Seven Point Fix: Free Your Mind

  • Since KU’s exit, we’ve had a lot of quality discussion about what is wrong with Self’s Jayhawks. Those discussions, though, are really our observations as to what could be done to improve the Jayhawks.

    None of us will sit here and say that we’d do a better job than coach Self. That’s a given. That’s not the discussion. The discussion is “what can be done to help improve our chances at a national title?”

    I firmly believe that coaches get very focused on their system, and how they do things. They develop tunnel vision. They become arrogant because of their success. This isn’t unique to coaches. It happens in all walks of life. Ever met a thoracic surgeon? Arrogant surgeons can kill people.

    Surgeons who are not willing to consider their mistakes, or their outcomes, are dangerous. Same with coaches.

    Coaches who will not open their minds can destroy their team’s chances at success because they have a dogmatic approach to their trade. Their lack of vision limits the ceiling of the teams they coach. Coaches who are not flexible and who will not adapt to what they have, and to their competition, suffer a distinct disadvantage. Don’t get me wrong. The adherence to approach and system is a large part of what makes many coaches successful. But it can drag them down.

    This is the only real flaw that I see with coach Self. It’s really that simple. Great recruiter, great person, good X’s and O’s guy, excellent teacher of the game, terrific manager of people. What else is there?

    Humility. The concept that his way may not always be the best way.

    We’ve seen examples, such as coach Self’s obvious reticence to accept blame. We’ve seen glimmers – the classic “and we’ve got to coach it better” – from time to time. But generally, it’s a consistent blame on the execution by the players. Essentially, if we’d just run our stuff better, we’d win.

    Well that isn’t always the case.

    So all I ask of coach Self – Free your mind. That is all. Free … your … mind.

    With an open mind, all things are possible.

    Since KU’s exit, there have been many suggestions on what could be done to improve KU’s chances in March. I have read nearly everything written here. Below are my respectful suggestions, which incorporates thoughts from a number of posters at this site:

    1. Expanded Zone Offense: No surprise here. Our zone offense is stagnant many times. Two simple elements of focus, and a third necessity. First, more active screening. By and large, KU’s zone offense only screens near the top of zone for the lead guard, or on the back line to set up a lob dunk. Active screening across lane and at the wing can create more seams for penetration and lanes for entry passes. Second, ensuring that our lineup always has a clear and present three point threat. The classic zone buster. Always. And free that zone buster to shoot. Third, we have to have skilled scorers at the high post. Can’t beat the zone if you’re feeding a guy who can’t score from the free throw line.

    2. Pace of Game: When coach Self arrived, there was this fear that he would play a slow brand of basketball. It isn’t a fear any longer – it’s just fact. Self doesn’t not really encourage a fast paced game. He may say that he wants a faster pace, but his actions discourage it. Turnovers cause you to find the bench. Quick shots? Look out for the hook. Who throws the ball in? Oh, the guy we have designated to throw the ball in. Press? Nope, too risky that we’ll give up an easy basket. Aggressive press break? Not the usual gameplan – slow, methodical passing. Random, targeted trapping? Rarely – simple man to man will do. Note to Self: Take advantage of your athletic superiority. When you play a slower game, you permit less skilled teams to remain a part of the game. Strategic use of the press is a must. Is there risk? Sure. But there seems to be more risk in being conservative, particularly in March. Further, playing at a faster pace regularly will make it much easier to deal with teams that play fast in the tournament.

    3. Valuing The Basketball: This change is important. I understand that the easy approach is to simply conclude that all turnovers are bad. However, in my view, the over emphasis on valuing the basketball has inhibited our offensive growth – it has been a horse collar to this team. It is a climate of unacceptability that appears to make guys play tight. Yes, turnovers are not good. But they aren’t always bad. In fact, 15 turnovers can be much better than 7 turnovers. It all depends on the amount of possessions in a game and the pace of the game, and what that pace of game does to your opponent. A team that doesn’t turn the ball over is usually not playing aggressive enough. This goes hand in hand with the prior paragraph on Pace of Game. Increasing the pace will generally increase turnovers. But that change in pace will also affect our opponent. If we are playing a team that wants to play slowly, there is usually a reason why. The most common explanation is that it’s because the opposing coach knows that the fewer possessions, the more chance that he has to stay in a game against a team with more highly skilled players. Wouldn’t that be what you would do if you played KU? To me, this is why we have been susceptible to upsets. Coach Self permits opposing teams to dictate pace and style of play. The Texas Tech game at Lubbock this season was a classic example. UNI was another. Coach Self would be well served to adjust his mindset and be willing to accept more turnovers. Again, we don’t want turnovers. But sometimes, turnovers are indicative of aggressiveness. It is a necessary evil, but not one to overreact to.

    4. Take Advantage of Match-ups: Undoubtedly, this is an area where our current system fails – unless, by default, we have a match-up advantage on the post. Sometimes that match-up might be our shooting guard isolated on his defender, or our point guard taking a smaller guy to the block, or Ellis taking a bulky four man out on the wing. Taking advantage of match-ups to exploit scoring opportunities creates a more dynamic offense. This is a pretty simple concept, but one Self’s system routinely fails to incorporate. Similarly, playing small creates incredible match-up problems for opponents. We saw it first hand against MU in 2012. We simply couldn’t have Withey and TRob on the floor together for long stretches due to MU having Kim English at the four. Self is resistant to playing anything but a conventional attack. Sometimes match-ups dictate something different.

