Monday, January 7, 2019

Benton Smith: Bill Self and Jayhawks about to reinvent their 4-guard lineup

Kansas coach Bill Self gestures to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. Kansas defeated Tennessee 87-81 in overtime. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Kansas coach Bill Self gestures to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. Kansas defeated Tennessee 87-81 in overtime. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


The two-big, go-to lineup Bill Self envisioned for his Kansas basketball team this season is no more.

While that configuration technically is still available by sliding a substitute big man into the spot in the starting lineup Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending wrist injury left behind, Self has little incentive to take that route.

The Jayhawks (12-2 overall, 1-1 Big 12), now ranked No. 7 in the country, will be better off by reinventing themselves midseason.

For many reasons, KU’s 2019 four-guard lineup won’t look anything like its predecessors from the two previous seasons.

We all know by now the four guards on KU’s perimeter aren’t going to give opponents fits with their 3-point shooting the way lineups featuring Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk or Malik Newman could the past two years.

The only starter left from KU’s 2018 Final Four run now is Lagerald Vick. And while the senior is obviously this group’s best shooter, there’s a streakiness to his 3-point accuracy, and Vick doesn’t have enough long-range threats around him to suddenly make perimeter shooting a strength for Kansas.

“If you can put Frank and Josh (Jackson) and Svi and Devonte’ out there, I think it’s damn good, us playing four guards,” Self said during his Monday press conference.

Obviously, that won’t be the case. So Self and his staff will have to hit the lab and cook up a fresh four-guard offense.

This next-generation lineup won’t be built around a center, either. The past two seasons, the Jayhawks played their four guards around Landen Lucas and Azubuike. From here on out, that interior job is Dedric Lawson’s. But Lawson, as Self aptly put it, is “not a 5.” So there’s no purpose in tasking the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior forward with center-esque responsibilities exclusively.

“He’s much better when he can face and drive a guy or whatever than just root for post position. So we’ll tweak some things,” Self made clear.

Kansas will have to play through its best player, Lawson, without trying to convert him into a low-post presence and try to find ways to utilize him as a passer, too.

And while the Jayhawks are making that adjustment, it won’t be as simple as having Lawson primarily kick out to 3-point shooters. Vick (41 of 92) is the only proven and trustworthy marksman in KU’s backcourt. The Jayhawks would have to bank on significant improvements from sophomore Marcus Garrett (4 of 22), redshirt sophomore Charlie Moore (12 of 41) and freshman Quentin Grimes (17 of 54), while asking freshman point guard Devon Dotson (12 of 28) to take more 3-pointers in order for that strategy to work.

Self’s too flexible as a coach and far too smart to think his latest four-guard lineup should mirror the past two seasons in functionality.

So what will Self’s solution be?

“We’re dealing with Dok, we’re dealing with doctors, we’re dealing with surgeries, we’re dealing with travel, we’re dealing with mindsets,” Self said of the coaching staff’s full plate the past few days. “There’s other things that we’re working with other than just tweaking. But there’s 24 hours in a day, so we’ve still got plenty of time to get some stuff done.”

The coach’s coy response leads one to think Self actually already has landed on what he figures will be a good answer to KU’s lineup problem, and he just doesn’t yet want to reveal much on the matter (he also stated he didn’t know “yet” whether Garrett will be the fourth starting guard moving forward).

It’s not a favorable situation, but some unexpected recalibrating probably invigorates Self and his assistants to some degree. The 16th-year KU coach recalled Monday how the team took on a similar situation during Wayne Simien’s senior season, when the standout forward injured his hand.

“We totally changed everything in a two-day period. And, thankfully, we did, because it stuck with us,” Self shared.

Back in the 2004-05 season, KU went 4-0 in Simien’s absence with top-10 wins over Georgia Tech and Kentucky. That team had senior guards Aaron Miles, Michael Lee and Keith Langford, and Simien’s injury wasn’t nearly as devastating as Azubuike’s.

So this latest test will be far more troublesome than that instance, and may prove to be one of the most difficult modifications of the coach’s tenure at KU.

“We need to kind of tighten that ship a little bit and probably reduce what we’re trying to accomplish offensively where the guys maybe can execute a few things differently,” Self said, noting KU has 60 to 70 sets in its playbook. “And we don’t run any of them very well. Maybe we can run five and actually run those well.”

