Its the Apparent Embargo, Stupids: Life in an Age of Diminished Basketball Realities, When Basketball Expectations Soar with National Hype

  • KU makes beau coup money for a basketball program. Its combined TV, gate, memorabilia, and adidas contract make it more bucks up than its ever been and in the same league with the other elite programs–not bad for basketball program just east of wheat country in the CST in a low population state not endowed massively with oil, booze, or tobacco.

    But I’m not talkin’bout money, now, I’m talkin’bout talent.

    KU is no longer part of the elite teams.

    Or to put it another way, the elite teams have cleaved into super rich and the rich and KU is no where near the super rich and at the bottom of the rich and lives late recruiting season to late recruiting season sliding further and further onto the threshold of sub elite.

    MSU, despite its great accomplishments under Tom Izzo (notice I call him Tom now after he beat us fair and square without tire irons) has always been at the low end of the elite in terms talent. Izzo has always been able to have two star quality players in his line up, but rarely if ever more.

    KU under Self has often been able to field three such players, and always at least two, so for much of Self’s KU tenure Izzo has been beating Self, as he has been beating other coaches of elite programs with less talent.

    Now Self finds himself increasingly not equivalent to MSU in talent, but below MSU.

    Still, KU and MSU were at least comparable teams last night. Both could play sub-par games, though KU shot quite a bit worse, and play a close, exciting game.

    KU had one credible All Conference caliber player capable of staying on the floor with players from nationally ranked teams: Perry Ellis. MSU had two: Valentine and Costello.

    Top coaches like Izzo and Self can often hang around more talent with less talent, when they have the same number of impact players; i.e., when they have two or three impact players.

    But reduce a top coach to 1 true impact player, like, say, Perry Ellis, and sooner or later the rabbits stop hopping out of the top hats.

    This season the hype artists have crooned about KU having a potential Final Four team with great talent and depth and experience.

    Experience is the new elixir that dreams are made of among the less talented teams.

    Since KU is now out of the super elite for sure and teetering on the bottom edge of elite, experience is the word to hype the KU team to its fans.

    And that is what we have been served on a designer platter.

    Anyone that saw Kentucky play has to realize that this year’s KU team is not remotely in the same category of talent as UK and this is a down year for UK.

    This year’s KU team could hang around UK on a decent shooting night, and maybe win if UK stumbled badly.

    But this is an if hardly worth talking about.

    What matters is that KU is so diluted in talent that it has to play its A game to be lesser ranked teams like MSU.

    Self no longer has enough developed talent ready to play to resort to grind it out against even lesser ranked teams, when his guys are cold as Ice.

    Increasingly, KU has to play near its best to beat any ranked team.

    The days of beating Memphis for a ring with KU’s B game are long gone.

    KU can’t even beat a 13th, or 15th ranked MSU team with but two anchor players–Valentine and Costello–with it B-game.

    The apparent talent embargo is working.

    And until it is broken, KU’s talent level is going to keep declining is like to keep settling downward,

    Ironically, at the same time, fan expectations are going to keep going up so long as Big Media decides likely for television ratings and Big Gaming benefits to market KU as a top team, because of Self’s ability to create imitation silk purses out of at most top grain cowhide, and on the off seasons high great sow’s ears.

    Reality: Bill Self is starting Jamari Traylor at the 5 and backing him up with Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson.

    And his top recruit, Carlton Bragg, is a season away from being a player, and so is apprenticing to Perry Ellis at the four.

    Self came to KU with the label of a guy that could recruit at least some of the best players in the country to KU.

    He was not billed as a guy that could bring you the 20-50 guys.

    Maybe he was over sold as a recruiter.

    But early on he raked in a lot of good talent on his teams.

    After he signed Andrew Wiggins, which was supposed to open the flood gates on the 1-20 types three seasons ago (counting this one), Self has not pulled in the required 2-3 top players required to play the OAD game, at least, not the top two or three top players that can actually play immediately.

    And as the talent has declined, the W&L statement, which finally does not lie, has trended downward.

    Self has kept finding ways to eek out conference titles by out maneuvering coaches in a conference similarly increasingly unable to sign top talent.

