Monday, December 11, 2017

Bill Self’s hints of ‘change’ more complicated than just flipping a switch

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) huddles up the Jayhawks during the second half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) huddles up the Jayhawks during the second half, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Kansas basketball coach Bill Self did not earn his Hall of Fame jacket or eclipse the 600-win mark by being wishy-washy throughout his career.

But after watching his team suffer back-to-back losses last week to Pac-12 teams Washington and Arizona State, he appears to be considering tweaking the way his team operates in order to create a more competitive and hungry roster.

“Maybe I shouldn't be as surprised,” Self said when asked after Sunday's loss what he thought of his team's inability to answer his recent call for toughness. “And maybe I need to change. I'm not ready to accept that that's the best we've got. But it's pretty embarrassing to keep looking at the tape afterwards and saying, 'Well, this is what we don't have.' We've been saying it now the entire year, at least from a defensive and competitive standpoint.”

What the Jayhawks have not had much of in the past two games is the kind of defense for which Self's teams typically have been known.

Unbeaten Arizona State, which on Monday jumped up to No. 5 in the latest AP poll — KU (7-2) fell 11 spots to No. 13 — became just the 25th team in 15 years to shoot better than 50 percent in a game against a Bill Self-coached Kansas team. And the Sun Devils' final mark of 50.8 percent came as a result of a blistering second half in which they shot 57.6 percent from the floor.

Washington, which shot 48.3 percent against KU four days earlier, nearly accomplished the feat as well, and the Huskies finished their final half against Kansas shooting 53.6 percent from the floor.

Whether you're looking at the numbers or utilizing the eye test, it's clear that the KU defense is in a funk right now. And that, as much as the losing, is what has Self considering the change. What that change will be remains to be seen and also represents the more challenging part of the equation.

If Self had his way, this team would use pride and frustration, fundamentals and coaching to become a better man-to-man defensive team ahead of Saturday's 7 p.m. clash at Nebraska.

But coming on the heels of back-to-back losses and in need of an answer sooner rather than later, Self and company might not have the time they need to allow those factors to elevate KU's team defense.

“So maybe we need to do something to shorten the game,” Self said Sunday. “Maybe we need to do something to figure out a matchup zone to play or something like that. I'm talking about change what we do to allow us to maybe better utilize our guys defensively.”

One of the biggest factors to remember in the face of this potential change is the Jayhawks' lack of depth.

Twice on Sunday, Self mentioned second-half fatigue as a potential reason for his team's poor defensive performances of late, and senior point guard Devonte' Graham said it was not necessarily just a physical issue.

“It's just something that's really mental,” Graham said. “We've only got seven players, and you're going to get tired, regardless, but you have to be able to fight through that.”

Asked if he thought Self's idea of slowing the game down could be a solution, Graham said simply, “If that's something he wants to do. I mean, he's the head coach.”

Regardless of what lies ahead for the Kansas defense in the coming weeks, it's also important to remember that this is not likely to be a complete overhaul.

For one, Self has never been the kind of coach who likes his teams to play zone, so the change, if it happens, likely will come in the form of mixing periods of zone defense into the 40-minute game to give his players a rest rather than by having Kansas commit to playing zone exclusively.

“I've always been a believer that whenever you do things to bail kids out or bail teams out, it's usually not best for your team over time,” Self said. “It may help you win a game or two, but come January or February, I'm not sure that's what's best for your team over time. What's best for our team is that we develop a tougher mindset. And, you know, we can do that. There's a lot of things that we've got to address from a competitive standpoint that I think we'll get better at, without question. But right now it's not clicking for us at all on (the defensive) end.”

Even if mixing in a zone is the plan, and even if it works, Self said there was no getting around the need for his players to have the pride to improve as individual defenders.

“Just because you play zone doesn't mean that's a cure-all,” Self said. “It's still a mindset. It's a ball that's in the air and it's a 50-50 ball, who's going to get it? Even though it's a zone, it's still man principles when you're guarding the ball. You still have to be able to keep the ball in front of you.”

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Arizona State

By the Numbers: Arizona State 95, Kansas 85.

By the Numbers: Arizona State 95, Kansas 85.


Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

unfortunately, this lacks the personnel to play overly tough on D..the offense will probably come around, but they are a small team full of guys who havent been lock down defenders...hard ot expect a radical change..Cunliffe will help a little bit, but what they really need is Preston and DeSousa

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 9 months ago

They are averaging over 90 pts/game so I don't think waiting for the offense to "come around" should be part of the conversation.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

the high powered offense has built up its numbers by hitting a ton of 3s while playing crap competition..the times they have played better teams, the offense has sputtered...Dok dunks and 3's cant be the only way they score...this offense is very inefficient when its not hitting outside shots

David McNickle 4 years, 9 months ago

Against "real" teams, UK, Cuse, UW, and ASU, we are averaging 72 points. Being very liberal with my use of real teams when including UW.

Bill Pitcher 4 years, 9 months ago

Once the perimeter breaks, our bigs must play with one hand tied behind their back due to our lack of depth. Is our athletic administration or the NCAA to blame for handcuffing Preston?

Pius Waldman 4 years, 9 months ago

Coach Self simply hates zone defense and has even called it crappy. I noticed Duke played the whole game zone against Michigan State. AND THEY WON. First you have to practice to gain confidence. Because it's legal why not use it who knows might be the answer.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

I think Self might have to swallow his pride on this one..our guards simply aren staying in front of least with the zone it will make it harder for teams to drive and maybe that protects Azibuike..on offense, they have got to drive the ball more and pressure the seems if it isnt a duke by Dok, its a 3 ball..and when that doesnt work, the defense cant hold..the got within 1 of UW and then allowed a 7-0 run, they couldnt get the stop they needed..then they had control over ASU, then they let up..

Mike Greer 4 years, 9 months ago

I think the answer is a full roster of players, KU is strapped with too many players who are not eligible right now. They had similar issues last year, but this season is even worse. There's practically no bench points, so you're looking at a five man team when it comes to putting points on the board. Lightfoot isn't a center, not like Dok or even Lucas was, he's just not big and strong enough at this point. Garret is not where he's going to be yet either, so he's not putting up points either. That doesn't give Coach much to work with. The addition of Sam will help, but we really need Billy Jin the line up. One has to wonder what the heck is going on that's taking so long and is so hush hush. If Silvio comes in at the semester break, it's a huge jump from HS to Big XII basketball, I don't have great expectations for what he can contribute this season.

In short, this is going to be a tough year if Preston doesn't get suited up soon.

Ryan Zimmerman 4 years, 9 months ago

We need the 3... Billy, Silvio and Sam

Get em all, we're a whole new team. More depth, more fire, more breaks for the others.

With em we win Big XII again. Without, it's gonna be tough. TCU, OU, WVU, ISU... no cake walks this year

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

i honestly think unless KU can get Preston back at the very least, the BIG12 steak will end this season...DeSousa will help, but expecting a kid to go from playing HS to playing in the middle of the BIG 12 conference season and expecting him to be productive on either end of the floor is asking a bit much

Robert Brock 4 years, 9 months ago

Some of you guys still don’t get it. The problem is with the defense, not the offense.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

I think its more the defense...even the best offensive teams have off nights..cant expect to shot 50% from 3 and score 90 every night..but on those nights, your defense has to step up and get stops, it has ot force TO and bad shots..KU gives up way too many open shots

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 9 months ago

Averaging over 90 pts/game would seem to indicate offense isn't the problem. They may not be good at running sets yet but they clearly know how to get buckets.

Andy Godwin 4 years, 9 months ago

Since a step up in competition according to Self (Syracuse, Washington, and ASU) KU is scoring 75 points per game and giving up 76 points per game. If the 3 is not falling, KU has a hard time manufacturing points outside of a lob-dunk. What is missing is the ability to get easy baskets around the rim, via the Self hallmark of high-low. Without another big on the floor, this 4 guard (does not resemble the 4 guard lineup with Josh Jackson) looks good only when hitting the 3. Defense is atrocious, but offense is only average.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago thoughts exactly...a truly good offense team score in many ways...KU doesnt get to the rim for layups and they rarely shoots foul shots..if its not a Dok dunk or a 3, they struggle to score..4 guard lineups only work if you have a hybrid 4..last year it was Josh Jackson...the Golden State Warriors 4 guard offense only works because Draymond Green...KU has noone like that this year..depth is an issue, but personnel is the bigger problem..the 2012 team with TROB and Withey only played 7 players..BUT, they were a complete team..they had 2 post players who could defend, score and rebound..this team has 1..and even he is still raw..if he were putting up Ayton (from Arizona) type numbers, it wouldnt be an issue..I get the feeling this will be Self's most challenging and frustrating year since he he can only do so much to fix the flaws in this team..if he takes THIS team to the Sweet 16, he should be coach of the year LOL

