This Jayhawk team is hard to figure out.
Today, over at KUSports, Matt Tait has a story up on ranking our current guards as the best perimeter trio in the Bill Self era.
Same time as that story was released, Tom Keegan ran a story about this team being the “least dominant” team Bill has ever had at Kansas.
This team is perplexing… showing signs of being able to dominate while barely beating even the weakest teams.
I looked back over our schedule. We haven’t had a real blow-out since December 6, our victory over UMKC on our home court.
Is this glaring fact a good thing or a bad thing?
Is the glass half full or half empty? That appears to be the real question here.
On the “half empty” side… It doesn’t appear that we have the “killer instinct” necessary to win out in March. If we keep teams around and encourage them by not demoralizing them, aren’t we opening the door for having another one of those horrid March events where we get knocked out in the first weekend by a nobody that gets hot? Wasn’t that what happened in AFH last Saturday? Didn’t we have the opportunity to knock out ISU early, but we let off the gas and ended up with the “L”?
On the “half full” side… we’ve only dropped 3 games so far. Obviously, we know how to win. Winning is more important than running up a score. Losing only 3 games when most of our games are close, points to having a team that knows how to finish. We have come through with several big wins by playing our best down the stretch. By having so many close games, we are well-prepared for close games in March.
So how does everyone else feel?
@drgnslayr Hard to say, I’ve personally thought for years we have played like shit with a lead and its one of the worst things this team and others back to pretty much 08 can do, get up early. The blowout thing doesn’t bother me because it shows how evenly matched the B12 is. There are no nights off at all, look at last place OU going into second place at the time WV and winning. I’m not sure this league is the best but the last 2 years have had some great games and very even playing team. If we get a NC or FF pending how other leagues due I’ll say B12 is #1. I think most of us would be fine with having 3 losses at this point most years with our SOS. The disappointment for me is that I felt like we flatout gave away the Indiana game as well as the ISU one. We are a few plays from being 23-1, but hopefully we live and learn.
In my opinion, margin of victory means nothing come March. We have had super dominant teams that bowed out early (97, 10 and 11) and a team with a super thin bench that went to the title game. There is no way to know for sure whether or not the number of blowouts indicates future success in March - the tournament is too unpredictable and one game where a team plays tight could be their last.
As a KU fan my glass is half full in general. I tend to look at the amazing things that our program has achieved and feel thankful for Big 12 titles, Final 4 runs and National Championships more than I feel downtrodden about early exits in the tournament or teams not living up to expectations.
So, my glass is still half full regarding this years team! My thoughts on why are below.
We probably have the best backcourt in the country anchored by the best PG in the country. Guard play tends to thrive in March and I wouldn’t trade with any team in America as far as perimeter players.
Experience. Frank. Devonte. Landen. These guys have all played in a lot of games and know what it takes to win and have proven that many times in close games this year.
Bill Self. Last time I checked Bill Self has the most wins of any coach in the NCAA since he took over at KU. We have been a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA for almost 10 years in a row and the one constant is our coach.
Chemistry. This team really enjoys playing together. When we are firing on all cylinders this is as fun of a KU team as there has ever been to watch.
Getting better. We are currently a team with only 3 losses on the season and we have plenty of room to improve. Our defense is still sub-par as is our ability to play 2 high level halves in one game. If we can tighten things up and peak come March (which I think we will) the sky is the limit.
Josh Jackson. He is the X factor on this team and similar to Frank at PG I would not substitute anyone in the country at the position for Josh.
We are due. Have we really not been to the Final 4 since 2012? Seems odd considering how amazing we have been but I think this is a year where we are lead to the promise land by the best PG in the country who is possibly the POY in the NCAA.
@drgnslayr half full. We can beat anyone on any night. And thats all about the backcourt being able to…
A. knock down important threes
B. hit FTs (Devonte and Frank are fine in this department)
C. break pressure
D. perform in the clutch
E. play lock down D in important moments.
Mix in a slasher Mr Fixit in Josh that can rebound, hit a few threes make smart passes, D up anyone, jump passing lanes, and read defenses.