    But increasingly when KU plays a ranked team, KU has to play its A-game, or it doesn’t win.

    Self may have restocked the larder with a lot of 20-50 talent, and it may keep him winning conference titles in the diminished B12, but on the national scene, the effect of the apparent recruiting embargo is now beginning to be felt in its true force.

    The next step of decline will be that KU will not beat the ranked teams even when it brings its A-game.

    The loss to MSU may be a harbinger of that.

    MSU is a a very good team, but not an elite team in terms of talent.

    KU would have beaten MSU on a normal shooting night.

    But KU just wasn’t talented enough to get into a grind with Izzo and walk out with a W.

    Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, and likely LSU, Virginia, and Cal are at another level than KU.

    The embargo has worked.

    KU is still a dangerous team, because Self is a dangerous coach and KU has a lot of shooters and it still plays pretty sticky defense. On a hot night, KU could beat any of the teams mentioned above, if they don’t bring their A-games.

    But if both teams bring their A-games, well, KU’s front court is Jamari Traylor, Landon Lucas and Hunter Mickelson, with Perry Ellis and an apprenticing Carlton Bragg.

    There is a difference between that front court and the front courts of the other schools mentioned–a distinct difference.

    They are sharply more talented.

    Unless Bragg develops at the speed of light and Diallo escapes clearance hell.

    Embargos allowed to go on long enough can starve anything, or anyone.

  • @jaybate-1.0

    There could be an embargo but I’m not convinced it’s from an outside force. I have to believe we have missed on multiple recruits bc Self refuses to play some high profile players over low ranked fifth year non-producing seniors.

    Wigs and Selden got plenty of minutes. However, Selby, Alexander and apparently now Bragg ride the pine watching less talented players get valuable minutes. Minutes these youngsters should be getting to learn how to play to prepare for March.

  • @VailHawk Selby was suspended for 9 games and then almost immediately got injured and played hurt the rest of the year. Self started Selby as soon as he was eligible to play and still gave him way more minutes that he deserved when he came back from the foot injury.

    Selby is the cautionary tale of what can happen when a presumed OAD is dead set on being OAD and ends up being a bust. At least Cliff was indicating he realized he needed at least another year in college before the investigation started.

  • @VailHawk

    Here is the problem with the hypothesis that Self is sabotaging himself and KU.

    How probable is it really to think that Self would play Traylor, and Lucas, over Mickelson, and Bragg, if he thought that KU would be net better playing Mickelson and Bragg?

    Why would Self do this?

    Why would he play inferior players for a season, if they really were inferior?

    I know he has the FU money to do it. So do Cal and Roy and K. Why is Self the only coach of these four that plays inferior players knowingly?

    And if he does it unknowingly, why is he the only one of the four to do it unknowingly?

    And why would he have as high of a W&L statement the last several years as any of these other four, and won a ring, as they have won one or two, in the same period, while playing inferior players knowingly, or unknowingly?

    It just doesn’t add up.

    The probable thing is he is playing the guys he is, because the net benefits of each of the players, both those that seem inferior to many fans, and those that seem superior to those same fans, really aren’t inferior at the stages of development that they are at; that there is some advantage to playing these guys that everyone thinks are inferior. And in turn, Self is sort of keeping up with the Joneses by doing so. But bottom line, he unfortunately just is not getting OADs and 5-stars that are nearly as good as the ones at Duke, UK and UNC and so on.

    I am increasingly convinced that not all OADs are created equal.

    Nike’s OADs tend to be quite a bit better and more productive sooner than adidas OADs, and they tend to be able to supply any given team they choose with a lot more of them.

    Self for the most part is signing inferior OADs and inferior 5-stars to what the other elite programs are signing. These are OADs and 5-stars that can barely cut it their first seasons, if at all, and most often only as part time players.

    And all this talk of Self’s system being so tough to learn that it takes his OADs and 5-stars years longer than other programs is incorrect.

    Coach K’s system is every bit as tough as Self’s.

    Izzo’s system is very tough to learn.