Layne Pierce 4 years, 9 months ago

Offensive softness we don't get to the foul line. Defensive softness we don't take charges, we don't stay in front of our man.

I believe it we play slower, Garrett is going to get more playing time. Don't be surprised if occasionally Dok and Lightfoot play some together.

Zone, but what kind and for what purpose?

We scored 85 points and lost by 10, think about that?

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

not taking charges is one issue, but to me the bigger issue is that they arent forcing anyone into bad shots...UW had all kinds of open 3's and so did cant leave too many D1 players open and expect them to miss...a lot of that is our guards cant stay in front of anyone and they arent guarding picks very well either....feels like a lot of zone could be the only fix..I know Self hates it but this isnt a team full of great defenders...its a team of shooters

Xanthe Sherman Swan 4 years, 9 months ago

We weren't getting the stops we should have. Letting them have a clear lane to the rim doesn't help. Trying to avoid fouling because we aren't deep enough to handle that is where we are at. We should have gone to zone with Washington. Usually teams that play it don't seem to play well against it.

We don't have Frank and I am not sure someone is going to step and be the character he is. So what do you do? Can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Have to buckle down on defense, close down the lane, take the charge. Off day on offense can still be won with good defense.

Martin Rosenblum 4 years, 9 months ago

If Hudy could put 30 lbs on Lightfoot and transplant Cole Aldrich's hands for his, we would have a real big man in the paint. That play with Graham a the point and Vick in the key with a big under the basket was very nerve racking but effective to some extent. But, it left the wings pretty open if Svi can get hot from the corners. Outside-the-box plays like that will need to be used to throw defenses off and to create chaos in the flow of the typical Bill Self playbook. Conference play will prove more frustrating this year with several teams having stepped up their talent. Preston IS the answer, I believe above everything else.

Mike Greer 4 years, 9 months ago

To add some clarification to my earlier comment, when the bench is short and can't score, it's difficult for Coach to play them to either up the defense or to rest the starters, so they can up their defence. Until it was all but over, Svi didn't score, and then he couldn't handle the ball, your essentially playing 4 on 5 because there is no bench scoring. It's like not having a relief pitcher. Added depth means better offense and better defense.

Brad Avery 4 years, 9 months ago

Self's teams in the past have been very successful, particularly in the tournament, when they've been "forced" to play either a combination zone, such as a triangle and two. or a straight 2-3 when they have had matchup and/or depth problems. I am not sure why, given the fact of having only seven scholarship players, that possibility wasn't given consideration earlier. Even Duke is playing a zone this season. It's not a sin, Bill, really.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 9 months ago

How complicated is it to simply yell out "zone it!"

DiscGolfer Jason 4 years, 9 months ago

This has nothing to do with the article but found it comical and sad. This was by SI Sports:

" Washington’s win over Kansas in St. Louis (originally scheduled as a would-be homecoming for Michael Porter Jr. when he had committed to the Huskies) is a strong addition to Mike Hopkins’s early head coaching résumé. While yes, the Huskies then went out and got drubbed by Gonzaga, winning a semi-road game against a highly ranked opponent with such a young team should lend some real credibility."

Anyone notice the error?

Christopher Benham 4 years, 9 months ago

Right state at least. That's pretty good for coastal media.

Joe Black 4 years, 9 months ago

"winning a semi-road game against a highly ranked opponent with such a young team should lend some real credibility"

Brian Skelly 4 years, 9 months ago

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all."

Not sure who the quote should be attributed to, but its apt. Our lack of depth is killing us, and it's wearing us down both physically and mentally.