Mix in a veteran Landen seemingly healthy and rebounding well, and making big buckets against future NBA players, and a refocused Carlton for a legit front-court. I feel as good about what I saw from Carlton last game (finally!) as what I saw in the promise of Udoka. He could be a monster the rest of the way.
There has been a step forward offensively for Svi, and a step back defensively for both Svi and Vick. Vick is probably deepest in the doghouse on the court atm. But these guys are complimentary, they don’t damper my optimism, though they could definitely enhance it.
The most important thing now is health.
We WOULD blow out other teams if we’d keep sawing wood. Dance with who brung ya. You know- when you get a 15, 18, 20 point lead - how bout doing something crazy and just keep playing the same way that got you the lead in the first place?
I don’t know about blow OUTS - but we are the lead-blowingest team in the country.
It worries me. I feel insecure with this team even though we only have 3 losses. We seem to play well enough to win. At Kentucky. Baylor at home. At ISU. At KSU. We have gotten it done…just as well as most teams in the past. We just haven’t had any easy wins at home in the conference…that is highly unusual for us. And we had been playing with fire with some of the close wins at home…we finally got burned at home by ISU’s hot shooting. I think that fact, along with the defense and front line concerns, are what has me worried about March. But as pointed out…all you need to do in March is survive and advance. We have done a good job with that so far…
Its crazy sometimes how seasons go.
I do agree that we haven’t dominated at home like we usually have and finally played so poorly on one side of the ball where we lost. We either play a team that is amped to play us, or we play down to the competition and skate by on talent.
The non-conference schedule ended up not being strenuous. Coach was worried that maybe this team wouldn’t know how to deal with adversity or win close games. That worry has been eliminated, we’ve had plenty of adversity and close games that we have prevailed in. More on that later
Conference play again has been a world war. I mean it feels like we are not getting to breathe anymore in any game. Half the conference is so consumed with beating KU but its hard to motivate our players to bring the same emotion to playing them. The level KU is on is so different from the level every other Big-12 program is on no matter how good Baylor/WVU have been recently. The round robin schedule and the conference win streak has reached its bursting point.
Now in a way I think all these close games make KU even more dangerous in March. We know this team won’t back down from a fight and we know we have a few players that have a refuse to lose mentality (Mason/Jackson). I hope that in a heavyweight battle game deep in the tournament these guys are able to live in the moment and realize we got this- we’ve been here plenty of times before. That is my hope at least.
The issue I possibly see is that the close games are exposing how small our margin of error is. If we don’t get our starting 5’s best game every night we could lose any game/even in March. Without depth, suspensions, injuries we are walking on eggshells just trying to escape each game healthy enough to make it to the next.
Advancing in the Big Dance is more about who’s healthy, drawing good matchups (players and coaches), and to a lesser to degree the degree of “hotness” a team has, than the tendencies earlier in the season to blow leads, not play tough D, worry about off court issues, and the like.
If a key player(s) is fighting injuries or are really tired, our chances go way down (Embiid, sigh),
If we draw a team that we don’t match up well against (Stanford’s height in 2014. plus Embiid being out, sigh)
If we run into the on fire “who is that guy shooting lights out” who hits everything he throws up, our chances go down (see most inter-conference losses). And woe to the other team that experiences us with the “hotty” on a particular night.
So, barring key injuries, we overcome all bad match ups, and on-fire guys, and advance, As we’ve shown time and again, we can win tough games on the road in spite of those negative things we review in great detail on this site (luckily all teams have negative things!). This team has Final Four written all over it.
Half-full, half-empty, not as important as the fact that both can be refilled with a bit of luck.
