On What Bill Self Likes Most…

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 15th, 2017

Bill Self absolutely loves hustle plays and grind-it-out wins. A coach doesn’t simply roll out elite defensive units on the regular without emphasizing the little things. No matter how good his teams are offensively, or how many NBA prospects come through his program, or how many Big 12 titles he piles up, Self values few things more than a dive for a loose ball, a winning battle on the glass or an offensive angle denied. Conversely, there isn’t much that grinds Self’s gears settling for sub-optimal shots. The Jayhawks did plenty of the former in their 65-61 win over Kentucky on Tuesday night, but there was also too much of the latter, and that will have to improve for Kansas to ultimately reach its National Championship potential.

Kansas won a rock fight Tuesday night utilizing the kind of defensive intensity Bill Self loves. (AP)

The strength of this team coming into the season was in the explosiveness of its backcourt. That will continue for as long as Self has just three scholarship big men on his roster, and especially as long as he has just two scholarship big men while the school figures out exactly what is going on with Billy Preston’s car. That said, the talented guard corps didn’t fully show up against Kentucky. Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win, but the trio also shot just 30 percent from the field for the game. Lagerald Vick made some good contributions too, but not as many as he could have in stumbling to a 4-of-14 shooting mark. Even while playing small lineups against the Wildcats’ long and hyper-athletic roster, Kansas rebounded 38.0 percent of its own misses and generated turnovers on a staggering 25.7 percent of Kentucky’s trips down the floor. That resulted in 20 second-chance points, but Kansas still only tabulated 0.93 points per possession as a result of suspect shot selection and poor execution around the rim.

The Jayhawks won’t face a better team than Kentucky until Big 12 play picks up, which means it already has its marquee non-conference resume win a full week before Thanksgiving. Self will take that any day of the week, and it is important to also highlight the bright spots from last night’s contest. Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike impressed with his conditioning and footwork while playing a career-high 34 minutes, although the team didn’t do a great job of finding him until the game’s coda. Furthermore, for all of Vick’s shooting struggles, he showed that he can still help when his shot isn’t falling when he corralled a bad Kentucky pass and found Mykhailiuk leaking out to spark a Kansas spurt. Additionally, freshman Marcus Garrett proved that he can contribute even on a team stacked with experienced guards, and Newman iced the game with his clutch free throws. All four helped Kansas to victory Tuesday night despite Kentucky shooting better from the field, and while Self will surely harp on his offense’s struggles in the days to come, there’s something to be said for achieving a positive result against a quality opponent when the Jayhawks were not at their best.

The absences of Frank Mason, Josh Jackson and Landen Lucas were assuredly felt Tuesday night in Chicago, but if the 13-time defending Big 12 champions can couple the defensive intensity they displayed with the high-powered offense we know they’re capable of generating, they’ll be in fantastic shape going forward.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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