Rightly or wrongly, the steady stream of one-and-done folks -- or even guys who barely play and then go pro -- is starting to wear us down. Is there a reason we ran off the big guy from whatever small north eastern school that transferred here? Sorry, when you have no faith in guys 8-10 on your roster to the point you cant even give them a few minutes per game it should tell you something.

There's plenty of symptoms out there, but the cause is the thinnest roster Self has run out there, probably since he got here. This isnt complicated. Going after 1-and-doners, transfers, is catching up to us.

DiscGolfer Jason 4 years, 9 months ago

OAD's are nice but when Self does get them they are not the "missing piece" that would take KU into the FF. Or they are not alpha-players.

Problem with Self is, and has been while at KU, is his recruitment of questionable players...ex, players that attended 3 high schools or the legal issues and acceptance of money, items etc. I really haven't seen those issues from Duke, UNC, MSU, but KU sure has a good rap sheet of them.

And I know Self can't get all the players he wants, but why hasn't he been able to secure recruits ahead of time. He actually did a great job for next season and not having to wait for the last few players available in late spring. Not ripping on him but just something we've all noticed.

Also, at least in the past and I think it's been awhile but let freshman players play through their mistakes instead of benching them or giving little playing time to.

Lastly, please don't "play our game" and not make changes if and when the EE comes around. 2/7 is not a good record (not all 7 EE are with KU). Perhaps, play something different like he did to UNC in 2008. That was freaking awesome.

Tom Jones 4 years, 9 months ago

Actually, Self has been plagued by missing pieces of late. Embiid, Diallo, Azibuke last year...any of those teams could have been FF teams.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 9 months ago

We are just being real.

Svi has always had his nonchalant passing and ball handling stretches. He is a good creator on the break and a streaky shooter as always. He gives us good defensive effort most of the time. I would like to see him in the middle of the zone some although Vick was above average there.

Our lack of defensive pressure and medium effort rebounding effort has taken away our fast break opportunities.

DeVonte is a good outside shooter and a decent but mostly reluctant penetrator. He can dish it for sure but more effectively when being aggressive. He is the leader so he will probably get more grief than he deserves.

Vick has always kind of zoned out in his career and been inconsistent on defense. But not as zoned out or inconsistent this year so is MVP until DeVonte gets more aggressive.

Newman is improving and showed some athleticism against ASU but he has not come close to meeting expectations yet. Jury is still out.

Doke is slow to react on rebounds and defense and is so far just a dunker which is typical for a late blooming project. His hands are pretty suspect but that is also not unusual for young big men. He will get killed against A&M unless he gets a better understanding at a steeper rate.

Mitch lacks foot speed but can be active and effective on defense when he brings energy. He will get better but how much remains to be seen.

We are what we are and will get better stuff from our young guys. Svi, DeVonte and Lagerald will have to give us 60 plus night in and night out to get us over 60% wins.

Should be interesting to see how a spoiled bunch, such as we fans, will react as the season goes on.

Craig Carson 4 years, 9 months ago

personally, Ive written this season off as lack luster...soon as those guys transferred out and Preston was held out I knew this season was gonna be real rough..which is sad because it should have been one of Selfs better teams...this might be the year KU losses 3-4 home games..I look for at least 10 losses, 10 conference wins at the most, a 5 or 6th send in the NCAA and a 1st weekend exit..anything above that is isnt simply that this team isnt playing well, its that im not sure they have the pieces to improve that much...and BTW, unless Preston is in the lineup against TXAM or KU can make 18 3's, they are going to whip Ku's @$$ in AFH..KU had issues with ASU and UW front courts, wait until TXAM brings in their 3 headed dragon of a front court..KU might not get a rebound all game already looking ahead to next season when FINALLY, we will have an actual front court..tired of seeing all these 3 pointers LOL

Tony Bandle 4 years, 9 months ago

Please let me know what you had for breakfast so I can avoid it. :)

All kidding aside, I'll take a co-championship and a loss in the Sweet 16 and declare that this team would have over achieved!