@drgnslayr You ask if the glass is half full or half empty and my answer is yes…If it is half full, by definition it is half empty. And, I think that characterizes this team - a team that has guys worth rooting for, that can score the ball as well as any Self-coached team, and which is fun to watch when things are clicking - but which can also be extraordinarily frustrating and vexing - with too many silly turnovers, squandering leads, being unable to put away inferior competition, and extended periods of defensive ineptitude.
Yes, I think we can beat any team in the country - even without necessarily playing our best game. But, I also think that we can be beaten by a lot of teams if we’re not playing our best. My concern is that we haven’t faced as much high quality competition as in most previous years. We’ve beaten Duke on a neutral court (although they didn’t have their bigs then) and we’ve beaten Kentucky at Rupp. But, we’ve only won 3 games against certain tourney teams - those two plus Baylor. ISU, KSU, OSU, TTU and Indiana may make it, but none of them are locks to do so at this point. And, while we have only 3 losses - nothing at all to complain about - we lost at home for the first time in 50+ games to probably the least good ISU team of the past several years, got whipped (again) in Morgantown, and lost to an IU team that has an RPI in the 70s. So, the point that others have made that we can beat anyone and can win close games, but don’t have much margin for error, seems to be spot on.
Can we get on a run during the tourney and win 4 games to make to the Final Four. Absolutely, esp. if we get favorable match-ups. But, win it all? I would simply note that no team in the past decade has won the title with a defensive efficiency rating (Kenpom) as low we have now - not even close. We’re currently ranking 37th, which would by far the lowest in the Self era. And, I believe the title team with the lowest DER during the past decade was the '09 Carolina team, which had the 21st ranked DER - but the #1 ranked OER. Not to say it can’t happen - it would just be unprecedented.
@StLJhawk One thing is for sure, we’ve found a way to lose in the big dance all sorts of ways with very highly seeded teams. You name it, we’ve done it. Wouldn’t be as much of a sore spot if we had a couple of more national titles since Roy took over.
Winning and losing in the big dance also has a lot to do with coaching. It is more amplified as coaches have to adjust on quick turnarounds against unfamiliar opponents. The coaching aspect is a huge deal.
The reason I really like our chances this season is that Self is clearly more flexible offensively. Self is a master of the set play/out of bounds situation, and one of the best defensive coaches. This is perhaps the perfect match.
A year where injuries and some turmoil create uncertainty, I think Self has us poised for a Final Four.
Yes! Watching us find new and innovative ways to get bumped out the tournament is exceedingly frustrating and perplexing to me.
And I like your notion of Bill’s flexibility being a nice X factor this year. It hurts me to see such a great basketball mind get out-coached on occasion. I don’t know the X’s and O’s of the game like you and Jaybate do, but Self sure seems to have grown this year in his ability to embrace and utilize new ideas.
If we eke our way to the championship, I won’t celebrate any less than if we blow every opponent out by 30.
Also, when our goal is to win the championship every year and the goal of the other team is to merely beat KU once a decade somehow, you just have to sit back and smile because it’s great to be a Jayhawk!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading every post so far. Really top-notch thoughts.
It seems like most agree that we have little margin for error.
But I also think, to some degree, we have less need for big margins than in previous years. We have plenty of experience on this team, and Josh doesn’t really play like a typical freshman.
The pattern so far feels like Frank and Josh are counted on for big point stats every game. Devonte is kind of the odd one who doesn’t always produce big scoring numbers. However… when I examine our starting 5, it is rare that we get big scoring numbers from all five. And, typically, the guys who don’t always have big scoring nights have several other big stats that help carry the team.
Landen’s rebounds, Devonte’s assists and steals, Josh’s rebounds and steals… as long as these guys STILL have a productive night, even when their scoring numbers drop, says a lot and does a lot for helping us stay consistent every night as a team.
I do think Josh IS the missing piece for this team. He’s the guy who has come in and established himself as one of our best scorers and makes several big defensive plays every night. He is a catalyst for this team, no question! Just hope he can start making more FTs.