    5. Be Bold: Coach Self is notoriously slow to adjust. His belief, which is not an uncommon coaching trait, is to most times “do what we do”, with faith that it will prevail. I just ask coach Self to trust his instincts. If it appears that an adjustment might work, side with boldness instead of the conservative path. We have history that supports that, too. On our final four run in 2012, coach Self boldly utilized the triangle and two. I think with the 2012 team he felt that because of the lack of depth, he had to think outside of the box. Boldness includes pressing, playing small, going with the hot hand – anything that rocks the boat. My suggestion is to always think out of the box. What limits boldness? Fear and arrogance. Fear that moves will fail, and arrogance that “system” will ultimately prevail. I ask that coach Self discard the chains that limit boldness.

    6. Accept Zone Defense: This is came up early in the season – many, including myself, felt that an “all in” switch to zone defense with our personnel would have been the best move for the Jayhawks. We had a young team. We had a big, back line defender in Embiid. We had a three who was long and athletic. We had a point guard and four that couldn’t defend. And we had a post player (Black) who was in constant foul trouble. Coach Self is a strong believer in man to man defense. But that strong belief prevents him from freeing his mind. This past version of the Jayhawks was by far the worst defensive team at KU under coach Self. There was simply no way Self could cover for Tharpe, and the numerous times he compromised our defense. Then, on the back line, Ellis was soft and largely ineffective. Add to that a team devoid of veteran defensive leaders who had played under Self, and our defense was a disaster. We played multiple teams that ran zone. Louisville ran large doses of zone on its way to the 2013 title. UConn played zone. UK played some zone. Florida played lots of zone. But somehow, coach Self concludes that zone won’t work here. That simply lacks any logic. Brilliant coaches run it. Championship teams use it. Somehow other teams can run both. But we can’t. Zone defense needs to be accepted as a realistic alternative.

    7. Cultivate Three Point Shooting: One concern is that coach Self fails to cultivate three point shooters. There doesn’t seem to be a urgency on Self’s part to play a dead-eye shooter. And shooters are faced with the famous quick hook. Cultivation of three point shooters requires a coach to understand that a shooter needs freedom. It’s not like a power forward pivoting and scoring on a post move. A shooter has to have a mind that is free of doubt. A coach has to offer freedom, has to accept misses, and has to accept shots that may be taken before a post entry pass is attempted. Just a touch more flexibility. Three point shooting can, and many times does, dominate the college game. In March, there are times when you catch a hot shooting team. We have to be prepared to have an answer. For KU to play at its maximum potential, there has to be a bit of leniency here by coach Self. We’ve seen vaunted three point shooters struggle here. Giving the shooters a touch more leeway is a great start.

    There’s my seven point plan to make us more competitive in March, again incorporating thoughts from many posters on this site. Would be interested in everyone’s thoughts.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Solid post!

    I agree with it all, and especially:

    “With an open mind, all things are possible.”

    Basketball does not stand still. Strategies have to mold to the times and situations. Forcing the wrong strategy on a team because it worked in the past is not the best way to coach.

    The rules change (or how they are enforced). Players change (7-footer who can handle the ball and pump the trey). Perceptions, ambitions and dreams of young players change (molded mostly by NBA players who constantly show something different).

    The game of basketball is more like a fast-moving stream than a still lake.

    Coaches have to stay hungry. That means they have to continue to develop just like the players they coach. The very best strategies eventually become stagnant because with time and repetition, the competition figures out the best way to defend or attack it. And every team is unique and strategy has to fit their uniqueness so they can become most effective.

    I have to admit that I don’t always see this philosophy practiced at KU. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough bending… adapting to what will better serve the team. And sometimes we get predictable. And sometimes we don’t adjust quickly when something isn’t working. I’ve never felt we take advantage of our depth (when we have it). And because of that, depth can be a curse. Our last time to the championship game was with a team where we did not have our best depth, so we played less guys and they developed more of a rhythm together. If we are going to recruit all the depth, we have to use it wisely, invest in enough development so those players are useful (especially in March), and execute a game plan that takes advantage of all the energy available from having an abundance of capable players. When we don’t do that, giving all our depth PT becomes a waste and takes away from our key core that could develop more harmony by having more PT together… especially with a young team (like we had this year).

    Just look at AW3 this year. Every minute of PT he got only took away from developing more with other players, because down the stretch (March) he was too rusty to use in key situations. We lost too much ground if we substituted AW3 for a hobbled Selden. Therefore, AW3’s net impact for the year was negative. Only because he didn’t get enough PT to keep the rust off so we could use him down the stretch. I found that to be a major strategical blunder by our coaches. We could have really used a healthy, rust-free AW3 (and his experience) in March this year to take the heat off of Selden and his injured body. Selden did not produce for us in March, but that wasn’t really his fault. He was hobbled and a rookie. We were stuck because we didn’t have another 2 with size to defend. A rusty AW3 couldn’t get the job done.

    I believe we did AW3 a real disservice this year. He worked his butt off probably more than anyone else in the off-season. He hustled in fall camp. And he was rewarded with nothing. Like I said above, if he had an impact it was negative, because he didn’t produce anything because his PT wasn’t enough to develop anything and then what few minutes of PT he got only took away from Selden where he could develop further with more time. AW3 got the raw deal this year. Even Selden got a raw deal, too, because he was forced to play through his injury.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Solid post, Self should love you!

    You’ve changed my mind about zone. For 42 years I’ve always mocked zone defenses as lazy and not “real” basketball. Like Scott Drew’s zones. But I’m completely in agreement this past years team needed to play zone bc of our rim protectors (a positive) and terrible guard defense (a negative.). Hopefully Selden will play better D next year if he has two good wheels and Naa will…never mind…

    Full court, 3/4 court and half court pressure should also be randomly played every couple games or every game as needed. @Jaybate has pounded this drum often.

    PICK UP THE PACE!!! Ideally I’d like HCRW pace with Self’s lock down defense. Like the 08 F4 game against UNC.

