Having innate ability to control situations that easily could spin chaotically out of control is one of the qualities that makes good coaches successful.
Just force yourself to watch talented basketball players competing in pickup games. It doesn’t take long for those contests to turn into a series of break-away dunks. Very boring stuff, no matter how gravity-defying the dunks.
Kansas University coach Bill Self is one of the best in the business at getting his athletes to play in concert and do what he wants. In other words, he knows how to control them.
It’s surrendering control that generally doesn’t come as easily to successful coaches, which was why it was encouraging to hear Self talk about one of the many positives of his team’s trip to Gwangju, South Korea, from which the players brought home gold medals earned at the World University Games.
“We probably played faster than anybody there, without question,” Self told reporters Wednesday night at Hoglund Ballpark, where at least a thousand showed up to welcome the team home. “I thought it was a positive. It made me trust guys to make plays for themselves, to play one-on-one as opposed to try to run offense to score.”
It takes mature players to earn Self’s trust and in Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, for starters, this team has plenty of it.
Self also has the right personnel to push the pace. Mason is faster with the ball than most players are without it. In Gwangju, Nic Moore, on loan from SMU, had the speed to keep up with Mason. Once Devonte´ Graham heals from the quad injury that sidelined him from the World University Games, he’ll be the one keeping up with Mason. He’s up to it. The rebounders throwing outlet passes have equally attractive options in Mason and Graham.
That hasn’t always been the case. Wayne Selden, now the No. 3 ballhandler, was the second in the starting lineup the past two seasons. The year before that, Travis Releford was the second-best ballhandler among starters.
Self’s two Final Four teams started a pair of combo guards, Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers in 2008, Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson in 2012, but did not play at a fast tempo, in part because opponents had to use so much of the 35-second shot clock to get a shot off against such good man-to-man defense.
KU’s great guards of the past didn’t have the chance to show how well they could play with a 24-second shot clock, as did the current team in international play.
Watching how well his players handled the responsibility that comes with playing faster emboldened Self to say that he trusts them to work faster and more often without a script. It will take patience and the ability to trust his deep bench to stay with that plan.
Statistics don’t show all, but Ken Pomeroy has some interesting ones. In the glossary on his kenpom.com website, Pomeroy defines adjusted tempo (AdjT) as “an estimate of the tempo (possessions per 40 minutes) a team would have against the team that wants to play an average D-I tempo.” Counting backward, KU ranked 53rd, 93rd, 87th, 121st, 53rd, 99th, 82nd and 132nd.
While the rest of the nation must adjust from having 35 seconds to get a shot off to 30, the length of the new college clock, KU will have six more seconds that it had overseas.
If Kansas picks up the pace, that means more possessions per game, a factor that favors the favorite. Fewer possessions equates to a shorter game, giving the underdog a better shot at pulling off the upset.