Winners of Close Games because of style of play or despite style of play?

  • I’ve been pondering some similarities about the Bill Self championships and, in particular, a characteristic that might not be a coincidence.

    Both the 2008 NCAA championship and the World University Games championship required overtime.

    Now, I realize the 2012 NCAA championship did not, but the games leading up to that game were so close that they might as well have been OT (the Purdue and Ohio State games were classics, IMHO)

    The game against Serbia was a 1 pointer. Russia was close until the last few minutes. Other games weren’t so close, so maybe I’m looking for a pattern and seeing what I’m looking for… or maybe it’s somewhat real.

    What do you think?

    Does KU’s style lead us to play down to the same level of opponents? Does it create tight games that shouldn’t be so close? Or is it somehow keeping us competitive against opponents that should have the upper-hand? Does it give ‘grit’ and ‘heart’ a chance to pull out a victory at the end despite mis-matches?

  • @bskeet I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have “played down” to the level of our opponents for several years now. We don’t have the 25, 35+ point blowouts (going from memory now, so everyone is free to pick it apart) that we used to have under Roy. We either play tight games with opponents that we should thrash or even get down 15-20 points and have to come back to win these games. It’s been mentioned several times in the past few years that we lack that “killer instinct”.

  • @bskeet

    I think it is a byproduct of Self playing slow ball (not counting WUG). Our Serbia game in WUG was close because they were a good team that matched up well to create a tight game. But in general, underdog teams prefer a slow game to limit possessions because it gives them a better chance to hang around close in games.

    Put that with our hi/lo, limiting the hot/cold impact from trey. Perhaps more consistent, but lower scoring games. And then there is our defense, which typically plays well and fairly consistent.

    It seems to push us towards lower, closer scores.


    Perhaps the shot clock bumping down to 30-seconds will create quicker moving games for us and larger scoring disparities(?)

  • @nuleafjhawk No doubt that you are correct.

    The fewer possessions in a game, the more likely that a poor opponent can stick with a superior opponent. Typically, the more possessions, the bigger sample size, the better team will prevail.

    It is something that we’ve seen wrangle Self coached teams into dogfights that shouldn’t happen (and other coaches as well). My best KU example was our 2013-14 game at TTU. Tubby made it a one possession game, and Self obliged by playing slower than molasses.

    On the issue of team winning close games – good teams do win close games. They find a way. Some would argue that percentages will catch up to you. Sometimes that is true. But truly good teams that may play a more grind it out game (such as Self’s teams) can certainly win many more close games than they lose.

  • Excellent points all.

    I think the combination between Self’s style of play & the opponents style of play dicates @bskeet question.

    Recently we usually are at the mercy of the opposing teams pace. If a team plays zone, unless they are horrible at it will mean a low scoring game for KU. If they speed the game up we usually play up to that level instead of what KU does in a normal game.

  • @BeddieKU23 good pts! We also haven’t played a bunch of crappy teams. The final win in the wug’s was grit and heart!

  • In general the better team should win, whether the game is close or not because they are the better team. But in a low scoring game, the lesser team has a better chance because they can increase their odds ever so slightly.

    Think of it like a single dice roll. Let’s say that the better team wins the possession on a roll of three or higher while the lesser team prevails on rolls of two or one. The lesser team has worse odds on every single roll. However, if you can limit the overall number of rolls, the odds become less important because the statistical probabilities don’t have the opportunity to even out in the same way that the raw talent of the better team doesn’t have a chance to take over in a lower scoring game.

    If you only won on the low numbers, and you needed to get more good rolls than bad, your chances increase if there are only 15 total rolls vs if there are 75 because chances are those bad rolls will start showing up as you roll over and over again.

    Stanford did this to KU, turning the game into a brutal slow game, and once KU fell behind, they could not come back.

  • @justanotherfan

    Yes… it is a good analogy to look at gambling. Your best chance of “being a winner” in Vegas is to go to the game with the best player odds and let it all ride ONE TIME! (unless you are a successful card counter)

    Vegas loves winners. Why? Because they will come back 10-fold after winning and will probably lose the next X times… a lot more than they ever won!

    Vegas wins a fortune by just maintaining a very slight % winning advantage. Over time, the formula is in use millions and millions of times, guaranteeing their success, because luck or any other forces is not an issue when you apply quantum mathematics.

    In a basketball game, the amount of possessions isn’t a huge number… nothing in the “quantum math” category… but still, the higher the number the more likely the favored team will win and issues like luck (who gets hot) becomes less of a factor.

  • @nuleafjhawk said:

    We don’t have the 25, 35+ point blowouts (going from memory now, so everyone is free to pick it apart) that we used to have under Roy.

    This is precisely the difference I was sensing… Roy’s teams would blow teams out. (But they didn’t win a championship)

    Blowouts are rare with Self’s teams, despite the fact that (in my opinion) Self’s teams are comprised of greater talent and athleticism than Roy’s teams. Yes, I think Self is a better recruiter at Kansas than Roy was. I loved Roy, but he did not seem to land the top recruits. Of course, there is great talent beyond the top 5 recruits and Roy got plenty of that.