    Roy’s system is definitely as tough as Self’s to learn.

    The difference is that K, Cal, Izzo, and Roy are getting better OADs and 5-stars to start with. Their guys are just flat better than the ones we sign. Thus they can play sooner and contribute more.

    Would Perry have been a red shirt on last year’s UK and Duke teams? Perry is our best player.

    How about this season, when Duke and UK are supposedly down. Would Perry start on either team? I doubt it.

    I am not knocking Perry. He has turned into a very good player his fourth season. We are lucky to have him. He can help us go a long way with the proper mix. But does anyone think Perry is better than Valentine or Costello over the course of a season? Does anyone think Perry is better than the first five, or 7 on UK? How about on Duke?

    I just think we are in a recruiting crisis that is increasingly coming home to roost.

  • @jaybate-1.0

    I haven’t been as brutal on Self after this loss as I have been on other losses.

    But… he can be downright hardheaded!

    “Why would he play inferior players for a season, if they really were inferior?”

    I guess because he believes his blind support will help lift those players to play to their abilities. Wayne was almost a complete dud last year and he stayed in the starting lineup. He should have been pulled, even for no other reason than to create a “reset opportunity” for him. Sometimes sitting a player creates that. It is just enough of a shocking moment to make them focus on what they are doing. Bill just forced Wayne to play through it. At a certain point, I just didn’t think it was fair, not only to the team but to Wayne. When Wayne was bad he didn’t look like he wanted to be out there. But yet… he still played a ton of minutes and started.

    At a certain point… that became completely illogical.

  • This is THE question: Why would he play inferior players for a season, if they really were inferior?

    Indeed. Is he a practice coach? Why the quick hook for some and the long leash (no leash) on others (Seldon)? Is it his view of ‘toughness’ and ‘energy’ that trumps results?

    Obviously, he is more successful than not, but our results and the way we get to those results in big games and tournament losses have shown a pattern. Duke has had it’s spetacular failures too, but they’ve had their spectacular success to offset. Very different approach to the game that perhaps has more upward potential versus our consistency.

    I’m distressed by the words that come first out of Bill’s mouth downplaying shooting prowess and success and then are parroted by our players. Case in point:

    “That’s the goal (making shots),” Manning said, “but you can’t expect to come in and make shots"

    From Coaches mouth to players ears, then out of players mouths too. Guess what, we now have a ‘created’ negative culture about hitting baskets from outside. and then we’re surprised that it comes to be. Saw Coach K breaking down video of his offense, ball goes in and 4 players all standing at the 3 pt line in shooting ready position…and they are COACHED to do that. Do you think they have a negative pov towards their shots? Do they always succeed and hit, of course not.

    We see this negative approach to shooting also in the lack of scheming for outside shooting. And then to top it off after we’ve run down our outside game, we play our most challenged inside scoring players the majority of the minutes in the big game.

    I’m tired of the false talk about “our best shooting team” or “player X showed us so much in off season” ie (Hunter this year).

    From now on, it’s judging by the results.

    One question for the smart people of the board:

    If I recall early in the game when MSU was shooting horrific, I think around 24%, Jamari had 4 of his 7 RB’s I think before he first substituted out. The ball was coming off the rim like a raindrops in a hurricane. Yet, he ended with 7 or only 3 more for the balance of the game. Obviously, MSU ended up shooting better, but we went from up in RB margin to losing the battle of the boards. How to evaluate in game circumstancial stats that redound to the individual perhaps not due to their particular prowess?

  • @drgnslayr

    Wayne has been blessed with weak players, or undeveloped players behind him since he got here.

    Wayne would have become the invisible man had Self signed any number of the OADs he has tried to sign since Wayne got here.

    Jaylen Brown?

    Wayne might be wearing a red shirt if Jaylen Brown had not fallen in love with the Nike logo and Harry’s and Cuonzo’s shiny heads.

    Wayne plays because there is no one credible behind him.

    Look at Devonte. Everyone thought Devonte was better than Wayne at the 2. But when Devonte gets into a big game against a tough team, he blows up like a birthday balloon with too much helium. Wayne played terrible and even he played just an eye lash better than Devonte.

