When Focus On Defense Becomes "Fool's Gold"

  • I never thought I’d be writing a thread like this… where I’m questioning the focus on playing hard defense as a losing strategy.

    Well… I’m not! I’m never going to diss playing solid defense. It is the focus of our head coach, and it has worked out pretty well for us during his years as a Jayhawk.

    But can we question the AMOUNT of focus we place on defense? Can we question if playing sound defense is working the game enough to be successful? What about in March?

    I did a little calculation. I added up all of our NCAA tournament losses final score and found an average. In the 11 years of NCAA tournament losses under Bill Self our average points were 64.5. I’m not sure this kind of information helps make a point, because in loss games we are bound to score fewer points. On the other hand, maybe there is a reason for this low number.

    I’ve been preaching for several months now my theory that college coaches think differently than NBA coaches. My overall theory is that NBA coaches just play to win. They’ll mimic whatever style they need to win a game, their conference or a World Championship. College basketball coaches have their specific identity, and they recruit to their identity, and they coach games expressing their identity, and they expect their players to follow through with their identity.

    Bill Self is known as a defensive-minded coach. We all know his focus is on defense. He’s said it many times how much he appreciates grind games and winning them. He has been taught well from his Oklahoma background. He played as a guard at OSU and was a 4-year letterman. Did he score any points in those 4 years? I ask that because I have not been able to locate how much offense he had as a player. That would seem to be a factor in how he developed into the coach he is today.

    So is there an example of when focusing too much on defense becomes “fool’s gold?”

    I believe there is.

    Even though it is well-known that it is easier to teach young players defense than offense.

    Even though it is well-known that it is easier to bring consistent solid defense with you on the road versus consistent solid offense.

    Even though it is hard to win the close games without being able to execute needed defensive stops at key points of the game.

    Here are examples when I believe focusing too much on defense becomes “fool’s gold” -

    1. When putting the same effort into creating more offense instead of putting the same effort into playing tougher defense will create more points than deny them. For every point difference on this calculation we leave a point difference gain in our games. Is it better to win 85-75 or 64-60? Self would tell you he prefers the lower score because his team plays tougher defense. I’d prefer the bigger score because we won by 10 instead of 4. I’d prefer to have some margin at the end of a game.

    2. When you don’t have enough execution balance on both sides of the ball to keep your guys playing with energy. Regardless how a coach thinks or gets his guys to play, if players can’t execute well on offense, it is a matter of time before they soften up on defense. The risk of losing the momentum tide of the game is increased if you can’t be effective on either side of the ball. If you can’t be effective on offense, you are building the momentum of your opposition because they gain confidence by stopping your offense, just like you gain confidence from stopping their offense. Creating a basic tie is not a strategy that will produce the most wins.

    3. When you give up obvious opportunities because your focus isn’t in those areas. We have seen what perimeter shooting is possible from this team. But there is no way we will maintain that in the crunch part of the season unless we have offense structured to take advantage of it. But in order for us to structure offense to make the most of it, we’ll have to dedicate large amounts of our practice time in order to do that. At this point, Self has to give up time away from his defensive focus and put it towards offense. Part of this is a learning curve for him and his coaching staff. His offensive focus has always been around the hi/lo, a strategy that simply will not give enough return to focus there now.

    4. When the season moves towards the end and you still haven’t defined your team identity on the defensive end, time to focus more on offense. This is where we are. We play respectable defense, though we aren’t really a great rebounding team. But is it strong enough to succeed in March? I’m not sure it is strong enough to win #11.

    What counts at this time of year is momentum. We had momentum in our corner after we won in Texas. Since that time, we seem to have lost that edge on a consistent basis. It seems that we still have an identity crisis. We aren’t known as a heavy pressure defensive team, and we don’t play any certain strategy that is labeling us on offense either.

    It seems that we are trying to FORCE an inside offensive game. This is something that will come NATURAL if we don’t FORCE it. If we could run a little more offense that helps spread the floor and help us where are strength is (perimeter shooting) the post scoring will follow as a consequence of teams having to stretch their defense. This becomes all about running plays and sets that open up every scoring possibility we have.

