The Kansas Jayhawks, settled comfortably at the top of the Big 12 conference, will begin the second half of their Big 12 season with a two-game lead over West Virginia and Iowa State. The Jayhawks play at Oklahoma St. on Saturday, and a victory in Stillwater should all but secure Kansas’s 11th straight Big 12 regular-season title. Bill Self talked about his team yesterday:
Q. Coach Self, I have a question about Wayne Selden always have the best defender. Is the reason he hasn’t shot particularly well the last few games, is defense taken out of the play? What is your theory on that?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I think his mom came to town. He got a new haircut. There is really a lot of important tangibles going on why he shot it well. But hopefully he’s on an uptick. I think he went 8 of 13 from three this past weekend, which, obviously, we’re a different team when Wayne plays like that. He was really, really good. He’s guarding better.
When you worry about the right things, I think you shoot it better. I think sometimes you put pressure on yourself to make shots when things aren’t going well, and he hasn’t done that as much of late because he worried about other things. So he sounded pretty well, but you look at it and he hasn’t shot it well like he’s capable of shooting. For the season, I could be wrong on this, but I think he’s right at 40% from three. If you had told me he would shoot 40%, we’d really be happy. Where he hasn’t shot the ball as well was from two, inside the arc. He needs to do a better job of finishing when he goes to the hole. I think his perimeter shooting has actually been pretty good.
Q. How much more dangerous is a team like Oklahoma State after being able to go on the road at a hostile place like that and find a way to get a victory?
COACH SELF: I think it’s easier to prepare for the next game when you’re in good spirits over the last game. So, if you play on Wednesday or Tuesday, by Saturday you would think that kids would have a chance to recover, whether it’s a draining game and you win or whether it’s an emotional loss, whatever, especially in league play where there’s definitely ups and downs.
To me, I think the two-day turnaround is more important for mental preparation having won on Saturday if you play on Monday. Losing on Saturday sometimes I think is more draining, and you don’t get as much done on Sunday which makes your preparation not as good for Monday. But they’ll be ready to play regardless if they had won or not last night. But if I was their coach, I would definitely feel better about guys being enthused and excited for practice and excited for scouting report and things like that after an emotional win like that. It was a great win last night they had.
Q. Brannen’s numbers from the three in league play are almost unheard of. Is it too early to talk about him as far as how good a shooter he is? And also your team in general is really looking good from beyond the arc.
COACH SELF: I think we’ve got a good shooting team. We haven’t shot it well consistently, but in league play, once we got into league play we shot it a little better. But regardless if Brannen’s stats are 40% or 50% or 60%, the guy can really shoot the ball. I mean, he’s probably as good a shooter as we’ve had since I’ve been here. Maybe from a percentage standpoint, you could say Rush, maybe Tyrel. I think Brady led the league in three-point shooting one year. But to me, Brannen makes real shots. He jumps up and just shoots the ball, and shoots it with confidence. I think he doesn’t take as many shots, but I think he’s probably as good a shooter as we’ve had since we’ve been here.
Q. Do you think you guys need to shoot more threes or are you okay– what have you guys done?
COACH SELF: I think game situations determine how many threes you shoot. Sometimes teams take away things, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they want to trap the post and take away their bigs and that could open up some things. Sometimes there are a lot of offensive rebounds, which create more three-point opportunities or transition which creates more three. I think a lot of it depends on the game. But historically, 30% of our shots historically have been threes. I think we’re close to being right on that again this year.
Q. Cliff has ten points and three rebounds in the last three games combined, and minutes are down. Is this just sort of the freshman wall? He’s played more than the other freshmen. Kind of a different situation for him compared to them, but is it that or something else?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s hit a wall by any stretch, but he hasn’t scored the ball as much lately. But if you look at how he scored in other games it’s off of penetration. It’s not off of catching the ball in the post and making post moves or scoring over people as much as it is drop offs and offensive rebounds and transitions. So I think Cliff’s doing fine. We can say his minutes are down, maybe down two minutes a game or three minutes a game or whatnot. But we’ve had some guys step up.