    3’s PLEASE!!! This might be the most important thing we can do offensively. Basketball is evolving right before our eyes. I believe there were a record number of threes launched this year in the league…golden state comes to mind… Statistically we HAVE to shoot more threes. Every year we’re told how good the three shooters are but they never see the floor. Jeremy case was allegedly ray Allen but i assume he couldn’t guard anyone. Personally, I’d NEVER have mason and Naa on the court at the same time. Picture this next year against TTU…PUSH the ball with CF, Oubre, Selden, Brannen and Alexander. Either Alexander dunks or someone shoots a 3. The lost art of the midrange jumper is LOST for a reason!

  • @HighEliteMajor

    If Self is never going to make a serious commitment to zone, then I don’t see the point in becoming a zone team for one season. It’s not an effective strategy in the long-term. I’d prefer to use the zone more, but only as a change up. Never for more than one or two possessions in a row. This is similar to how Billy Donovan uses it. If you want to rely on zone extensively, then you have to spend extensive time teaching it. Extensive time teaching zone will take away from time spent improving man-to-man defense. I’d rather be really good with man (like we normally are) than kind of good at both.

    We’ll be better next season in man because we stuck with it all season. If we had switched to zone for an extended period, next season’s transition to man would be more difficult.

    Self’s defensive record speaks for itself. I don’t see the value in using zone for more than a few possessions each game.

  • @HighEliteMajor Love it!

    There is only one thing I disagree with, and I have posted on it before so maybe you’ve seen it, but that is the philosophy to go “all in” with a zone defense. My main problem with that is this - so say we went zone last year. The defensive black holes at the 1 & the 4 are still here. So…are we all in on zone again next season? We’ve lost the big back line defender (although we might get Turner), and we’ve most likely downgraded at the long & athletic 3 (Oubre replaces Wiggins, but I’m expecting him to not be as good as Wiggins was on D). In either case, whether we land Turner & Oubre is good enough to be the long athletic 3 at the top or if we lack a shot blocker and are slightly worse off without Wiggins, we’ve essentially taken a year off where we didn’t teach the fundamentals of intense, in your face M2M defense to a very young team. So be it this next season, or in 2 years, you’ve lost perhaps the most important year to teach your core defensive philosophy to rotation guys like Selden, Greene, Mason, Frankamp. I think the underlying reasoning here should be that you never make an “all in” switch for a single season, regardless of personnel. If you’re going to make that kind of switch, it should be at a macro/philosophical level. And personally, I don’t want to abandon the M2M defense. This year was an aberration. An outlier. Every other year we are statistically one of the better defensive teams in the country. We know Self’s defense works almost without exception.

    The other problem with switching to a zone defense, as has also been discussed, is that I don’t think we have a coach on the staff that would versed enough in zones to teach it and get an acceptable product. Roberts was an assistant under Self and carried on those teachings as a head coach before returning. Howard was a former player under Self. Townsend has been with Self 10 years now. These are all “Self guys.” My feeling is we would probably need to bring someone else on staff that has an expertise in this area to get a team that plays a good zone defense. Otherwise, I fear we’d be Baylor 2.0.

    All this being said, I’m hugely in favor of having zone defenses in the proverbial coaching bag of tricks. Like the triangle & 2. Not as something that could carry you through an entire season, but as a change-up. Give the opponents something else to think about. I’m not sure if someone on staff would be able to teach us zones to that extent, but it needs to be something available.

    After scrolling down I see @jayhawk12 has made a couple of the same points I’d made. Sorry for the redundancy!

  • @icthawkfan316 a well-respected coach told me if you want to play a good zone, you still have to have good m2m principles, stance, move your feet, see the ball, help, box out and so on. I agree throwing some changes would be ideal, I also think the foul calling hurt us a great deal. We’ve been fortunate to have great rim protectors lately too. I’d love to see some fast break, push the ball up tempo. Always felt starting out pressing gets the juices going, example when we played WV at home. What kind of zone would you zone guys use against the heslips, fortes and ISU?

  • @HighEliteMajor This sounds like seven points taken from a certain coach that just played in the NC game…cough, cough…Dang it

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Don’t you think going zone would make it even harder to play at a quicker pace?

    A lot of our runouts come off turnovers in the half court. We would probably force fewer turnovers playing zone unless we are really active. Like other posters have said, I’m skeptical that our coaches would teach a solid zone that generates the same defensive pressure we generate with m2m.

  • @drgnslayr - “And every team is unique and strategy has to fit their uniqueness so they can become most effective.”

    With a system coach, talent adapts to system. It is a key consideration in why, possibly, we don’t seem to get the most out of our talent.

    Regarding zone, I have the following thoughts on the comments above:

    1. Shifting to zone primarily, or full time, would have likely been the best move for the 2013-14 Hawks. I struggle with how zone could have been worse than what we saw. If we are to worry about the development of our man to man defense for the next season, we are thus discounting the value of “this” season. We had national championship caliber talent, and holes to mask. @jayhawk12 questioned the point of being a zone team for one season – the point in being a zone team for one season is to win that season, plain and simple. What gives the team on the floor the best chance? I do concede that perhaps Self tried zone in practice and thought it would be a worse disaster. But Self never said that in any interview, or on Hawk Talk.

    2. I don’t advocate playing zone primarily unless it’s necessary with Self as coach. But if Self wants to play hard nosed man to man, he better recruit those type of players. Zone is a viable defense that you can win with. But certainly, incorporating zone in our scheme is realistic. @jayhawk12 notes Self’s record. I go to national titles. 11 seasons, one title. I also look at teams that have won titles. They have played zone more than “a few possessions each game.”

    3. @icthawkfan316 hit on the point that concerns me most – the ability to passionately teach zone defense. “My feeling is we would probably need to bring someone else on staff that has an expertise in this area to get a team that plays a good zone defense. Otherwise, I fear we’d be Baylor 2.0.” — that is squarely on point. With a normal Self team, using it as a change up is probably all that is really needed. But we have to recruit guys that fit that man to man scheme – Tharpe doesn’t. Ellis doesn’t appear to fit it.

