of games.

flyingfinn 9 years, 8 months ago

Good post...I also have seen a great improvement in Jeff's conditioning

YuCoJayHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

I do remember Withey last year making an outstanding block last year and being able to run the court on the same play and throw down a lob pass for a dunk in the resulting fast break. He has always seemed to me to be able to run the court very well....

texashawk10 9 years, 8 months ago

Self's teams may not be as uptempo as Roy's teams, but when he has the depth, Self's teams can play pretty fast. KU has had a few teams average over 80 a game under Self and you don't do that playing slow.

Brad Devlin 9 years, 8 months ago

Out of the 74 different set plays last year, 33 of them were just different ways for TT to turn the ball over...

SaltLakeHawk 9 years, 8 months ago


If not for that bozo and his turnovers, the Jayhawks would have made it to the National Championship game. He'll never sniff the league.

Oh wait...

SaltLakeHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Close, but Wilt was a worse guard.

And Paul Pierce was nearly as bad (although Pierce played center... apples and oranges).

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

Quick! Put SacJayhawk under troll-scope.

AsadZ 9 years, 8 months ago


You can't be serious. If you are then your comment is very crude. Without Tyshawn we would have never made the run, play in NC game, we did last year with one of Self's least talented teams.

While TT turned the ball over many times in his first 3 years keep in mind that he was learning to play a new position. Furthermore, he had some off the court issues that affected his concentration. In addition, I also believe he was uncertain about his role on the team while playing with X and selby, two OADs, that could have impacted his game.

But his spectacular performance last year by far outweighs all the mistakes he made in the first 3 years.

texashawk10 9 years, 8 months ago

Methinks there may very well have been just a dash of sarcasm in Sac's comment because reality is Tyshawn was a turnover machine last year. Tyshawn had 10 games last season with 5+ turnovers including against NC State and OSU in the NCAA tournament along with 5 or 6 more games with 4 turnovers. KU absolutely doesn't get to the national title game without Tyshawn, but the fact is he was pretty reckless with the ball throughout his entire career.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here.

I think that you mean that Tyshawn is the reason why at the end of the year last year Self admittedly chose to start using less sets. Because Tyshawn's improvisational abilities were more effective than the teams ability to run 33 extra sets. Hence, Self admittedly started using less sets at the end of last season.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

•Two practices a day for 4-5 days followed by a day off, then two practices, then 4 games in 8 days. This seems a recipe for burn out rather than getting better.

• Self doesn't leave much doubt that they had to junk the original offense a month into the season, re-string and learn to play the new offense, as I've been posting for a few weeks now. This is why they were behind in number of sets installed and in defensive progress. Basically, a decision was apparently made to stand pat on defense, where they were good enough to get by, while they learned the new offensive scheme. Then with the offense installed, the week of getting better turned into catch-up on defense and rebounding. With defenses installed, and rebounding schemes fine tuned, they did some XTReme Conditioning. Now the plan is to rest a day, learn game plans for the first two games in two light practices, and gamble they aren't too stale to execute. The gambler is gambling again. Gambling that the "slide-off-the-dots" offense is unconventional enough that it can get by with fewer set plays and more freelancing. And gambling the teams strength is finally going to be playing 4-5 skinny bigs with fouls to give in 4 in 8 clusters.

• Think about it; this team could be 15-1 and in the conference driver's seat in 8 days, or it could be 13-3 and and in a dog fight for a conference title. Self is driving them hard for 15-1.

• If Self's pre-game commentsr previously this season are indicators, if he says he is less of a "set play guy" and more of a "ball and body movement guy," then we can expect lots of set plays. :-)

• Self seems to be labeling his new offense the "Ball and Body Movement" offence within the sets they run. The BBM. I've been calling it the "slide off the spots" offence and the "portable post" among other things. But whatever you call it, we are into something new here.

• The interesting question is: what did he add to the defense? Likely last year's inside zone/outside man. Plus a zone press that causes recognition problems with the existing m2m press. But oh how I would try a 1-3-1 match-up half court and Wooden's old 2-2-1 full court for intermittent confusion.

• And so it goes.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

Forgot to mention Self's Casey Stengel grade remark.

50% of defensive possessions are bad, not 50% good.

He had to be howling about that one afterwards with his pals. :-)

Chris Shaw 9 years, 8 months ago

You mean the offense that Big PAPA runs for the San Antonio Spurs and the Big Fundamental? I see similarities.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

Hadn't thought of Poppa, but will check his gig out. These nonlinear changes often have some origin of borrowing.