Joe Black 4 years, 9 months ago

The jury is not still out on Newman. He is a horrible decision maker on offense and defense. He has athleticism but it is wasted by poor decisions.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 9 months ago

He kind of carried over his end of game shooting into this game and did go (soft) to the rack. Guards seem to come along slowly here but he is getting more first year playing time than any guard I can remember so there is that to make your point. He had been so out of it that anything looks better, So that leaves it up in the air a bit.

John Kelley 4 years, 9 months ago

Kansas was exposed by 2 Pac 12 teams back to back. They are soft.

David McNickle 4 years, 9 months ago

If 3's are Fool's Gold, we are a big bag of pyrite.

David Howell 4 years, 9 months ago

If you only have 6 to 7 players to work with you are going to get tired. Being tired leads to more fouls which brings us to playing some zone to protect against fouling out.

As someone mentioned above you have to practice the zone to be any good at it. But what my dad has preached all these years is that good teams know how to make you play uncomfortable on offense. If it means all game then that is what it takes. But switching from man to zone defense repeatedly throughout a game prevents a team from getting comfortable in running their offense .............

Bob Thompson 4 years, 9 months ago

When we beat Oklahoma in '88. Oklahoma played the entire season with 6 players. The only time I saw them tired was at the end of the NC game. Billy Tubs had OK on the floor running before the game, he was so sure that KU would slow the game down.... didn't happen.

The fact that we only have 7 players isn't the point. The point is we don't have the right 7 players.... They will get better as the season goes along. We will loose some, but by the end of the year we should be playing good ball.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 9 months ago

Random Thoughts:

1) Best case scenario, KU has researched and presented Billy's offense to the NCAA with full disclosure whereby the NCAA declares a time-served 12 game suspension as a reward for KU not playing him and initiating the investigation.

2] Best case scenario, Conliffe can actually play a little defense and the extra body for PT allows more rest for Vick, Graham, Svi, Garret and Newman thus better energy and better defense.

3] Best case scenario, the sting of losing two "home" games motivates the rest of the team to play harder and smarter.

4] Best case scenario, the relative balance in the Big 12 results in a lot of losses for everyone, thus making at least a co-championship for KU a possibility.

5] Best case scenario, Silvio is allowed to play the second semester, catches on much quicker than expected and actually becomes a factor in the rotation.

6] Best case scenario, I win the lottery, take a year long trip around the world and come back next year when KU will have one monster of a team!!

Martin Rosenblum 4 years, 9 months ago

If #6 happens, check in from time to time to see the drama that will undoubtedly continue during this strange season. Remember Jimmy V..."Don't give up, don't ever give up". We might even have a game where we're down to three players (ala Alabama earlier this season).

Bob Thompson 4 years, 9 months ago

I would think about now, the players are not real happy with Preston. If he had displayed better judgment with "The Car", he would be playing now, and their is a good chance that KU would be playing much better Maybe their heads would be in the game.

Martin Rosenblum 4 years, 9 months ago

I agree about the players not being all happy with Preston. Personally, I hate seeing him on the bench and in the "handshake line" after the game laughing, smiling and joking around like he's just contributed to the game. He was as critical to this team's success this year as any other player, if not more, and whatever the circumstances, his actions have tricked down to affect the team's success as well as potentially some player's futures. Any way to pull a red-shirt status for him, or is that not an option? I know he was probably a OAD, but, KU counted on him and he let the team down. His NBA future should be in some degree of jeopardy if he declares but hasn't played in a large number of games. Or, will he hang around and possibly only be available for post-season play?

David Robinett 4 years, 9 months ago

I’d play Garrett over Svi, since he brings more D and intangibles.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 9 months ago

Ironically, Preston's chances to get drafted may be higher if he doesn't play a minute for KU this year. OAD's usually get drafted on "potential". well Billy would possess the ultimate potential....a totally clean slate with no record of bad defense, offense issues or foul issues.

I know, I know..he did play a bunch of exhibition games but that will like 8 or 9 months before the '18 NBA draft and I am sure some NBA GC will talk himself into getting him.

Martin Rosenblum 4 years, 9 months ago

The combines do reveal/expose a lot of the potential values that are merely hype. After a year not playing and no college experience, Billy would not just be a top pick, without some numbers to back up his skill set.

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