Sunday, February 28, 2016


Tom Keegan: Veterans bode well for Self, Kansas

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson hoists the Midwest Regional trophy as he and teammates Jeff Withey and Travis Releford celebrate the Jayhawks' 80-67 win over North Carolina to advance to the Final Four on Sunday,  March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson hoists the Midwest Regional trophy as he and teammates Jeff Withey and Travis Releford celebrate the Jayhawks' 80-67 win over North Carolina to advance to the Final Four on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.


If you believe in patterns, then you have reason to believe this will go down as a memorable season for Kansas University’s team.

A clarification is in order: I did not mean pass patterns. The team in question here plays basketball, not football, and a look at what types of teams Bill Self has taken deep into NCAA tournaments indicates this one fits into that category.

Obviously, Self has found a way to coach all but his first of 13 KU teams to the Big 12 title.

When facing the rest of the nation, Self has encountered extraordinary success in the NCAA Tournament when coaching a veteran bunch and has experienced mixed tournament results when banking heavily on freshmen.

Heading into this season, half of Self’s teams included two or more freshmen among the top five scorers, and half had fewer than two freshmen among the top five in points.

In years with fewer than two frosh in the top five, Self has a 17-5 tournament record, 10-6 when relying heavily on freshmen.

Carlton Bragg Jr. is this season’s leading freshman scorer. His 112 points rank him eighth on the team. Cheick Diallo has scored 68 points, which places him 10th.

Another emerging pattern also bodes well for Kansas. This will be the fourth time Self has coached the Jayhawks in the tournament in a presidential-election year. His tourney record in the previous three: 14-2. He’s 13-9 in all other years. (If Self spoke Trumpese, he might be inclined to say, “Presidential elections love me!” Or: “The losing coach sweats too much. He has a problem.”)

Self has reached the Final Four twice, in 2008, when Kansas defeated Memphis in overtime to win the national title, and in 2012, when the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky in the national title game. How this team compares to those personnel-wise has no relevance because it won’t have to play against them. All that matters is this year’s field, and it’s not a particularly strong one, at least at the top.

In 2008, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA formed the only Final Four that featured four No. 1 seeds, which made picking a winner a tough call. Four years later, Kentucky, led by center Anthony Davis (59 points, 20 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans eight days ago in 111-106 victory at Detroit), easily was the nation’s best team.

Kansas deserves the No. 1 ranking it will receive today, but has Michigan State (15/2) and North Carolina (8/1) ranked ahead of three teams at 10/1 (Kansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma) for national-championship odds.

Self accurately maintains that he has been as willing to play freshmen as much as any coach other than Kentucky’s John Calipari. Six of Self’s seven one-and-done players have ranked among the team’s top five scorers. Josh Selby was the lone exception. (Even at that, his 7.9 points-per-game average ranked him fifth, but since he was not eligible first semester, he was not among the top five in total points.)

Teams for which Xavier Henry, Ben McLemore, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. played went 5-4 in the NCAA Tournament. Embiid (back injury) and Alexander (suspended) did not participate in the postseason. The squad that did not need to bank heavily on Selby went 3-1 in the NCAA Tournament and was outscored by Virginia Commonwealth by 20 points during Selby’s minutes. Veterans know better how to negotiate the Madness.


Suzi Marshall 6 years, 2 months ago

Until the very end when he brought up the VCU game, which we attended and was played in San Antonio's Alamodome, site of our '08 National Championship. To make matters worse, we had tickets to the Final Four, which was held in Houston.

Pius Waldman 6 years, 2 months ago

Tom certainly explained the past quite well. One event that may play a role is the Korea experience. Playing against capable teams the Jayhawks showed their toughness in winning. Winning the 12th title in Big 12 competition also helps winning in tough situations. But the lose and you're out Big Dance doesn't always mean the best team wins. We will have a chance to win it all lets hope it works in our favor.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 2 months ago

The only (major) exception to this is the 2005 squad that got bounced in the first round to Bucknell.

That team featured and relied heavily on three seniors. One of which was a first-team All-American.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 2 months ago

Had to bring that one up, didn't ya? :P

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

Ill tell you exactly what I take away from this. Im guessing the top 3 coaches in the nation over the course of the period to which Tom refers have been Calipari (Memphis/Kentucky), Coach K (Duke) and Coach Self (Kansas). The first two have won national championships with freshmen. They've also had some VERY rare, but disappointing, seasons.

It comes to this.

  1. Playing with phenomenal freshmen makes the highs higher and the lows lower.

  2. Playing without freshmen may mean more consistency, but judging by the coaches above, you will reach the National Championship game less often without phenomenal freshmen.

  3. If Tom is right about years in which veterans' are mature boding well for Kansas, that can only mean that Coach Self does not coach phenomenal freshman as well as Cal and Coach K. I happen to believe Tom is right, and I happen to believe Self is not as good a coach of blue chippers. This is not a knock on Coach Self. After all, Cal has had more experience with them, and Coach Ks prowess as a coach and his breadth of experience in terms of time and different capacities in basketball have probably given them a significant edge over Coach Self.

What I take from this is that we can have a good year every 4 years and threaten for a title, or we can realize that coaches are the same as anyone else in that they can improve in certain areas, and that if Coach Self gets more out of his blue chippers we might both be less consistent in terms of say, conference championships, but we will threaten for more titles nationally. Think about something: Ben McLemore had a year in the system before he was a redshirt freshman so he had an advantage there that may have allowed him to overcome the stagger between Coach Self and the other 2 coaches. To the eye test, Andrew Wiggins performed better in his first year in the NBA than he did in his first year of college. When does that EVER happen? That has to say something. Xavier Henry had the advantage of having an ex-NBA father who coached him which allowed him to overcome the stagger. Then he's had a bunch of non-progressors as OADs in their season in college. Josh Selby, Cliff Alexander, Bragg and Diallo both this season. In fact, projected as OADs, under Self's system both Alexander and Diallo would require at least two seasons. Kelly Oubre was good but probably did not maximize his potential.

I imagine it is very difficult in one season or in a part of a season to take a kid right out of high school and make him play better than veteran college players who are both REALLY GOOD and have the advantage of having played multiple seasons in the NCAA. Coaching that kind of player is a skill that coaches have different levels of prociency at. No one should read my comments as a knock on Coach Self. He is a quality coach who Kansas should keep for as long as he wants to stay here. He probably just doesnt coach OADs as well as Cal and Kryzewski (sp?).

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 2 months ago

Very good, Joe. KU's system seems to be built on a little different set of priorities. Certainly, we have not had as much success with OAD's as UK and Duke, and I doubt that it is because our players were overrated coming out of high school.

The best example, as you say, is Andrew Wiggins. While he had a wonderful freshman year, his impact on the KU program was not as dramatic as his first years in the pros. Going back even further to the Roy Williams era, you might make the same statement about Paul Pierce, and he played three years at KU, I believe.

The point is that KU's systems have not necessarily been about showcasing an individual player, at least not since Danny and the Miracles, and I am not going to argue with the results.

You state the bottom line quite well. We are blessed to have Coach Self and his staff, and we should enjoy them as long as possible.

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 2 months ago

By the way, good attempt at spelling Coach K's last name. I wouldn't even try.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 2 months ago

Kansas always has a thing for winning national titles in (A) leap years, (B) years where the man in the White House was preparing to leave, and (C) presidential election years. I like our chances too.

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