    But I digress.

    Roy’s teams were like a dynamo while Self’s teams are more like a bulldozer. It’s probably rock/scissors/paper to some degree: each style has its strength and weakness.

  • @bskeet Yes, except for the 08 team. They blew out other teams by 20+ on a regular basis. Their point differential by seasons end was +20.5 or something crazy like that.

  • @bskeet Anytime we start to blow a team out, we let them back in the game. How many 10+ point leads have we blown in the past two years? Mental toughness.

  • @bskeet Well. In my opinion (who cares!) I think that Self gets higher ranked Rivals kinds of fellows, but Roy took good athletes and got greatness out of a lot of them. It seems as though Self underperforms sometimes. Pardon my laziness, but I’ll bet anything that Roy had more elite eight and final four teams than Self (I’ve been wrong before) and could have easily had at least three rings with a lucky bounce here or there. I love Self. I don’t want Roy back, but he did put some dang exciting teams on the floor for us.

  • @bskeet One of the other factors I have been rolling around the gourd is our insistence on playing 100% man to man defense at all times. It truly is the best defense, but it is a lot more work than the zone. Which is why we shot so poorly in the Gold Medal game, imo. We were gassed. In back to back to back games, fatigue sets in, imo. I think that is one of the factors why we don’t win the Big 12 conference tourney every year, like we do the conference.

  • @Lulufulu True… good point!

  • An intriguing thought: getting into the heads of all NCAA Tournament coaches who have neutralized and defeated Bill Self’s system, searching for common threads in such schematics.

  • @REHawk One common thread would appear to be fortunate 3 pt. shooting.

  • @REHawk Another common thread, at least recently: make sure Self’s best big (at the 5 position) doesn’t suit up, and make sure the other key guys play worn down and beat up.


    Man to man is what they play in the NBA and if you look at all the KU players that have gone to the League, defense is what keeps them there; Wiggins is the only player I can think that is offensively minded, although his defense is also excellent and would be enough to keep him there.

  • @bskeet


  • @ParisHawk Perry Ellis’s knee!

  • @JayHawkFanToo Man to man is better defense, period. It just takes alot out of the team when you are playing 3 games in a row, like the WUG, and the Big 12 tourney.


    I was going to add to your comment that a M2M defense also takes it out on the other team… then I finished reading your post and you mentioned how it added to our exhaustion because of playing 3 games in a row. In that case, yes, it took more out of us because we did it in every game and had to carry the exhaustion burden in to every game.

    So… good point! Perhaps the next time we get in a situation where games are too close together or our depth is low… we should consider trying to run some minutes of zone in the early game(s) just to help save our legs. That strategy should be added to the strategy of subbing more to keep our legs fresh on our top players.


    I don’t see any circumstance in the NCAA where KU would play 9 games in 12 day and 8 of them in 10 days. Even in the Conference post-season tournament the most you would play is 4 games, assuming you finished in the bottom 4 , or 3 otherwise; in the NCAA Tournament is 2 games at the time or 3 if you are at the very bottom and have to play in what they now call the first round and even then, there is some rest in between games.

    Also, keep in mind that KU had to play against a German team that had played one less game and in a weaker pool. I believe this experience will pay dividends big time in March.

  • This ought to be pretty easy to sort through with a stat pac and some patience, which I and most of us thoroughly lack.

    That being said, I suspect Self’s more talented teams had just as big of winning margins (both average and standard deviations) as Self’s.

    Self’s problem since 2009 and onwards has been that though he has signed quite a lot of talent some seasons, mostly he has been recruiting against a stiff current that has denied him nearly as much talent advantage over Big 12 teams as Roy usually had during his KU tenure.

    You can’t blow teams out frequently, when the talent gap between you and other teams lessens, especially in the injury riddled seasons.

    And let’s face it, gang, KU has been snake bitten with recruiting adversity and operable injuries the last 3-4 seasons especially, which is driving most of the remembering going on in this thread.

    The combination of Self recruiting:

    No projected OAD post men;

    Increasingly short adidas stacks;

    No projected OAD point guards;

    Frankly weaker and weaker backup bigs; plus

    lots of operable injuries to starters AND backup rotation players; and

    frequently early departures that Roy had to contend relatively little with…

    has left Self in a strategic position where playing to keep it close with injured players and a shrunken talent gap has made it tougher for Self to blow anyone out.

    So: yes, I suspect there are fewer blow outs under Self, but I believe circumstances of recruiting and injury, especially recently, have channelled him toward a play it close strategy recently, and selective memory emphasizing the recent is exaggerating perception of the real phenomenon.

    And remember that when Roy finally brought his system back to Chapel Hell and got greater numbers of good players each season he won a couple of rings pronto, while continuing his intermittent blow outs and getting upset.

    So we have complexity involved here in the drive set producing the outcomes of both coaches and we have selective memory focusing on recent Self and late Roy.