    What scares me is I see our momentum fading. I see ISU’s momentum gaining. I watched both our game and theirs this weekend and they looked a heck of a lot better than us. Their offense was in high gear, and it helped energize their defense. They had a much easier time winning in Austin than we did, and that Texas team is much improved over when we played them last.

    I’m back to looking at our offense and not knowing what to call it. There is complete flatness in our offense, and the way we are playing right now, the long ball IS “fool’s gold” because we are using it to bail out our offense. When Frank hits a 3 with 2-seconds left on the shot clock and he forces the shot… that is “fool’s gold.” When we run real offense that opens up Brannen on a flowing catch-and-shoot shot, there is nothing “fool’s gold” about that.

    When we aren’t playing to our strengths (the long ball) we are playing “fool’s gold” basketball… thinking our medium-quality defense is going to salvage games for us.

    I appreciate Bill Self and what he has done for Kansas basketball. I just wish he had scored a few more points in his day to better appreciate both sides of the ball. “Fool’s gold” exists any time when you don’t play to your strengths because you are then counting on other areas to win games that are not your biggest strength. It seems like we are playing a game of “fool’s gold” every time we step on the hardwoods these days.

  • Bill Self is not going to change his philosophy, so what should we do? On his Championship team, is there anyone, except trading Mason for Robinson that you would replace on that team with someone from this team? Our 3rd string Center was Cole Aldridge. We pay him to lead this team his way. What we’ve already given up of defense to keep some people in the game for offense has bitten us in the butt several times this year. i.e. the end of the WVU game. When can you remember ever during Bill’s tenure losing a game on the defensive end with 8 seconds left?

  • @wrwlumpy

    “Bill Self is not going to change his philosophy, so what should we do?”

    We play one of his strategies… we just keep grinding on him!

    Gosh… this team is so close to being a FF caliber team. There is no way we’ll get there by just relying on our defense, while playing a sputtering offense.

    You can already see the writing on the wall. A March loss where we score 62 points.

    I’m not saying we become a Roy team. Roy is too much the inverse of Bill. He gave up way too much on the defensive side of the ball, pushing his team for run outs.

    I think we keep the focus on becoming a well-rounded team. It would be a gigantic suicidal leap to throw defensive focus under the bus. That isn’t what I’m trying to express in this thread. I’m just trying to stress balance.

    This Kansas team scoring 72 at home against TCU after a tough road loss is telling me we left offense in the locker room.

    It isn’t too late to get this team turning towards momentum again. Ultimately… this is what it is all about.

    Man… when Brannen goes out there and nails 3 or 4 long balls, you see the guys get fired up!

    “When can you remember ever during Bill’s tenure losing a game on the defensive end with 8 seconds left?”

    Michigan. Sometimes we are just going to lose. In our Michigan loss we scored 85 points… granted that was an OT game. That was the most points we scored in a loss in the tourney under Self… toss that game out of my calculations and our average point production in those losses was 62.5.

  • The Chalmer’s Miracle play that we ran for Greene that was wide open was the first time I have seen that play in two years. We quit running it after every team opened their scouting report practice to stop it. Maybe it is time to bring that play back for He, Frank, Kelly, Wayne or Svi. I love me a clicking offense and so does Coach. But when your starting Center picks up two fouls in 45 seconds and a third before half time within 50 seconds of coming back in, then things get difficult when there is no big man and the opposing defense concentrates on only the perimeter shooters.

  • @drgnslayr i think Phil Jackson and his what…9 championships?..would disagree with your characterization that NBA coaches mimic different styles to win at all costs. Seems he had a pretty specific identity (triangle offense).

    Anyway, not just being argumentative. I liked much of your post. Good read.

  • @wrwlumpy

    What I’m noticing about Brannen is he is only effective with a catch-and-shoot play. The second he puts the ball down for a dribble, he kills his chances of scoring. There is so many ways we could use him, yet we don’t.