    There is no question that the team has to migrate to Perry at the 3. Wayne can’t play 3 any better than he played 2, which is to say he is better than anyone behind him, but not good enough when the competition is tough, to get it done. And it is now past time to analyze what keeps him from getting it done. It is multifactorial. He will be good enough to start all season, because of what is behind him, unless you put Perry behind him for one game and then Perry will leave him in the dust as a 3.

    Between Devonte and Wayne at the two, so far its a toss up. Wayne could guard a little more and handle taller guys better. But Devonte at least could get better with experience. We know Wayne’s game now.

    Brannen is who really needs to be at the 2, because of his gun. But he can’t be there until and unless Self will play enough zone to mask his weaknesses on D. But you read it here first: Brannen needs to be the starter at the 2. ASAP. We need a shooter there tall enough to get them off no matter who he is up against, not a ball handler.

    From here on, Self ought to be using every unranked team and every team that won’t put Bragg in the Hospital, to develop the following team with backups in parentheses.

    1 Mason (Devonte) 2 Brannen (Wayne) 3 Perry (Svi) 4 Bragg (Hunter) 5 Traylor (Lucas)

    You have no idea how much it pains me to type Traylor (Lucas) at the 5.

    If Diallo isn’t overrated, then he steps into the 5, if cleared. But if the king had ovaries, he’d be queen. Not gonna happen. Diallo is the coulda woulda shoulda chant. Fuggeddabouthim.

    If not, playing Bragg and Traylor assures one of them can score. Subbing Hunter and Lucas assures one of them can score.

    Putting Perry at the 3 assures that Perry will be able to score 25 any night we need him to. And Perry at the 3 will lessen the likelihood that a 3 will go off offensively against us.

    Either way this team has to start playing zone and a lot of it, with switching between zone and m2m.

    We’ve got to get our best guys on the wood to start the game and play as many minutes as possible with as much MUA as possible.

    KU is too short and not talented enough playing Mason, Devonte and Wayne on the perimeter. Those three will only look good against weak talent. Never against UK, Duke, UNC, etc. Also, playing those three means the team has too many heads, too many leaders, not enough followers.

    The team needs one quarterback–either Mason, or Devonte. NOT TWO. DEFINITELY NOT THREE.












    Traylor and Lucas are necessary evils. Since they are the weak links, we have to beef up the other links.

    Brannen’s hip may not permit him to, but if it will, he needs to start and play and become our second option AND PERMANENT LONG BALL THREAT. He tweaked his hip and so he probably cannot ever be relied upon this season, but if he is on a healing path, then i want his gun in the lineup at any cost. It and Perry are the only real unstoppable offensive edges we have. Frank can be clogged up. Izzo and Marshall have proven that. Brannen has to play and shoot. Period. Warts and all. We need to play zone if we have to cover up his defense. Brannen is key to this team being special.

    Self knows this is where it has to go. He just can’t bring himself to play enough zone to enable it yet. But once the Ls start piling up, he will adapt. Hard headed? Definitely. But a strong survival instinct for sure.

    Long ball, then Perry.

    Long ball, then Perry.

  • @jaybate-1.0 medical marijuana? No way Self does this. He’d cut both his feet off first. Might as well put all eggs in Diallo becoming eligible as think Self would do this.

    Why not Hunter/Lucas at 5 & Bragg/Traylor at 4? Maybe I’m showing my ignorance.

  • @jaybate-1.0 This team doesn’t even have 1 QB on it and that’s been the case for going on 4 years now. Who’s stepped up at KU and assumed a leadership role post Tyshawn and T-Rob? Nobody.

    This is a tailor made Roy Williams run and gun finesse roster that should be running people out of the gym. Instead, Self is insistent on running the physical Big 10 style with a roster that would probably finish 5th or 6th in the Big 10.

    I would be curious to see what this roster would do with running Jay Wright’s four guard line ups. Graham at the point, Mason and Svi on the perimeter, Selden/Greene as undersized 4’s, and Perry as the lone post. This team is already bad on defense and can’t rebound to save their lives, so why not embrace small ball until Diallo becomes a factor and KU can play a more traditional 2 post line up with Ellis and Diallo.