Michael Luby 9 years, 8 months ago

Hey Jaybate, Hasnt Coach pretty much used the winter break for the 2 a day practices since he's been in office? I mean surely its not the first time he has done that and I dont recall any of his previous teams burning out from it. Havent they typically gotten better after the winter break? PS, I love all the talk on here about the game and its intricacies. Truly fascinating and helps me learn more. Ive been a fan since '88 but I havent been really paying attention to how the game is played since '08. Its highly complex and I just think its the best of the major sports. PSS, I think Self is driving them for 15-1, and I think theyll do it.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

If they have always done 2-a- days before 4 in 8, then there is nothing to worry about. I do not recall it before, but I am often wrong, when it comes to such recollections.

Adam McEwen 9 years, 8 months ago

bottom line is that last year, Bill learned how to win ugly. When the shots weren't falling, things not going well, they fought hard and did all the little things to make it happen. He's learned to develop his younger players during the season. I think we are going to be a real contender come march.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago

My first two part post. Part 1.

Bill Self implemented 74 set plays last season because he didn't believe that Tyshawn and TRob could play a two-man game every night. They ran plays because he thought he didn't want Tyshawn just bouncing around and dribbling off his shoe all game long. They ran sets to get open looks for Conner Teahan, because he was supposed to be our best shooter.

Bill Self was just as wrong about last year's team as he was about this years team. Last year he planned for a rebuilding year, lacking in skill players and experienced athletes and he got a miracle from Tyshawn and TRob.

This year he expected experienced athletes to pick up right where Tyshawn and TRob left off. Elijah knew the winning recipe, all he has to do is what Tyshawn did, right? Withey knew the recipe. And why not be optimistic? BMac and Perry were going to be the instant stars to make this team into last year's team on steroids.

He got it partly right. But EJ is not Tyshawn. Withey is niether TRob, nor the same Withey that played opposite TRob. Perry is no TRob, nor is he TRob's Withey. So it took most of November to get Self and his team aligned. Luckily in the mean time BMac has been stellar, Naadir has learned to supplement EJ quite nicely, Withey hasn't needed his coach and 'mates to slap him every five minutes, and Releford and Young have done everything else.

Last year's team was different and better than Self expected. This year's team was supposed to be like last year's team only better, but instead it's actually like what last year's team was supposed to be, only better. Much better. Bizarre, but Self figured it out.

Now that Self has this team where he wants them, there is a new game. It's the game behind the game. Self has to teach this team everything they need to know. And he has to teach it to them now because they will have two games a week from here out. But he can't show it all.

He has to hold his cards close because A.) he has to maintain the strategic advantage and not give future opponents more insight than he has to, lest they game plan us out, and B.) he has a long season of mind games left to play with his team to keep them from peaking too early.

Sure he wants them to play their best in January, February, March, and April, but he really wants them to BE their best in March and April. The game behind the game becomes the real test of a team. This team has shown the potential to be really, really good. They've also shown the potential to be really, really mediocre. It's the coaches job to make sure that they grow incrementally between now and tourney time into a team that is really, really good.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago

part 2

And props to Jaybate for calling out the ball-and-body movement offense. You call it the "slide-off-the-spots" offense and I just call it leveraging the low post with body position. It's the same thing we did last year with TRob and Withey, but Self has learned how to do it more effectively and how to work the ball into the best possible location to make the entry pass. By implementing much more backcourt strategy into the formula he has essentially eliminated the issue of haveing to use a single, best post feeder (ala, Brady, etc.) and now he can feed the post from any of the other 4 positions on the floor. This particular motion really suits Naadir in his ability to collapse a defense and find an open shooter or cutter. It also really suits Travis and BMac on the wings with their ability to find the open spots or sneak away from their man for an open drive to the lane.

Bill Self loves it because it's highly cerebral, highly strategic, and best suited for very smart and mature players. Hence why a team with 4 seniors has picked it up so incredibly well.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago


Only two divergences:

1.) I think sliding off spots is new starting 6 games ago, not an an extension of last year, and is being played at all spots all players at all positions used to try to stay on; and

2.) Prime directive of the new offense is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, collapse the opponent's defense; rather, keep the spacing wide and dribble through the open spaces to find new passing angles, like cop moving through a street full of paper targets sweeping all directions looking for targets. Rock Chalk on your first go out on a go long!

P.S.: And I could be wrong. I am a limb walker from way back. :-)

Ervin O'Neal 9 years, 8 months ago

Love HCBS!

He is a perfectionist on defense and seems to motivate by never letting the players think that they don't have a lot more potential. I can't imagine HCBS ever saying something along the line of: "Our defense is right where it should be. We can now concentrate on our offense."