    4. Regarding pace, @jayhawk12 questioned whether you could increase pace with zone. Actually, zone makes it easier. You can play at a much quicker pace playing zone when you incorporate trapping and pressure. The 1-3-1 can be the most aggressive defense (half court trap), or a pack it back and make them shoot kind of defense. Lead into the 1-3-1 with the 3/4 court 2-2-1 that @VailHawk mentioned, and you have chaos – and the potential to create the scattered play that we were the victims of multiple times this season. The trapping and pressure increase pace. But you can do this, too, with good man principles. Zone, though, doesn’t necessarily slow pace.

    5. @crimsonorblue22 - the coach you speak of was a wise man. Too many times folks play zone and think it’s a time to relax. Excellent man principles translate directly to zone. I think particularly on body angle. You make an excellent point, and it’s why teams should be able to flow between both defenses. Stanford did it quite well a month ago, I would say. Where zones are exposed is when defenders play flat – great example are our back line screen plays for lobs against the zone. Self takes advantage of defenders playing flat. If teams play zone with the tenacity of man, that’s a tough nut to crack.

    The idea that you can’t do both effectively should be completely discarded. We have seen multiple teams be effective running both, most recently Stanford in their win over the Jayhawks. Simply discarding zone defense is a short-sighted, dogmatic approach that puts KU at a disadvantage. And we’re at that disadvantage because Self won’t approach it with an open mind – like many, many other coaches do. And like other national title winning coaches do.

  • @HighEliteMajor In regards to needing to recruit guys that fit a M2M scheme, I agree, although I don’t know that Self could have foresaw Perry being as bad as he is. Most freshman are going to be bad. Defense just isn’t a skill that seems to be cultivated enough in high school. But you take a guy like Perry, who is athletic and has a good work ethic, and you’d have to figure he’d progress into at least an average defender.

    With Tharpe, let’s be honest, Self isn’t recruiting him period if there weren’t other misses on the recruiting trail. At least not with the idea in mind that he would be the starting point guard at any time during his career.

    As to the point that both myself and @jayhawk12 made about the validity of teaching zone for one year, I don’t think I am discounting the value of this season. Did we really have a national championship caliber team? We all wanted to think that during the season. We thought this because of the tough schedule we played, because we won the Big 12 again with it being discussed as one of (if not the) toughest conferences in the country this year. Problem was, for all our tough schedule our only marquee win was against a Duke team in November. The same Duke team that got upset by Mercer. And the Big 12 wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, although injuries to Embiid & Niang probably tripped up the league’s two best teams. So I don’t know if we were NC caliber. I’m not taking into account the Embiid injury, as that couldn’t have been predicted at the outset, but our guard play just wasn’t good enough, at least not playing Tharpe and having Selden paired as the 2 along side him. The ball handling and decision making just wasn’t there I fear. We’re probably playing beyond the round of 32, but I don’t think the switch to zone in and of itself would have elevated us to a national championship caliber team. Now could enough things have been done to make it that caliber of a team? Possibly. Had Self opened up to all 7 of your suggestions (which seems unlikely to happen within a single season. Perhaps 3 or 4 out of 7 to start). But with those suggestions I don’t see the answer to what I think was our biggest limitation, and that is improved PG play. I’ve been pretty steadfast all off-season that until that is addressed, everything else is secondary.

    At any rate, given that I don’t think we had the personnel to compete for a NC this past year, I think it is valuing the season more to use it to teach your young core of players the core philosophical principles, namely M2M defense. As much as we’d like to think that every season is NC or bust, there are going to be seasons here and there that are more like stepping stones. Much like we talk about sacrificing games within a season to improve the chance for success in March and needing to view the season as a campaign to the tournament, there are going to be seasons that need to be viewed as part of a campaign for developing a national championship team down the line. I hate that reality, but we’ve talked before about how we would take an NIT season (like Kentucky last year) if it meant a return trip to the Final 4 the next.

  • @icthawkfan316 Do you think you can’t do both in practice? I think other teams do. UK was younger and obviously did.

    I do think you can, but clearly, if you’re learning zone with limited practice time, you are sacrificing valuable PT that could be used getting better at man full time. Again, though, we can’t do what UK did?

    I firmly believe we had a national title caliber team. No doubt in my mind.

    While I value point guard play highly, the issues are broader than just that. To focus too much on personnel, which is really excellent top to bottom, is to downplay what has really caused many of our tourney failures. Point guard play didn’t lose us the game to Stanford.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    1-2. I will agree that zone may have been more appropriate with last year’s team than with others. It would have kept Tarik on the floor more earlier in the year and minimized the poor rotations. While our guards did not do a great job staying in front of their man last year, our poor help made that problem worse. The first half of our home game against TCU is a great example. No way their point guard should score that much and get into the paint so easily.

    We could have switched to zone for Tharpe and Ellis but, Self did not recruit any of his players for their ability to play zone. If you switch to zone for two people, the abilities of everyone else are mis-used. And they may struggle just as much.

    I think Tharpe’s main problems are bigger than Perry’s. Tharpe lacks lateral quickness and probably the discipline to commit consistently. I think Perry struggles more with vision and court awareness. He has to do a better job seeing the ball at all times and being aware of court position. Where I notice the quickness issue with Perry is when he gets switched guarding smaller (quicker) players and when he guards off-ball, away from the basket. He’s also vulnerable defending in transition.

    If you want to go with a zone that is active and traps 3/4 court, some of the same issues remain. You need guards that are quick out front (and ideally long) and you need the guys behind to have great anticipation. If you commit to zone for Perry and Naadir, that zone is probably most effective as a pack it in, preventative zone. I don’t get the sense you are excited about this type of scheme.