    Here is Brannen’s worth to this team.

    He is shooting 49.3% from 3. That is an effective shooting % of 73.9% from 2. No Bill Self team ever shot 73% in the post! There is nothing “fool’s gold” about that!

    I get the feeling like he doesn’t want his team to score a lot because it takes away from his philosophy about defense. The game should be won from the defensive side of the ball. Pro coaches have a better understanding of the game. The game is won by the team that outscores the other team, whether it be from good defense, good offense, or both.

  • @drgnslayr Great argument counselor. I get what you’re saying, but couldn’t we also argue it’d be fool’s gold to bank on 3s? We have seen teams fall on nights where their 3s aren’t falling. Love to see our guys drop 3s all over & beat the arses of Kensucky, Duke, Arizona, etc. Curious to know how many teams with offensive focus on 3s have won NC. Statistically, will 3s fall for all 5 tourney games? Without data, I’ll have go with my gut that says we can’t bank on 3s. I get what you’re saying. Very frustrating to watch Self team giving up leads, disappearing 3s, grinding outs… Perhaps I’ll start watching NBA - 3s fall everywhere!! All said, I’d trade 11th for another NC - God help us!!

  • @icthawkfan316

    I think he had 11 championships!

    I think his triangle worked because he had a couple of the best shooting guards to ever play the game… Jordan and Bryant.

    Bryant had a problem with that offense and started ignoring it and playing one-on-one… it took quite a while before LA got back to winning titles again.

  • @drgnslayr True that having Kobe & MJ definitely was a huge factor, but neither of those players won a championship with other coaches running other offenses. And he won in his second year as coach of the Lakers, so it didn’t take him all that long to get Kobe on board with his system.

    I’m just saying Phil is more like how you describe college coaches - had a rigid system identity, “recruited” (in his case signed players and assembled a team) to fit that system, etc.

  • Banned


    In this new day and age. A coach cant’ always just recruit or sign the players they want, but I do see you’re point. If you’re going to be a system coach then they need to recruit or draft according to their system. Even if it means passing on a big name.

  • @drgnslayr

    The important part of your post (for me) is the offense enabling defense.

    I wrote at length about this recently and then expressed it as an epigram. I will condense it further.

    Defense starts offense. Offense starts defense.

    Now I will crucify it further.



    If one does not energize the other in one direction and then back in the other direction the engine runs roughly and inefficiently.

    And it is not only an energy thing.

    Made baskets eliminate transition baskets and stop one from being sped up.

    Forcing the opponent to guard tires him for offense.

    A made 3 means you only really have guard the three to build a lead.

    Rapid ball movement up the floor tires the defense more than the offense and so makes them easier to guard at the other end.

    Everything you do on one end alters what can happen on the other.

    Defense is never fool’s gold.

    Offense is never fool’s gold.

    The only fool’s gold is thinking both are not started by their opposites.

    Now, practically speaking, defense is not as fun to practice and play, as offense so, coaches that emphasize defense get a bigger incremental bump toward getting better and toward balanced offense and defense than coaches that emphasize offense, or even balance.

    Kids by them selves on a court do not fantasize stopping the winning basket.

    They fantasize making the winning basket.

    If I were Self, I would require players to fanticize about game winning defensive plays AND game winning offensive plays. I would have drills devised to play them out. Software games, too.

    Anything you want to happen, positive imaging of it helps. Role play it. Then practice it.

  • Ah, great topic, and as usual, great conversation starter from @drgnslayr.

    Offense and defense. There is a difference.

    Defense can lead to offense, but does offense ever lead to defense?

    @jaybate-1.0 touched on this above.

    The link is a weak one, though, Sure, there are some connections. Offense can affect defense. But really, not much. Wearing out the opposition? Sure. Making a basket to set up your press? Yep. But not a lot.

    But defense directly leads to offense. Defense can be some of your best offense. It’s how football and basketball are similar. I guess I am a big, big believer in defense creating offense (in both football and basketball).