Playing to the level of your opponent is what allows one bad break to cost you an entire game. Until I see this TEAM develop the killer instinct, I won’t consider us a championship caliber team.
When I say killer instinct, I don’t mean clutch free throws to close a game. Sure that is part of it. But the main part of it is when you have a team on the ropes, and instead of just getting comfortable with a 15 point lead, you turn it on like it is the last two minutes of the game and blow that lead up to 25 and demoralizes the other team. It ends the game with 10 minutes left to play.
When I see that from this team and not just a few guys, I’ll be a believer.
@Kcmatt7 Curious, who on this team do you think undermines the killer instinct aspect? I agree, killer instinct is very important. But who do you see as the weak links? Alternatively, is it just a collective deal mindset?
My view, as I posted a bit ago, is that our lack of defensive acuity leads to a much more thin margin of error. More volatility. Thus we are more susceptible to the runs and fluctuations that lead to a conclusion that that we lack a killer instinct. Maybe we really are trying and want to close things out, and have the right mindset, but our very real weakness simply leads to what we see? Don’t know for sure.
Regardless of what it is – it creates a greater chance for an unexpected early out.
As usual, 2007-08 was our gold standard. Just look at their margins of victory. They lost three, and if I counted right, only 3 wins were by less than 10 points. One incredible team.
@HighEliteMajor The margin of victory point is a good one. The the average margin of victory for this year’s team is about middle of the pack for a Self team - far below 07-08 and a few other years. And, given our overall record, the margin of victory is surprisingly small. As was noted by @drgnslayr, it’s been more than 2 months since a blowout victory. Is it lack of a killer instinct, a depth issue, quality of the opposition, or simply that this is a good, but not dominating team?
@drgnslayr I think it’s the difference between 2008 and 2012. The 2008 team flat pummeled teams, while the 2012 team just ground people down. The 2012 team barely got by 3 teams in the tournament by 3 points or less, and they made out pretty well. The 2008 team had a very stout frontline to go with some tremendous guards. Both teams had one key quality - they knew how to win.
I attribute the Clone loss directly to a team that was essentially using a 6 man rotation, and was plain exhausted after playing three straight top 10 teams. The Bragg suspension played a role in distracting a very tired team, imo. I think this team definitely knows how to win. I think in order for us to go to the Final Four, we need the Devonte Graham from last year to begin to assert himself more often. I hope he isn’t deferring in order for someone else to win an individual award, because we need him to take more than 5 shots in a game, like he did Monday.
@KUSTEVE good pt!
Here is an answer from the man himself at the press conference…
Q. About 75 percent of the games you’ve played this year have been decided by a single digit. Does it seem like everything is tighter this year for some reason?
BILL SELF: It is tighter. I think sometimes fans equate parity or closeness to not playing well, and that’s not been the case at all. I think any win is a good win regardless of where you play. Look at Baylor-Oklahoma State last night. That was another great game that came down to the last possession.
Our (Big 12 Conference) record is 9-2, and I think we’ve been behind at least eight points in five of our wins, and behind double figures at least in four of our wins.
I don’t think that in the past years when we’ve gone 14-4 or 15-3 or whatever, I don’t think that you would have said that. (It’s) Very competitive.
Q. Does overcoming the deficits tell you anything about your team’s resilience?
BILL SELF: Maybe a little bit, but first-half deficits aren’t the biggest thing in the world. It just makes your margin of error a little bit smaller, obviously, that you can’t let 10 become 18. But I think our guys have showed some toughness. Last time I said we were a pretty tough team, we gave up 18 threes (to Iowa State), so I’m not going to give them that much credit at all, other than the fact that I do think that they showed stretches where they’ve been pretty tough.
I’ve wondered if the team let up for the ISU game after Bill complimented them.
I think we all underestimated the exhaustion level of this team. It became much more apparent during the KSU game. Frank especially. We all know he is tough as steel and tries to hide pains and issues. He wasn’t hiding it in the Sherronagon. He was flat out exhausted!