  • @Bwag


    Full Definition of ENIGMA

    1 : an obscure speech or writing 2 : something hard to understand or explain 3 : an inscrutable or mysterious person

    Jamari Traylor is an enigmatic person.

    What was he doing sleeping in those cars for those years? Why not a shelter? Or a card board box? Or why not hop a box car and travel Big Rock Candy Mountain country and back, staying in hobo camps? They still exist.

    Why does he run the speed he does, when he could so easily rip down the court and position either for a score, or to rip down a rebound, or front a guy and never let him catch the ball on a spot?

    Why does he jump out of the arena sometimes and other times not?

    Why does he show some offensive moves and then not?

    Why can he grab a rebound high off the glass and then not even make a move to one you or I could grab?

    Traylor is an enigma.

    He has a lot of potential.

    But it is intermittently obstructed totally by his mind.

    Self never dreamed he would be unable to recruit another footer to replace Embiid by now.

    He never dreamed the apparent embargo would not only not crack, but expand. (How’s that for a triple negative?)

    Self took a flyer on Traylor, because he promised to be that guy that he could go small with, when his footer had a small big he could not chase; that was all Jam Tray was ever meant to be.

    But now Traylor is half of the committee of the 5, at least until Self can find a way to fit Bragg in without six TOs for 30 minutes.

    It is a scary place to be…starting Jamari Traylor for 35-40 games.

    Self has to wake up in cold sweats.

    Cin has to say, Bill, it was only a bad dream, you didn’t have to just coach a game against Cal with only Jamari.

    Bragg going to come around some, baby, I just gotta believe, he says.

    But inside he knows Cole Aldrich could barely start as a sophomore the first two months of the season.

    Inside he knows how bad Kieff was that freshman season.

    Inside he knows he could well be looking at 20-25 minutes of Jamari all season long.

    Its not up to me, baby, its up to strange, wild eyed Hunter and a freshman with the body morphology of mylar.

    Yes, Bill, honey, its all very stressful.

    Self is stuck playing an enigma at least some, even if he is willing to eat the freshman TOs of Bragg and the kamikaze jags of Hunter on the floor.

    Big Landen is NOT a 30 minute man.

    Self plays who he plays for reasons.

    We may not agree with them all the time, but invariably , when he finally puts the guys in we have been kvetching for him to put in, then that guy shows why Self has been waiting so long. The guy invariably does some of the good things we said he would do, but then he does the mistakes, too. And then the net benefit calculus comes and it is not so clear that the guy we have been kvetching for is way the better choice. Often it is just a wash with more risk.

  • @Bwag

    I know it seems fantastic, but its what he did last night the first half. The first half was Korean Ball against a team that could keep up, unlike the WUG teams. But it played well. All Self has to do is play Korean ball for two halves and give the ball to Perry overtime he has a lead. He might need medical marijuana the first few games, but that’s okay. Its legal now in a lot of states. I’m sure his doctor could fix him up. 🙂

  • @Bwag

    I liked Hunter/Bragg at 4/5 until I saw Bragg and Hunter play a bit this early season. I am afraid coaches would just bring out the tire irons and be done with both of them in a couple of minutes, and then we would be stuck with Lucas and Traylor just the same.

    You’ve got to have one scorer and one guy with some chops for combat in if you move Perry to the 3.

    I am afraid Hunter and Bragg would just live in a state of perpetually being Van Vleeted.

  • @Texas-Hawk-10

    Frank IS the QB.

    And if Frank can’t do it, then bring in Devonte.

    But Frank can do it.

    I believe in him.

    I trust him.

    I just think Self needs to get him out of habitual drive mode and get him back to shooting some treys and dishing it to Brannen and Perry.

    Frank is an Alpha male being asked to do male bonding and sharing with Devonte and Wayne. He thinks its stupid. I can see it in his eyes and body language. He is thinking: coach, just give me the team and forget about all this touchy feely stuff you and Cin talk about at home about how Frank, Devonte and Wayne could share the reins. Life and Ball ain’t that way coach. There’s one head coach. There’s one point guard. The only thing anyone needs two of are balls!