Whatever it takes to squeeze an efficient offense out of this roster, Self and his assistants will try and find a way. And perhaps taking the redshirt off freshman guard Ochai Agbaji will be part of that equation.

“This is not a lost deal by any means,” Self said of the state of the Jayhawks’ season, “but it’s certainly not an ideal situation to kind of have to revamp who you are, you know, after conference play starts.”


Barry Weiss 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm calling it right here, right now, Moore and Dotson will start at guard in the back court and Grimes and Vick will take the other two and drive, drive, drive.

Robert Brock 3 years, 10 months ago

When Vick drives he gets stripped. That’s not his game.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 10 months ago

I know I’m not the only one here that believe Mitch Lightfoot is under utilized and under valued.

We have Dedric Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot and MacCormack. Lightfoot is always a spark and is the one player that never disappoints on the “effort” front. Why does he have such a short leash?

Garrett is an excellent on ball defender, but if his man doesn’t have the ball he gets beat all day long on cuts to the basket because he ball watches. He is a liability when he plays the “4”. Offensively, he is not a threat from 3, but when he plays aggressively and plays to his strength by driving to the basket then Self gets on to him. That’s why he turns the ball over by forcing telegraphed passes.

Bill Self is a legitimate Hall of Fame coach, but his flaw is his stubbornness. He does not allow players to play to their strengths, and instead forces his players into assigned “roles” where they either excel or struggle. Look at all the talent Bill Self has squandered that has transferred away.

  • Andrew White III
  • Connor Frankcamp
  • J.R. Giddens
  • C.J. Giles
  • Padgett
  • Cunliffe
  • Micha Downs
  • Alex Galindo

There are more talented transfers that have excelled at other schools when given opportunity to develop naturally instead of being forced to play out of position or out of style, and I’m not even going to mention the talent that remained but were neutered by Self.

Self’s career at KU is historic and impressive and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody - but just like with players, he neuters himself by his own shortcomings and that occasionally means squandering of opportunities and early, embarrassing tournament/conference losses. Self is great - somebody with his ear should point how that he could be even greater!

“This goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous *Self.” - The Dalai Lama

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 10 months ago

Couldn't agree more with you!! I wonder what those 60-70 play sets are. It hurts to see those high school top10 go to other schools, but who can blame them? In fact, I would rather have a good coach, no HOF, whose team that's fun to watch, full of energy, excitement, lots of dunks, wins NCAA trophy every 2-3 years or at least FF each year, produces NBA level rookies that lasts in the league. Who cares about conference trophy...

Travis Clementsmith 3 years, 10 months ago

Andrew White III 2015-16: No NCAA; No NIT (NU); KU NCAA (3-1) 2016-17: No NCAA; NIT (1-1) (Syr); KU NCAA (3-1)

Connor Frankcamp 2015-16 NCAA (2-1) (WSU); KU NCAA (3-1) 2016-17 NCAA (1-1) (WSU); KU NCAA (3-1) 2017-18 NCAA (0-1) (WSU); KU NCAA (4-1)

J.R. Giddens 2006-07 No NCAA; NIT; Suspended (NM) 2007-08 NIT (0-1); KU NCAA (6-0)

C.J. Giles 2007-08 - Dismissed from team after 10 games showing up late to practice (Oregon St); KU NCAA (6-0)

Padgett 2005-06 NIT (3-1) (Lou); KU NCAA (0-1) 2006-07 NCAA (1-1) (Lou); KU NCAA (3-1) 2007-08 NCAA (3-1) (Lou); KU NCAA (6-0)

Cunliffe Transferred to ASU then Evansville; has not played

Micha Downs 2006-07 NCAA (0-1) (Gonz); KU NCAA (3-1) 2007-08 NCAA (0-1) (Gonz); KU NCAA (6-0) 2008-09 NCAA (2-1) (Gonz); KU NCAA (2-1)

Alex Galindo 2006-07 No NIT; NCAA (FIU); KU NCAA (3-1) 2007-08 No NIT; NCAA (FIU); KU NCAA (6-0) 2008-09 No NIT; NCAA (FIU); KU NCAA (3-1)

Nice list. Kansas Basketball isn't about players "discovering themselves". Its about winning basketball. Further, a players decision to transfer is a two way street. I think I'll stick with coach on this point.