  • @JayHawkFanToo We will have several occasions this year where we should be playing 3 games in a row. Maui and the Big 12 tourney ( God willing) come to mind. Wayne shot 6 for 28 in the Gold medal game. Perry went 6 for 21. Nic went 2 for 10. My passing thought was maybe our defense (man to man) is so intense, it takes more out of us than say a Baylor, who plays zone, which in turn, could affect our offense - our shots. Which might explain why, even though we have been the best team in conference for 12 years, we haven’t displayed the same dominance in the conference tournament.

    Now, the argument could be made that we simply have already won the conference, and really aren’t that motivated to win the tournament title. I certainly don’t have the answers - i simply am curious if 3 games in a row of tough man to man defense wears down our shooters on the offensive end. Now, the flip side is Frank didn’t seem to be affected as much, going 6 for 13 in the final game, so nothing I am speculating can be etched in stone. I’ve wondered why we have struggled against Baylor in the conference tourney at times - does their passive zone keep them fresher in that 2nd/ 3rd game in a row? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • @KUSTEVE How much oomph would you have left after 7 games in 9 days of European style play? Except for the “wanto” to win it all, I’m surprised they were even able to walk off after the final. These guys should be ready for anything this fall.

  • @brooksmd That could explain it. What explains us winning conference the past 4 years, with 1 tournament conference title in the last 4?

  • @JayHawkFanToo said:


    Man to man is what they play in the NBA and if you look at all the KU players that have gone to the League, defense is what keeps them there; Wiggins is the only player I can think that is offensively minded, although his defense is also excellent and would be enough to keep him there.

    League and defense is kind of an oxymoron isn’t it? How can you D an offense that only has 24 seconds to setup?

  • @KUSTEVE last 2, no Embiid, half a Perry.

  • @brooksmd

    The NBA has changed in the last few years and a lot more defense is being played and players are actually bragging when they are selected to the All-defensive team, as shown in the playoffs, when players would get really up after a good defensive stand or play or a steal and so did the fans.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 That IS a factor. I’ll still be curious to see what our shooting % is in that 3rd game out in Maui, however.

  • @JayHawkFanToo They have always played defense in the NBA. “They don’t play defense” and “only the last 5 minutes count” are two phrases usually uttered after the phrase “I don’t watch NBA because”. If someone doesn’t watch something than how do they know? I watched JoJo White at KU. He was an outstanding defender. I saw him embarrass a projected All-American guard to the point that the guy could hardly get the ball over the half court line. I was ecstatic when he was drafted by my favorite NBA team, the Celtics. I was amazed that at the beginning of his career the only question raised was “can he play defense well enough”.

    The defense played was much more intense than it is now. What is now a flagrant 2 was a hard foul. Also remember that when there were 8-10 teams in the league you played the same people over and over. Part of the amazing thing about Wilt’s statistics were that they were generally garnered against other very good centers with an occasional Ray Felix thrown in.

    Who thinks that Detroit got where they did by now playing defense? When MJ is mentioned as the best ever one of the main arguments is that he was all defense year after year. That was 30 years ago.

  • @JayHawkFanToo LeBron, Kobe, MJ are/were elite defenders. This is why they were the best players of their era’s. Those guys are/were on the all-defensive team just about every season.

    As far as team defense goes, it has always been ramped up a few notches during the playoffs. The grind of the regular season has always meant teams don’t always exert maximum effort every game. This is why playoff scoring tends to be quite a bit less than regular season scoring.

  • @sfbahawk @Texas-Hawk-10

    I wholly agree with both of you, I do concede that during some periods, offense was emphasized but by no means defense was not played. Like you said, many fans were tuned off a while back and don’t watch the NBA enough to see the sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes. There is no question in my mind that in the last few years defense has been emphasized more; maybe not to the level of offense but by a lot anyway. The raw talent in the NBA is head an shoulders above college and I always get a chuckle when people think that a team like Kentucky with all its stars could beat some team in the NBA…every player in the NBA was star in college and most ride the pine in the NBA.

  • @JayHawkFanToo @sfbahawk Defense is still played! It just been less noticeable because rule changes through the years. New handcheck rules that get pickier and pickier every year, the widening of the lane mixed with defensive 3 seconds, and the lack of traveling violations called, all hamper the defense’s ability. This is why you see more emphasis on having a good stretch 4 and a lack of emphasis on true 5’s. In today’s NBA a true 5 has been taken away on both ends. Because the lane is so wide and the fact that the defensive player can’t sit in the lane anymore it doesn’t allow the same defensive presence it used to. This lack of defensive presence is only accentuated on the offensive end. Why have a big ogre under the basket allowing the defense to camp in the lane? It doesn’t make sense. So teams have moved to a stretch or uber athletic 5 in order to clear the lane even more. There is no weakside help on drives anymore unless you want to give up a wide open 3. Hence the reason LeBron surrounds himself with sharpshooters and big men that can keep the lane cleared out.

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