    Last, you point to national championships. I would only say that not all champions play more zone. Kentucky rarely plays zone. With Connecticut, Florida, Syracuse and Louisville, yes that is true. If we want to become more like any of those teams defensively in terms of how we use the zone, then I think Florida is most appropriate. But the type of players we recruit are more similar to Kentucky than those at the other schools. Self and Calipari almost always wrestle over the same top players.

    With regard to this year, a zone would not have meant beating Stanford. JoJo’s injury was huge because of when it happened - late in the season. We didn’t have enough time to adjust. Michigan State had constant injury problems this year and never got time to play much together as a healthy unit before the tournament. They lost earlier than expected. Arizona had a late season injury and was never quite the same. KU’s injury was later in the season than both of those teams. JoJo was just as if not more important to our team than any single injury to Arizona and Michigan State. We’ve had early exits in past years but I can’t remember a year when we had a late season injury as significant as JoJo’s.

  • My point about using M2M principles in the the zone is, if they can’t keep their man in front of them in man, they won’t be able to in a zone either. Our rim protecter saved us, many times this year, when he got hurt we couldn’t cover our mistakes. I’m sure we have all heard, Self doesn’t recruit defensive players, he teaches it after they get here. An asst coach told me most of the kids come from programs that have zero knowledge on any defensive drills or terms. I still believe w/the excessive whistle blowing put us at an disadvantage. Does Syracuse ever switch to man? What zones would you play against Heslip, Forte or ISU? I’m not a zone fan except to throw some different looks.

  • Kansas Jayhawks Basketball will be just fine. I will not make myself crazy over things I cannot change. Coach Self will continue to do what he sees fit. I am good with that. I am looking forward to next years team and I could care less what other teams are doing. I am with Kansas Basketball win or lose. Another case of indirect fire.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 You say that if “… they can’t keep their man in front of them in man, they won’t be able to in a zone either.”

    I respectfully disagree with that. Zone is premised, obviously, on covering an area. If you get a blow by on a wing, or out front, you have immediate, built in help. Secondly, you usually always have a nearby help defender.

    Obviously, you have to have some level of ability at keeping your man in front of you. But you can hide guys, as you know.

    Yes, Syracuse does go to man every so often.

    Personal preference, I would play 1-3-1 nearly all the time, unless my personnel strongly dictated otherwise. I’d play it against Forte, Heslip, and ISU. You account for shooters in zone. You fear shooters. You shade shooters. You track shooters. Watch Syracuse. It’s beautiful thing. Boeheim is a defensive genius with his 2-3. But shooters beat any defense, right? Not just a zone. But they can kill a zone, no doubt.

  • @KansasComet Come on, make yourself crazy. What would you do if you had a magic wand?

    One strategic item that you would like coach Self to do – just one?

  • @HighEliteMajor One strategic thing that I’d like to see from Coach Self - free season tickets for all KUBuckets regulars.

  • @jayhawk12 How was our defense last season?

    -Respectfully, you wouldn’t “pack it in” as a preventative zone. That makes no sense to me. Why do you think we would have had to do that? And you’re right, I don’t like a “pack it in” zone, unless matchup wise, it was the best option.

    -See my response to @Crimsonorblue22 - you reduce your “issues” defensively. If you have a point guard who continually compromises your defense by permitting penetration, it’s over. It was over. We got killed. And if you have a post player who can’t handle guys on the block that are of any size, you’re dead in man. You have to always have help. Zone gives you help.

    -And I agree, I don’t think a zone defense would have beaten Stanford. You’re right there. It was our lack of an effective zone offense that doomed us. We didn’t need Embiid (or Wiggins) for that matter, to beat Stanford if we ran an effective zone offense. They isolated our weak guys, and took away our strong offensive players (Ellis and Wiggins). You would agree that we should have beaten Stanford with or without Embiid, right?

  • @nuleafjhawk you would be fun to go to a game with!

  • @HighEliteMajor There is so much more to it than just Coach Self. Your end result appears to be winning a six game tournament that often includes teams with losing records. Coach Self is not at fault for that. He puts together a winning team year in and year out. I am amazed by the run of success that we have had. The only thing I would change is the format of the tournament. I don’t believe teams should be rewarded with a tournament invite, based on winning a conference tournament. Strategically no, however I do firmly believe that the best players should play. Case in point, if Frankamp was killing Tharpe in practice (which I don’t know if it’s true or not) then he should have gotten playing time over him.

  • @KansasComet Does Coach Self get credit for the successes? Do you credit him for the 2008 title?

  • @HighEliteMajor we did have glimpses of good D, Duke, Texas at home, OU at home, WV at home, Baylor. Our zone offense was good against Baylor. The only time I like a zone is against a quick team that gets to the rack easily. Once you get by one man in a zone, the zone breaks down and should be easy to score on. I like the zone to keep teams out of the paint. If they have good 3 pt shooters (plural) IMO, zones are worthless, unless a box and 1 or triangle and 2, but for short periods. Seeing the games when we played good M2M tells me we were capable of doing it ALL the time! I call it heart! Always respect!

  • @HighEliteMajor ease up on comet! I like his/her responses! So do you think Self should or shouldn’t get credit! It’s a team, he’s part of it!

  • @HighEliteMajor Yes, he put the team together. There was some luck involved in the 2008 title run. Davidson had the game winning shot in the air.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 That’s pretty funny … the one time we played good zone offense was against Baylor. You see cause and effect, I’m sure.

    Personally, I think we could have played sufficiently effective man to man if Tharpe just never played. He was the worst defensive player I have ever seen at KU under Self, in the second half of the season.

  • @HighEliteMajor I don’t remember any teams playing zone other than Baylor, only mentioned that cause we played good D on them. They didn’t stay in it to long cause it didn’t work. Not funny to me! Who beside Stanford do you recall us struggling against a zone. I don’t remember.