Jay Scott 3 years, 10 months ago

Travis Clementsmith understands. Great post.

That list is a who's who of punks and self centered children. Most couldn't or wouldn't defend. Addition by subtraction.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 10 months ago

It’s true - Coach Self has brought unprecedented success to KU basketball. Our conference streak is “Chamberlainian”!

...but when it comes to player development, the bigs that went pro were developed when he had Danny Manning on staff. Oubre/Wiggins/Morris twins/McClemore/Josh Jackson...the players that actually last in the league and have productive, multi-year careers are utilized differently than how Bill Self attempted to use them - and they blossomed in the NBA, not at KU under Self. I believe most of them actually left early, too.

Bill Self’s only national title came because he had 6 NBA players (2 went undrafted). Chalmers achieved success because he was drafted by the Heat the same year LeBron James joined two All Stars in miami in their prime.

Again - Bill Self is a great college coach, but there’s a reason he won’t go to the NBA and there’s a reason the players that have blossomed in the NBA, did so after they got into the league, not while at KU.

Brian Hosfelt 3 years, 10 months ago

Stuart Corder with the stupidest post of 2019....comparing 4 OAD players plus the Morris twins that coach Self developed to Roys 4 four years players and 1 three year I would say you can develop a player if he stays that long....look at Frank and Devonte, that's how you develop talent.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 10 months ago

You forgot this guy, another 4-yr:

6-8, 220 | Class of 2012

HometownWichita, Kan.SchoolWichita Heights High SchoolPositionPower ForwardStatus Signed Kansas 09/21/2011, rank 35th espn100

Brian Hosfelt 3 years, 10 months ago

and you must not watch the NBA because Josh Jackson hasn't blossomed into crap in his year and a half NBA time.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 10 months ago

I watch a lot of NBA. More NBA than college. Oubre, Wiggins, Morrii, perform mostly the same roles in NBA that they did in college. These 4 players have established roles in the NBA. The main difference between their NBA roles and their college roles is, for example, the Morris twins are not the stars in the NBA that they were in college. They are successful role players on good teams. Wiggins has mostly the same issues in the NBA that he had in college as far as inconsistency and underperforming the expectations. Oubre continues to find his niche as a stingy defender who is confident enough to knock in the open shot.

McLemore sadly never got his footing in NBA, but as a player he played the same role in the NBA as in college as a shooter and a high-flyer in transition. Josh Jackson hasn't flourished in the NBA yet, but he is essentially playing the same role in the NBA as he did in college with the obvious exception being that in college he played the role of small ball stretch 4 out of necessity, whereas in the NBA he plays his natural SF position. Of course the offensive skills that he uses in the NBA are the same that he used in college, so the main difference is that in college he defended in the post a lot, and in the NBA he defends on the perimeter much more.

I honestly don't see your assertion that they are utilized differently.

If anything I see a trend of KU players who are successful in college but underperform their draft positions in the NBA. Like Juju, Shady, Cole, BRush, TRob, McLemore, among others. Then I see a trend of players who were highly recruited to KU but underperformed in college and NBA: X. Henry, J. Selby, Cliff Alexader, Cheick Diallo (whom has had his moments in the NBA, but not broken out). Then the third group of KU players is basically everyone else who has effectively met their realistic collegiate and post collegiate expectations relatively closely, despite the unreasonably high expectations that we fans (myself included) sometimes put on them.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 10 months ago

Joel Embiid doesn’t count. He’s a “generational talent”.

Brian Hosfelt 3 years, 10 months ago

Such a generational talent that everyone thought he should red shirt when he got to

Craig Carson 3 years, 10 months ago

Embiid wasnt even on anyones NBA radar when he arrived on campus..hell, had Tarrik Black not been a foul machine then Embiid may have barely played since he was a back up originally

Stuart Corder 3 years, 10 months ago

Nick Collison, Kirk Henrich, Scott Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce....those were players developed at KU and then experienced long NBA careers. Those were Roy Williams products. That trend of long NBA careers has continued under Roy Williams at UNC.

Roy Williams doesn’t have the conference titles that Bill Self has, but at UNC he’s been to the Final Four 5x and won 3 national titles, and sent more players to longer NBA careers. Player Development

Coach K doesn’t have the conference titles, but in the same period he’s been to the Final Four 4x, won 3x National Championships, and sent more players to the NBA for long term NBA careers. Player Development

Bill Self has been to the Final Four 3x, and won 1 National Championship with a roster that featured a record 8 future professionals.