And I agree… it is time for Devonte to put his mark on this season. His team needs him to step up. It’s not like he isn’t doing anything… but we expect more from him because we KNOW he has it in him and is probably the most gifted player we have.
@HighEliteMajor There is a lot to it. You could be right. And maybe it just seems like we don’t have killer instinct.
Depth could be the reason for both no instinct and a poor defense for stretches of games. JJ and LL often have 2 fouls by halftime and don’t want to pick up an early 3rd to open halfs. So maybe they aren’t necessarily playing the best defense or as aggressive the first 10 minutes of a second half. And that comes off to me as a perception of a lack of instinct.
The person that I am most dissapointed by is DG. Frank is the leader. But DG could be the heart of the team. He could be the guy to silence the crowd when they get riled up. He is averaging a solid 13 per game. But is that really enough for him? I personally don’t think so. He is missing the aggression I saw him play with last season. He needs to be the guy that makes a couple of plays in a row that are just daggers to the opponent.
I think the other part is that Udoka would have been a big piece of what we are missing. He would have been an “enforcer.” Both the 2008 and 2012 teams had one. Or really 2. 2008 had RR and DJ. RR harrassed guys. And DJ, well you felt his presence everytime you came in the lane. 2012 had Withey and TRob. It took a man to come in that lane.
Who is that guy for this team? It would have been Doke. But right now, no team fears one of our players. And that is something that is a key ingredient to killer instinct. A player that changes the game just by his presence.
I may have a misconception. Maybe we do have players with the instinct, we just can’t unleash them the way we would normally with a full and healthy bench.
After reading @JayHawkFanToo’s quote, this, from CNN -
BILL SELF ATTACKS KU FANS, MAKES UNCONFIRMED CLAIM THAT KU PLAYS WELL EVEN WHEN IT BARELY BEATS BAD TEAMS
Opposing Coach: Self hates KU fans, “justifying a riot”
Hollywood Star: “This is not the Kansas I used to know”
Legal Analyst: No Court would ever agree with Self’s assessment
Opinion: Kansas has had its fill of Self’s deceitful agenda
Many wonder if Self has undiagnosed mental problem
Shocker - Insider: Self asked assistant coach, “How many conference games do we play?”
Self may have lost millions in land deal gone awry in 2001
Texas Hawk 10
The simple reason why this team doesn’t blow a lot of bad teams out is depth. This is probably the second shortest bench Self has had at KU, amd the reality is it takes a lot of energy to keep up the pressure to blow out Big 12 teams on a nightly basis. Self has decided this year that allowing KI to build up a 10-15 point lead then slack a little is the best way to conserve energy throughout the year. When teams get up to a 20-25 point lead early, a lot of teams check out mentally and the comeback starts, they can’t refocus. Keeping the leads in 10-15 point range means the lead isn’t big enough to mentally check out on so they have to stay engaged. There’s always the risk of that plan backfiring like it did against ISU, but there’s also no foolproof plan either.
The 2007-08 team could runaway from everyone because Self had the depth to play fast all the time. This team doesn’t have the depth to that even before the UA injury. This team has to find ways to conserve energy during games because Mason and Lucas especially are going to play 35+ mpg the rest of the way fouls permitting.
@joeloveshawks Great post! Agree on all counts. Would add JoshJacksonFactor. Kid is amazing. Outplayed KY OAD’s in Rupp.
@JayHawkFanToo Great to put Self’s words here for perspective! Not only did we give up 18 3ptrs, which, seriously, is IowaState’s 1-calling card. How do we let them get so many 3s off?
And the 2nd key factor in losing to IowaState, was 20 turnovers at home, compared to ISU’s 13. That is simply ridiculous, and not following Self’s formula for success.
I just hope we learn from it, as the 51game home winning streak is the LEAST of my worries. I want actual hardware/trophies. KY got beat twice at home this year, but I’ve seen their gleaming trophy case, just as I see the hdwe in the museum entrance to AFH…