  • @KansasComet But Self gets no credit for strategy, scheme, leadership, etc.? I would say that he gets a huge amount of credit for that.

    On luck, just throw that out the window. The bigger your sample size, the less it means. Luck is just probabilities and possibilities. And many times, you create your own luck. When your sample size increases, it’s a discernible pattern.

    Trey Burke’s shot was lucky by many accounts. But if we foul before he shoots, are we victims of a lucky shot? Same with Calipari and Chalmers’ shot. You create luck many, many times, or situations where luck can beat you.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 I thought you were referring to Scott Drew’s inability to coach a competent zone D, as @icthawkfan316 referred to (and as has become legendary).

    Many teams played zone against us – it destroyed us early, Villanova, Florida, Colorado, etc. Then we saw it quite a bit during the league season. I recall Texas killing us with zone at Austin. They mixed it up.

  • Here’s an article I saw on Steve Fisher switching to a 1-3-1 zone this season when needed – as firm a man to man guy as there is. Its a great commentary on flexibility. This is all that I would ask of coach Self, or of any coach.

  • @HighEliteMajor I thought floridas press killed us, more than half court zone. Don’t you think we improved from those early season losses against zones?

  • @HighEliteMajor I do like a 1-3-1 w/wigs on top, super long athlete.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 Right, Florida pressed, and slipped back into a 1-3-1 much of the game.

    I do think we improved vs. the zone. Marginally vs. the press.

    See – 1-3-1. Wigs up top, allows you to hide your point guard on the back line or weak wing side depending on match-up. Fit us to a T. Right on there.

    Heck, Self likes the 3-2. Go Tharpe/Wigs/Selden up top, bigs in back. Trap wing and box. Matchup on all high % shooters. Immediate closouts everywhere. Roll behind closeout. Has to be better than 150th or whatever in points per game allowed. Has to be.

    How many breakout dunks does Wigs have from up top, middle on a 3-2?

  • @HighEliteMajor how many guys can we hide?

  • @HighEliteMajor you asked a question on successes. Next you import strategy, scheme, and leadership? It was a yes or no question? Right?

  • @HighEliteMajor

    If the problem is the dribble penetration into the paint, then a “pack it in” zone is preventative simply because it limits open space in the middle and increases it on the perimeter. It also limits the amount of space that you ask your most vulnerable people (Perry, Naadir) to cover.

    Our defense was not good last season, but it wasn’t the initial penetration per se that hurt. With Embiid in the back, isolated dribble penetration can always be dealt with. What hurt was after the initial dribble penetration. The kick outs, the dump offs, the secondary drives. We were terrible stopping what happened after the initial penetration.

    Yes, “zone gives you help.” So does man. When the ball is on the wing, there are just as many people in the paint with man as with zone, at least when played effectively. I’m not convinced a zone gives you more help than a good man to man does. What role do you see Perry and Naadir playing in zone that addresses their man to man limitations?

    As an aside, Perry does not challenge shots above the rim but he is OK on-ball when he’s guarding his own position as a 4.

    Yes, we should have beaten Stanford, just like Arizona should have beaten every Pac-12 team after their injury. Michigan State was more talented than many of the teams they lost to, too. The injury to Embiid counts for something. That injury happened at the very end of the season! The offense was stagnant in part because guys weren’t used to playing together without Embiid on the court. Tarik is great, but he is a very different type of player than Embiid. Traylor was great, but he played many more minutes. Those types of things affect other players and their comfort on the court.

  • @HighEliteMajor BIG QUESTION: You’ve done your usual outstanding job in presenting stale-prevention playstyle evolution. But my only question is this: Could the lack of execution, especially the defensive fail-jobs by Naadir and Ellis be a logic error in our supposition that “the system is bad” or “needs revision”? What if Self simply makes a g-dd–n example out of Naa & says “you dont play if you cant play D”. Just like he did with Elijah Johnson, who couldnt keep his man in front of him (compared to Brady). Maybe its time for Naa to ‘ride pine’, while better defense-instincts Mason and Frankamp get to play 20-25mpg as each other’s subs?

    System breakdown needs to be traced to its root cause, right? I hate to sound like your Self soundbite “we didnt execute…”, but the fact is, when we do execute his system to a national top10 level, we win in astonishing fashion. And when we dont execute that way, even in a single game (think UNI, VCU…), we are ripe to get beat, because we are playing below our system’s requirements.

    General comment for those new to KU and Self basketball: SelfBall Principles:

    1. Play D. Top10 FG% D. D always travels. Keeps you in a game when your offense is struggling.

    2. WIN the possession battle: limit t.o.'s, get steals, win the rebounds.

    3. High%looks: Its why we will always be inside-first (but just as a general philosophy). The lob-dunk is a ridiculously high% play, which Im sure Stan VanGundy figured out after his shock at seeing an actual college team dedicate actual practice time to several plays for lob dunks. Skilled bigs and stickback bigs are high% looks. As is an “open look 3, by a trusted shooter”.