  • @jaybate-1.0 If Mason hasn’t developed that ability more than halfway through his career yet, it ain’t happening. I don’t know if you remember or not, but during boot camp last season, Self brought in a drill instructor and had his players go through a military style training program that was supposed to be team building and force a leader to emerge. The drill instructor that ran program flat out told Self that nobody on the team was a very good leader, but that Graham was the best of what there was. Graham needs to be the QB running the show for KU because he is the best leader according to someone who specializes in developing leaders.

    If you want Mason to get out of James Harden mode, then maybe something similar to what Self had to do with Brandon Rush to make Rush start shooting more. Self made Rush spend some quality time with a tread mill every time he passed up an open shot in practice so maybe every time in practice Mason drives and doesn’t pass to an open player, he gets better acquainted with a treadmill? Out of everything last night, that was probably the most frustrating thing to me was seeing Greene standing wide open because his man was the one collapsing on Mason and Graham and neither one of them would pass out to Greene for an open 3.

  • @Texas-Hawk-10 Man, after last night I don’t know what to say about that Graham as Leader business. About the time he clanked the 7th of his 8 or 9 misses, I was screaming for Self to give him the hard yank; inject Evan into the lineup with firm instruction to FEED ELLIS! Our two guards combine for 2/3 the assists of Valentine, who isn’t even a point guard? Jeez! Hell, maybe Self should have slipped a singlet onto the student manager, sent him out there to create some assists. Mason is a hardheaded straight A to Z mule, and Graham, last night, played dumb and selfish. Self confidence can be a good thing…until you keep batting your head into a brick wall.

  • On a night when assist totals look drab and Mickelson and Bragg sit we miss something like 14 bunnies? What’s going on? Are those guys just too skinny and defensively inept to play top level Div. 1 basketball?

  • @REHawk Mickelson no, he should’ve been in the game and played Landen’s minutes.

    Bragg is too skinny right now to stick in the post and expect him to do a good job against physical teams. Bragg may become a good defender down the road, but he needs to add weight and learn how to play college defense.

  • I think we have a dilemma on who will run this team out at point.

    I really thought this was addressed last year. But obviously not.

    We aren’t going to find any more success this year over last year without having someone OWN this team.

    Valentine OWNS MSU… and many think that relationship will mean yet another Final Four appearance by MSU.

    This idea of keeping both Frank and Devonte in the game at the same time is flawed. It is part of the flaw in Self’s coaching style that was supported by winning in '08. That was the rare departure from what 99.9% of winning teams do. Essentially, we had 3 PGs on that team that mixed into play and SHARED responsibilities.

    And if you really want to examine '08 closely… you could argue we underachieved. I know that sounds crazy since we won it all. But it took a miracle to come back in that championship game and we were, by far, the better team. Talent, experience and depth can mask areas of weakness. Our 3 PGs was a strength and a weakness at the same time. We couldn’t focus squarely on one guy to be “the man.”

    Valentine is clearly “the man” for MSU. So they will flourish or fade away by his play. He knows this… and Tuesday night he stepped up and took charge of HIS TEAM!

    If MSU gets healthy and has the year they should have… I would hate to play them in March because they have championship written all over them!

    We need either Frank or Devonte to OWN THIS TEAM! ONE of these guys has to step up and take ownership. That means responsibility and that means accountability.

  • @drgnslayr Do you think our Bulldog Mason is battling psychologically? Self said Graham is a true PG & putting both on the floor makes Graham as the General while Mason thinks he’s the General? I want Mason as the GENERAL, nothing against Graham. Also noticed a lot of tapes on Mason’s legs.

  • @drgnslayr

    [In 2008] Our 3 PGs was a strength and a weakness at the same time. We couldn’t focus squarely on one guy to be “the man.”

    That just goes to show how amazing Collins was for us: accepting to be a substitute and “fit in” in 2008, then turning into “Alpha Leader” his junior and senior years.

Log in to reply