Brian Leiker 9 years, 8 months ago

I think the switch in philosophies from set plays to creating within a system has alot to do with recruiting. He realizes to get the biggest fish, they have to have some freedom to create. This will pay off big-time for him and the Jayhawks.

REHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

HEM and jb, I added a Thursday morning post to the Evan M. article...for what it's worth.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

Oh, my, we'll both be in HEM's toughening box if Evan doesn't keep getting better.

I once got in good with Mother Manning for something I wrote.

Help, me now, Mother Manning! Tell your grandson he has to keep getting better or you'll give him a good talking to for jaybate.

Go, Evan, go!!!

Save ol'REHawk and ol'jaybate from HEM's toughening box in 2015!!!

Seriously, REHawk, Mother Manning is an angel. If she weighs in with Evan, we are gold, REHawk. Mother Manning has special basketball powers and this is no lie. :-)

dylans 9 years, 8 months ago

I heard all this on the radio last night. What about the second half of the show? I actually missed that portion.

FearlessJayhawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Bill Self is right! KU's defense is not that good. If you watch the Ohio State game, the buckeyes could have easily have won had they made two or more three's. They missed at least six or seven wide open three attempts. A good shooting team would have scorched us.

Cole Hogan 9 years, 8 months ago

true, except that most basketball coaches of all levels will let you take the 3 until you start to make them, and if you keep missing the threes, they arent going to worry about it, which is EXACTLY what we did against OSU.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 8 months ago

I am always fascinated by well thought out, deep-end of the pool analysii by Jaybate, HEM, plasticJHawk, ralster and many others regarding Jayhawk basketball.

Having played full court basketball from sixth grade straight on thru into my mid 50s, I sometimes wonder if all the dimensional analysis, theoretical manipulations and forceful diatrabes regarding game philosophy, geometric court comparisions and three dimensional bball quantum physics, overshadow a really very simple game.

Shoot the ball and score and don't let the other guy shoot the ball and score. Everything else after that is simply a variation on a theme!!

I guess when you have a simple mind like mine, basketball remains a simple game. :)

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago

It's simple when it's simple, and it's not when it's not.

If your team is making shots and the other team is not. It's simple. If your team is better than the other team then this undoubtedly will happen part of the time.

If your team is not better than the other team, then it's never simple. And even if your team is better than the other team, then if they are any good at all they will do their best to make it as complicated for you as they possibly can.

bradynsdad 9 years, 8 months ago

Oak that sounds like addition by subtraction. Great post!

nostradavid 9 years, 8 months ago

I can hear the echo of Dr. Naismith rattling around the field house.

Chris Shaw 9 years, 8 months ago

I say, based on Oakville's response you take 42 plays down to 41 and get rid of the dribble weave set for the flare screen 3 pointer in the corner? Or, is that two plays because that missed flare screen turns into a ball screen pick and roll opportunity? Or is that three plays beause one of the guards turns the corner and gets to the rack? Or is it four plays............Gawd this so complex! Forget it! Love ya Oakville!

Alex Peekeaton 9 years, 8 months ago

Seems like a recurring theme with the bigs in the 2013 class...Chris Walker, Dakari Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Tyler Roberson, etc.

Justin Daniel 9 years, 8 months ago

I know right, oh wait we got the big with that fits our system the best by far!!! Embiid. How anyone can say we are missing on recruits this year of any year is beyond me!!! Some people are never happy.

texashawk10 9 years, 8 months ago

Georgetown's snails pace means he can walk up and down the floor. Hopefully, KU's game against G-Town next year is post end of fall semester so KU can run his butt up and down the court for the 2 minutes he'll be able to handle before he needs to go the bench for some oxygen.

Michael Luby 9 years, 8 months ago

Mongo only pawn in game of life...err i mean basketball

nostradavid 9 years, 8 months ago

Has Bill ever said the Jayhawks defense didn't need work?

Tony Bandle 9 years, 8 months ago

AWESOME!!!! Put four seniors with a combined total of 18 seasons of experience as well as NCAA Semi and Championship game play plus a red shirt freshman who might only be the best new player in the nation, but the best player PERIOD, add in one of the top three coaches in America and we have a very, very scary team!!!

AsadZ 9 years, 8 months ago

This was a fun read. Thanks for the link

Reuben_J_Cogburn 9 years, 8 months ago

Amen, Oakville.

There's a feeling about this team. If they avoid injury, there's no ceiling.

Suzi Marshall 9 years, 8 months ago

Also thanks from me for the link. Loved reading it. I agree with you Reuben about the feeling about this team. The last time I was this charged up about the Hawks was '97, '98. Holding my breath this can be one of those magical special seasons where we destroy everyone, through the NC game.