    I would like to go a bit counter-thread here, just for the sake of advancing our overall discussion…and actually defend Bill Self by saying he is NOT as rigid as he is made out to be. Evidence:
    -Abandons some of set offense in 2012, as TRob doubled, and Withey not polished enough to create, and has Tyshawn “just drive it”. Bill Self went dribble drive. Either he did it calculatingly, or Tyshawn just got so good at it along with a high70sFT%, that we survived with that playstyle. It suited his personnel. -We do kick out for 3att often enough to have decent 3att for most games. Clearly he has NOT told players to NOT shoot, as we saw Mason try them early and often, then become more selective. I think Self’s msg on 3s is dont force them up early in a possession, especially if rebounders arent set…that’s just playing the percentages/smart basketball. You can of course argue that if we chucked them early and often, we would have the element of surprise, as opposed to the last 6sec of the shot clock, when everybody knows a forced, highpressure 3att is coming. One of the MAIN common issues in the UNI and VCU losses were the dismal KU 3%, and by very trusted senior shooters (Sherron 0-6, Reed 1-7). Sherron had a green light from Day 1, and Reed likely did also. I have NO doubt Jacobsen’s supposed lack of structure in allowing his UNI players to shoot 3s whenever/by whomever made an impression on Self. I mean we saw Mason, Embiid, Ellis, Frankamp, Selden, Greene, Wiggins, AW3 all attempt 3s. Now the harder part: recall that many of those looks were early, but that is OK if the shooter is wide open. Open-look 3s have ALWAYS been accepted and encouraged by Self. I’ve seen that throughout the years, different sets of players, to realize it IS a part of his system, and he doesnt discourage open-look 3 attempts. You cannot face savant shooters like Heslip, Forte, Keiton Page, Kevin Durant and not think that you couldnt/shouldnt “free up” your own shooters. I think Rush and Chalmers always had the greenlight, just as frosh Sherron did since day 1 in 2007. Even RussRob had the greenlight, hitting the opening KU points with a corner3 vs UNC in the Final4. You know EJ and Tyshawn always had greenlights, as did Releford. Teahan also had a green light. Selby certainly did.

    -Experimenting with zones and trapping. I think Self may be more rigid on his m2m defense, as “you gotta get really good at one thing” (which we did not achieve this season). Duke is also a decidedly m2m team. With all the limits on practice time by the NCAA, it is a very real decision coaches have to make as to how to spend their limited practice time. But clearly we DO have zone and trapping “pkgs” to use situationally. Now if Self wants to throw a changeup D every 3 possessions, all game long, that’s his perogative.

    So, feel free to armchair QB any coach, anywhere, anytime. Me personally, I just want to see solid, tough, efficient play and improvement in all the major areas, as by KU standards, this last season was THE worst team KU has had since 2006, statistically speaking.

    Who knows what Self has up his sleeve for 2014-15, other than opening a can of Cliff-X-Tuff on everybody…and lets not forget K.Oubre, who might be a god-fearing kid, but fears nothing else, as he tried to dunk on Cliff in the final seconds of crunchtime, winning the game on the FT line. We need that attitude. Works best in Self’s system. We know this already…

  • @ralster great post! Only disagreement would be on Conner’s defense. Pretty shaky, along w/a few others! I have a hard time figuring why it was so bad.

  • @ralster You are right on point with your question: “But my only question is this: Could the lack of execution, especially the defensive fail-jobs by Naadir and Ellis be a logic error in our supposition that “the system is bad” or “needs revision”?”

    I am not suggesting that man to man is a “system fail.” With the 2013-14 Jayhawks, man to man defense netted a subpar result.

    The fail-jobs by Tharpe and Ellis lead to the conclusion that the system has to be more flexible. If you have square pegs, it is a “system fail” to continue to pound them into round holes. That is really my conclusion.

    I simply suggest that Self open his mind to the possibility that strict man to man is not the only answer all of the time.

    However, I do disagree with your statement: “We do kick out for 3att often enough to have decent 3att for most games. Clearly he has NOT told players to NOT shoot.”

    Self plainly has told players not to shoot. Ever see Greene turn down an open look three? Many times. Why? Because it was early in the shot clock. A trained dog on a leash. Do the wrong thing, you get yanked – like a dog on a leash. Pretty soon, you are skiddish and you won’t think of doing it. Self wants the three point shot to be a later option to getting a “better” shot. The “feed the post” mantra. You don’t disagree with that, right?

  • @jayhawk12 “Our defense was not good last season, but it wasn’t the initial penetration per se that hurt.”

    We are not on the same page. That statement ignores the entire season. You conclude the problem was that “We were terrible stopping what happened after the initial penetration.”

    Penetration creates opportunity, passes, getting fouled. EJ, Taylor, even McLemore were much better in stopping penetration. CF and Mason were better than Tharpe. You simply can’t expose your post players to having to bail out your point guard who can’t stop penetration. You get fouled up – see Black. Many of those were after Tharpe’s guy got in the lane. If you want to try and explain away that, then I’m sorry, it’s hard to discuss it. You ask any coach what’s more important, he’ll say stopping the penetration in the first place. You will have a certain % of times when there is penetration of course, but you can’t give it up over and over. When you do you are creating too many opportunities. It’s hoops 101.

    I read your last paragraph and it reeks of “apologist.” With that approach, you can explain away everything. I say very firmly that the Embiid injury means nothing … zero … when playing Stanford. We should beat Stanford in that situation. Period. But we got outcoached, plain and simple. Dawkins had the superior game plan. His defenders contested nearly every shot, as Self conceded. We did not have an answer to get open shots. Game, set, match. You are right, “we should have beaten Stanford.” To fall back on the Embiid injury is embarrassing, to be honest.

    No Embiid vs. Florida, or another stout team? Sure. Makes sense. Not Stanford.

  • @KansasComet I had asked “Does Coach Self get credit for the successes? Do you credit him for the 2008 title?”

    You had said yes, he put the team together.

    I then responded by asking if he gets credit for scheme, strategy, etc.

    What I mean is, wouldn’t he then get the blame too for failures? It’s legit to say he shares the blame, right?

    I have not seen anyone dispute that Self got outcoached vs. Stanford. It happens. Sometimes getting outcoached is having the wrong personnel on the floor. Sometimes not adjusting. Against Stanford, Self permitted Stanford to execute its game plan without any real strategic interference. Best he can do is try to improve like everyone else in life.

  • @ralster Thank you! That sums up my thoughts. Very well said. I think there are some that want to fix what ain’t broke. Looking forward to next season!