    I think though, in basketball, it’s much more pronounced.

    But very importantly, you don’t have to give up one (defense) to have the other (offense).

    I firmly believe that you can play a fast paced offense, shooting early in the shot clock, while still playing Self’s way on defense. Perhaps combining Roy’s offense with Self’s defense.

    Now, do they compliment each other? Maybe not. A faster paced offense might be paired better with a trapping, pressing, defense. If I knew what wines went with what foods, I’d give you an example, but I don’t. You get my point.

    Again, though, I think you can have both. Self’s defense plus a more open, free, and frenetic offense.

    In the final analysis, this season, I’d take everything Self teaches, and add in some specific scheming to get multiple three point looks each game, to capitalize on our strengths, and I think we’d be at peak efficiency.

    Great quote from @drgnslayr: ““Fool’s gold” exists any time when you don’t play to your strengths …”

    That’s a cut and paste right there. Literally.

  • @drgnslayr I don’t watch alot of NBA ball. What I have seen while channel surfing is with a 24 sec shot clock there isn’t much time to run a play. It looks like NBA relies on guards that can bring the ball up court, shoot the 3 and have bigs under the rim for the put back on a miss. So if the offense doesn’t run plays, there isn’t much need of defense except for the rebound. Which accounts for 110-105 scores.

  • @HawksWin But if our 3’s are falling with a 50% rate, why not let’em fly instead of restricting them?

  • @HighEliteMajor I’m more of a gin or beer drinker myself, but I can’t pass up a chance to be pedantic, so here’s a quick lesson in wine pairing:

    The easiest rule is match the color of the wine to the color of the meat, so red wine for steak and white wine for fish. But what it really comes down to is you want the wine to balance out the flavors of the dish. So richer/heartier meals call for drier wines, where lighter meals call for sweeter or effervescent wine.

    Between that and learning to make creme brulee (which is dead easy), you can wind up even happier than your wife on her next birthday.

  • Great discussion. Regarding Bill Self’s personal h.s. scoring, no time to look up his stats, but he was a Mr.Oklahoma basketball award winner (like Reed was for KS, and Collison was for Iowa), and I just dont think you can win such an award without scoring a bunch of pts. You dont win it with “defense” or “going for 50/50 balls”. Same concept as saying theres no such thing as an All-Defensive McDAA.

    Also, some people that knew Self when he came to KU to be a young 23yr old student-asst coach, said he routinely would torch people (“in Robinson gym” ) with 3s and dropped 20-30pts regularly when he’d play pkup bball. But he also was known for his scrappy hustle & grit.

    Maybe this actually explains why he just cant stop himself from recruiting SCORERS first, then trying to add the defense and intensity. Its because he himself did it all. Now in Div1, he may not have been the elitest of athletes, so I’d advise checking OkState records for his college stats…(maybe I’ll have time to research all that later). Take care

  • I think the more open early shot clock offense does effect defense. Mostly because Defense is so much more about mentality. Also, kids now days (can’t believe I’m saying that! Guess I am old!), seem to celebrate every offensive play they make. Most of the time that celebration leads at least to a momentary defensive lapse. Similarly some seem to pout when they miss (Jamari is most demonstrative in this). These mental transitions from offense to defense are killers to the teams overall mentality. That is why Self makes them “run the stuff.” A miss after “running the stuff” is nothing to bemoan as a make after “running the stuff” is nothing to celebrate. These are just results to be expected and are so practiced that transitioning back to defense is simple. A lay up from Ellis after a post feed leaves everyone in position and in the mindset to play good D!

  • @ralster : Maybe someone else can verify this: Self tweaked his knee during the summer between his Jr and Sr year during one of Larry Brown’s KU Summer camp. Looks like his total pts were as follows: Sr year was 222, JR 212, SO 177, FR 76. Not sure how to find high school stats! (I could have messed up and misread a line or have a number wrong but those are close!)