Wouldn't it be special to end the year with 21 more wins than Kentucky!

mikehawk 9 years, 8 months ago

I still say a hidden variable in our current defensive success, which includes opponents missing shots, is the fact our style of play is speeding them up. They are not squaring up, setting their feet, and not quite in rhythm on their shots. The problem is that when the tournament, and even in league, the game naturally slows down into many more half court sets which allows the above sited shooting woes to be addressed. Scores get lower and teams work the clock with skills honed during the year to bring down the number of turnovers and steals. Any God-fearing, KU basketball fan knows the The Great Equalizer (the 3 ball) can send you packing no matter what league you play in or no matter your seed. The fact is the numbers coach sites don't lie. Not only are the facts there to back up his claim of not so good defense, I think he is also using the approach to keep this team humble and working toward something out there we might some day refer to as the "best defensive team KU has ever had under Bill Self." That would be saying something.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

A fresh angle. Speeding the opponent is something that would be easy to prove or refute. Stats should show their average possession time and avg number of possessions. Compare those averages with same for an opponen'ts game with KU and you would know for sure. Thx.

mikehawk 9 years, 8 months ago

It well could show up in the manner you describe, but I think it might as much be a "rhythm" thing, also. Out of rhythm relates to comfort and relaxation, and confidence in shots. Travis is fully in rhythm of late with his shot. He steps into it like knows it is going down. Funny as you watch players enough you can almost tell when they are going to miss by the look of their shot. Out of rhythm, speeded up, they don't look the same. Did you see the Colorado game last night? AZ didn't guard the perimeter with the intensity we are and it allowed Colorado's shooters to be very comfortable setting themselves as they wore out AZ with the 3 ball. Of course, we know what happened at the end. I love Coach, but he gave the politically correct answer to the question. Colorado clearly won that game.

Reuben_J_Cogburn 9 years, 8 months ago

I love Self's use of media to motivate his team. The manner and subtlety with which he goes about it is the best in the country.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

John Wooden was the most thorough detail freak that ever coached the game. He planned everything from socks, to tying of shoelaces, to angles of cuts, to when to bank, etc., etc., etc. Anyone that thinks Wooden kept it simple never really tried to memorize, master and live his pyramid of success, which was only one tiny piece of the UCLA way.

Elegance, never simplicity, characterizes brilliance in pursuit of excellence.

Simplicity and complexity are simply poles on a spectrum elegance slides along in search of feasible fit. Building a pole to mount to mount a bird house on can achieve feasibility with elegant simplicity. A 100 story high rise finds elegant fit at a higher level of complexity.

Sports games as sets of rules can be quite simple relative to the messy vagaries of a tax code.

But all sets of rules of competition, no matter how seemingly simple, result in simple games that tend toward increasing complexity.

The US Constitution is just a few pages long, but behold the unforeseen complexity of the state and nation it has triggered.

Likewise Naismith's rules of basketball have yielded a game and a business and an economic activity of ever increasing complexity that some would like to reduce to their experiences in a gym.

Doing so is reductionistic.

The more money the game attracts the more brain power the game attracts and expends on achieving net benefits.

If the game were so simple, there would not be 50 sets, 1000 page playbooks, extensive staffs, weigh trainers, endless hours watching video, increasing reliance on QA, etc., etc., etc.

To explore the pursuit of elegance of fit in D1 basketball as I do is not necessary to enjoy D1 basketball. But it is to understand it, and so understand what it can tell us about sport, our society, and ourselves, as a nation.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

"On Self's Defensive Doubts"

KU's defensive prowess is cornerstoned on Jeff's tendency to hold Dow opponents FG percentage directly inside directly and indirectly outside. Self fears and is planning for the day KU has to play a team with an equivalent, or better, inside presence. He doubts KU's defense at 1,2 and 4 is good enough to prevail with out the Jeff advantage. He has a point.

EJ still seems a step slow from surgery.

Ben still seems not to sustain his guarding.

Kevin has slow feet, which he counters with anticipation and effort, as Conner Teahan did.

Self knows if these three don't pick it up a notch, they will one day be exploited.

A combination of getting these three better, and getting their subs better is the solution.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago

"A combination of getting these three better, and getting their subs better is the solution."

Much less simple than it sounds.

monkeehawkSL8 9 years, 8 months ago

The Jayhawks have been playing well. I hope they continue to improve.

1) No matter what happens on offense, GET BACK ON DEFENSE, ASAP!

2) Take care of each other. Talk to each other on and off the court.

3) Stay in the moment, "be here now".

4) Never compare themselves to anyone.

5) Be students.

6) No shirt ripping, 3pt OK sign, smack talk childish playground crap.

These "hopes" are in order but there is no order to them. This is simple.

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