  • @HighEliteMajor I believe he shows up to the press conferences after every game. Win or lose. It starts with the Head Coach. Now, for my question. Is it right to say “I don’t want Wiggins”, and then say “forget everything bad I said about Wiggins”, only to flip again when the end result is not realized? That’s not cool. But somehow, I am sure that is Coach Self’s fault for recruiting a one and done?

  • @HighEliteMajor

    I’m not saying initial penetration doesn’t matter. Of course it does. Yes, it is the most important thing. BUT reducing all of the defensive issues to Tharpe’s failure to prevent dribble penetration absolves everyone else of responsibility. There are no binarys here. Other people are somewhat responsible. The timing of Embiid’s injury mattered some. You have to acknowledge those things.

    Defensive statistics are team statistics. They measure your ability to play together effectively as a group. FG % defense most directly measures shot quality. As soon as someone gets by Tharpe, it becomes the team responsibility to rotate. Failure to challenge a shot after that point falls on someone else. Failure to fulfill that responsibility means that others are - to some extent- responsible. In that way they contribute to poor FG% defense.

    Of course the guard that allows penetration makes it harder for everyone else to play good defense. Is it fair? no. But it is the reality. And it is the responsibility of everyone to help. In addition to being a weaker on-ball team than others Self has coached, we were also weaker making rotations. We had six freshmen come in. 5 of them played significant minutes. In retrospect, it’s no wonder they didn’t play together as well as the 2011 team.

    As an aside, I agree that Tharpe’s defense hurt Black more than others. But again, you can’t absolve Tarik completely. Perry and JoJo are better at challenging shots without fouling. That is not Tarik’s strength. Naadir increased Tarik’s exposure to fouls, but Tarik still committed each and every one of them.

    It is clear we disagree about the importance of Embiid’s injury.

  • Do you think you can’t do both in practice? I think other teams do. UK was younger and obviously did

    @HighEliteMajor I absolutely think you can do both. But your point was that we go “all in” on zone, which I took to mean we practice that instead of M2M. So say in a season we spend 90-95% of the time practicing M2M (which is my guess as to how much time we spend on M2M), going “all in” on zone would mean spending 90-95% on zone in practice. That is what I wouldn’t want to do. I’m on record as wanting more zone, but not ever as the primary defense taught.

    And no, PG play wasn’t the primary reason we lost to Stanford, although Self stubbornly going with Tharpe for far too many minutes in the second half certainly contributed. But to get to the national championship? I could see if Self abandoned Tharpe all together, then and only then would PG play not be an obstacle that we eventually would be unable to overcome.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    " @drgnslayr - “And every team is unique and strategy has to fit their uniqueness so they can become most effective.”

    With a system coach, talent adapts to system. It is a key consideration in why, possibly, we don’t seem to get the most out of our talent. "

    Over my lifetime, I bet I’ve had 100 or so arguments about this subject. You are right, system coaches force their system. And they should recruit specific players that fit the system and know what they are signing up for.

    I believe in it to the point where a team can improve if you adjust to what players you have. At that point, you should do whatever you can to produce the best outcomes. This is especially important with OADs… because making them endure bad play won’t teach them anything they can later come back and use because in a few months they are gone.

    Seems impossible to expect consistent positive results from non-4-year players if the coach is going to be a pure system coach. Self definitely fit the description over his history. But in recent years he has adapted his own rules to fit situations… primarily, OADs.

    My question: will he continue to come off his rigid coaching style? Myles Turner will not fit in his hi/lo except on occasion. If Bill wants Myles to become a Jayhawk, doesn’t he realize Myles skills primarily involve him facing the basket, not back to the basket? He would do Myles a great disservice by forcing him to play most of his time back to the basket. It won’t help him get drafted high, and it won’t be his game in the NBA.

    And then… how would Bill ever hope to land a player like Thon Maker? He’s preparing to go after him big time.

  • @drgnslayr Turner said he liked Selfs hi lo, he could play both.

  • @drgnslayr

    Kansas Turner says: “I like the high-low system that Coach [Bill] Self runs, due to the fact that I can play both the high and the low. Playing in that system with Cliff and a couple of other bigs over there, that would be pretty cool to be a part of.”

  • @HighEliteMajor Totally agree that Self ought to show more flexibility…I was simply trying to point out that he seems to show more flexibility lately (but definitely didnt convert over to predominant zone).

    2 ideas:

    1. Maybe Self didnt have to be so flexible in the past, simply because the execution of TheSystem was adequate, and gave better results? (why change what already is working?)

    2. The other idea is that if Self ever went to zone-D predominantly, and starts practicing it–> what happens to the young’uns being brought up in the System? They start having to focus on zone-D (in the limited practice time the NCAA gives us)…and in 1 season, we have altered the developmental ‘pipeline’…and basically turned our whole program into a zone-D program? That’s a bigtime ramification, HEM, and my friendly thought is that its why Self wont wholesale change his base D, as that will alter the teachings to 2-3 years worth of kids?

    On another note, count me “IN” on the push-the-pace tempo forced by quickly inbounding the ball by anyone off a made bucket. It would give a few more chances for our athletes to get out in transition, which we always seem to be waiting to do…but the D sucked and we hardly got steals, strips. The glimmer of hope was when Embiid blocked something, we still were able to take it and run with it. Kids do that in h.s. I agree it would give us another factor to control the game. Put some more fouls on the opponent…

  • This season, simply because of the huge influx of newbies, we simply were NOT good statistically in key areas. Our FG% defense sucked like a KS tornado. Our 2nd shot defense was awful. We didnt have over half of 2008’s offense installed and usable and well-rehearsed. Remember, the 2008 experienced squad absolutely demolished zone-defenses…(same coach), what was the difference?

  • @ralster nice posts!

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