    Food for thought cyber friends: Self graduated in '85 and the 3 wasn’t instituted until '87. Is this the reason why he has an aversion to the three ball? Just kidding. But seriously, is this the reason?

  • @icthawkfan316

    “I’m just saying Phil is more like how you describe college coaches - had a rigid system identity, “recruited” (in his case signed players and assembled a team) to fit that system, etc.”

    Could be. And this is just my perspective and nothing more.

    Another pro coach I would put at the top who does it his way only is Coach Pop at SA. He does it his way but the guys he counts on most have been with him a decade or so.

  • Excellent thread going on here. There is so much to pick through…

    What has caught my eye the most is “does good offense help create good defense?”

    @jaybate-1.0 has some good points about that.

    Let me flip it another direction. I know that bad offense can lead to bad defense. How many times have we seen players blow a dunk or bunny and turn right around and make a dumb foul on the other end? That almost seems to be automatic. Anytime a Jayhawk is in foul trouble and blows a bunny I scream at the TV… “don’t foul, don’t foul!” Many times they foul!

    In my day, I was a defensive specialist and a rebounder. Period. I had offense but never to the caliber of many players on my teams. It still weighs down my preference for defense. I’d much rather own a guy by smoking his shot than stuffing over him.

    I also felt like games that are “off to the races” (like many of Roy William’s games) were frustrating games to watch (and play in). Your team’s offense is pounding the heck out of another team’s defense and you have a 3 point lead?

    I tilt towards defense and I get tired of watching teams score, score, score. I like seeing teams struggle to score.

    But I started this thread because I see real trouble with this team moving forward. And if we get our offense shut down I don’t think we have the quality of defense to pull very many of these games out.

    Enough theory… right now we need to win games! In some games moving forward we may have our best shot by making it more of a race than a stand off.

    I don’t want to blast Self because he focuses on defense. I question him for not giving enough focus to our offense. Many of the problems this team faces relates more to their youth than anything else. We need everything we can to help us create a margin of safety. Putting more focus on offense right now seems like our best bet in creating margin today, and also tomorrow.

    So if we do put more focus on offense, shouldn’t we play to our strength first (perimeter shooting) and then spin off some interior scoring by spreading the defense?

  • Interesting… Maybe Fred Hoiberg from afar + this gang of KU 3gunners right in his hand, gets Self to dabble more with the 3ball…?

  • @ralster

    I have to admit my man-crush on the Mayor this year. Man… the way they shredded Texas a couple of days ago was really impressive. All of his starters and a few deep on his bench… all of these guys can not only score, but they can take their man in match ups. Many of our guys are limited in how they score. And how many of those ISU guys were McDs AAs? Any of them?

    Ralster… maybe you know. Does the Mayor recruit guys most based on their offensive capabilities or does he develop it in them when they come to ISU?

    I know part of the ISU game is around his offense and the sets he runs. But he has the guys seeing things during the game. One or two of their guys see something and they exploit it, either by themselves or together by using pick and rolls, etc. They seem to be taught less exact plays and more direct theories on how to score and what to look for. Their offense seems light years ahead of ours. I don’t think we can run offense like that even when all of these guys are seniors.

    My only break from “over-populating the world” this weekend was to see the ISU-Texas game and KU-TCU. Seeing both of those games together put me in a funk about Kansas moving forward.

    I’m looking at development… a while back we experienced Kelly “breaking out”… Brannen learning to D a little and rebound. We noticed progress. But now it looks like the guys are sort of spinning their wheels. Some moving backwards. We can’t seem to count on any of our bigs to be consistent. Perry is our most-consistent big. Wayne… oh man. Wayne… I recall he had a wide open drive to the bucket with a defender playing right under the bucket and Wayne took it all the way to the rim and forced the shot and missed. He was lucky he didn’t get the charge call. I’m watching that and I’m saying to myself… “Wayne… dude… pull up from 8 feet and bank it in. It’s a shot a 3rd grader would make. But you had to force the action. Why?”

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