Bill Self’s Achilles heel is an underwhelming ability to develop players. He limits himself and his players by “ride or die” with whatever studs he seems worthy, as opposed to actual player development. It’s why we often struggle in big games against equally talented, quality opponents. That also points to why Self experiences a higher rate of transfers than his two peers. He wins more non-tournament games, but his pride proves fatal.

Layne Pierce 3 years, 10 months ago

Please Steve, don't troll us, the majority of us, are quite proud of the conference string. It will go someday, as eveything does, what coach goes to the final four every year? Not even Mike, or Jay, or anybody, since John Wooden.

Two or three times in the 14 year run, something catastrophic has happened and Coach Self and the staff have figured out a way.

It is Bill's way or the highway, And there have been many who transferred,

The level of excellence that Bill Self has achieved is exemplary, and if we would have had two more Natl Championships and been totally mediocre the other years, would you have been satisfied?


Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 10 months ago

Sorry, not trying to troll or anything. I'm just frustrated with this season's team and how slow for the staff to realize they need to make changes. I'll shut up for now since they're willing to do necessary steps to better position our team. I'm passionate about KU MBB, I'd still scream each season the team doesn't show their best effort.

Jeff Foster 3 years, 10 months ago

Wow. Lose a player to an injury and people start piling on about Coach not developing people? Really? Situations differ EVERY year, players differ whether they progress or regress, and Self adapts and keeps winning. In 14 Conf Champ seasons, how many times has the entire starting 5 turned over, 3, 4 times? This may not be the most talented team, and they certainly frustrate the heck out of me, mainly because we ALL expect greatness, but should KU win the league again, or to me, even get 2nd, this could be one of Self's best coaching seasons and everyone who disses him now will be praising him again in March.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 10 months ago

It was a dumb post. I am drunk on Bill Self’s unprecedented success at KU. And allow me to reiterate that I wouldn’t trade him for any other coach and I’m not calling for his head OR screaming that the sky is falling.

Any criticism is from an arm chair fan comparing him to other elite coaches - and that’s part of the package of being a KU head coach. That’s what we do.

I am of the opinion that he under values and over values players, and have always felt that way. That doesn’t mean I think he’s making “bad” coaching decisions, it just means that as a fan I wish I could see player X get an opportunity or more leeway, instead of witnessing player Y make the same mistakes over and over again. This year - it’s Lightfoot. The kid belongs and is being under valued. Garret is being overvalued. He plays excellent on ball defense, but is undersized for the 4 and ball watches when his assignment doesn’t have the rock. Also, like Vick last year, playing the 4 is out of position. It’s just an unnatural fit - hence the struggles.

We now have 3 skilled bigs. I’d like to see them all utilized. Lightfoot > Moody, and Moody got a lot more PT in his day.

The Big XII will canabalise itself this year, and KU has the most talent across its roster. D. Lawson is about as close a lock for conference POY as one can be, and I will be shocked if Dotson isn’t the best Freshman. Regardless, Bill Self just doesnt lose the conference. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Kurt Eskilson 3 years, 10 months ago

Yes, but … Christian Moody was called, "the greatest walk-on basketball player in the history of college basketball."

Bj Cassady 3 years, 10 months ago

I think we need to play 2 bigs for post defense and 3 guards, my guards would be Grimes, Dotson and Moore with Garret and Vick off the bench (Vick too many turnovers, Garret great defense but offensively challenged D Lawson and McCormack inside with Lightfoot and K Lawson off the bench. We got to get McCormack up to speed get him minutes. I have no confidence in Vick when he is on the floor. Pull the red shirt off of our other guard we will need him and if someone else gets injured he might be ready. These are desperate times.

Craig Carson 3 years, 10 months ago

Vick will continue to start as long as he is the only consistent outside threat..if Moore wouldnt be so quick triggered then he'd see the floor more...this team might have to win with defense...which would mean Garrett and Lightfoot will get plenty of minutes

Nicholas Cederlind 3 years, 10 months ago

"4 GUARD LINEUP"?? We just lost Udoka for the season, why not go 5 guards?!?

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