I thought Landen played really well the last game, obviously, against Iowa State. And he didn’t even play against K-State. So that’s kind of how we’re doing it. I know it’s not really seeming like it’s fair to kids, but we’ve got a rotation of 8. And if those 8 are playing well, we may not get to 9 and 10. If we’ve got a rotation of 8 and they’re not playing well, or foul problems creep in, which is what happened against Iowa State. And we put Landen in, and he performs as well or better than some of the guys that were playing the minutes before, so we run with him. But that’s how we kind of evolved. So I wouldn’t read into that very much.
Q. Getting back to the three-point shooting, it is around 30% of your shots usually from three. Do you have a system and then it just goes to that number? Orthopedic have you thought okay, that’s a good percentage of shots?
COACH SELF: No, no, we haven’t done anything to talk about that. It’s just the way we play, and it’s just what it is. It’s the way we play this year it seems like to me it would be more. Maybe a percentage or two points more. But usually we play inside out and that’s how I want to play. Even if we don’t shoot inside, at least play behind, throwing it inside, and we haven’t done that near as much this year. But theoretically, I think that’s a pretty good percentage for us. Maybe some schools are 40% or 35 or 25 or whatnot.
But based on our history and the success that we’ve had with our shot selection over the years, I think 30% is a pretty good number for us.
Q. Each year, how big of a goal is it for you to win the conference as opposed to being a byproduct of winning a lot of basketball games?
COACH SELF: Well, I think it’s a goal every year to win your league. I think that’s the goal of everybody that plays in a league is to win the league. So we’ve put a lot of emphasis on winning the league. We don’t talk about it a ton. We huddle up and say Big 12 champs at the end of each practice. That is sometimes the extent of our talk about it.
But it’s too early to be looking at the league race and say, oh, we’ve got to do this and this or we’re in pretty good shape. All we’ve got to do is just go play well in Stillwater, so that’s how I look at it. The Iowa State game, we never once mentioned the league race to our guys. We talked about getting a chance to play a really good Iowa State team. So it’s something that is important to our players. I mean, if you’re a team of guys, I mean, do you want to be the team that didn’t do it? Do you want to be the one that, obviously, wasn’t able to do what all of the players that came before you were able to do? So there is some pride there, and we’re able to sell that throughout a season.
But once you get into it, we don’t put extra emphasis on it or anything like that. I don’t have to, because it is important to the kids. They already know it.
Q. Iowa State didn’t close the way you wanted it to, and TCU with a little pressure at the end. Is that something teams are doing to you or something you guys are having trouble with yourselves?
COACH SELF: Well, I think that at certain times we’ve looked really good against pressure and certain times we haven’t. I think in the– in both of those particular games, I think the other team did a good job of getting after us, but I also think we did a pitiful job of handling them getting after us. You know, we’ve got a team that with Frank or whatnot, when he’s playing 35 minutes does such a good job in late-game situations and go get open on your own. Sometimes he doesn’t have the same energy level to get open on his own, and he’s really important that he does.
But I think we’ll handle it better moving forward. We’ve worked on it a lot yesterday. A lot. That was our whole emphasis during practice yesterday. So a lot of it is the other teams. When other teams pressure you, you’re going to turn it over, and when you play cautious and almost play not to screw up or play to run the shot clock out, I think sometimes you screw up more because when you really get down to it, it becomes a game where if you manage the clock right, it’s impossible for the other team to come back.
So sometimes you start thinking like that and, okay, we’re not going to take that shot. Let’s be a little conservative here. I think that’s when you struggle the most. There are certainly some things we can do to improve and tighten up, no question.
Q. Some of your defensive numbers have been a little better in conference play?
COACH SELF: Been a lot better.
Q. Field goal percentage defense, is there a key to that? How do you explain that?
COACH SELF: I don’t know if there was a key. I thought all along we had potential to be a very good defensive team. I don’t know if we’re very good yet, but I think we’re heading in that direction to be pretty good. But we played a hard schedule. I tell you what, folks, you shouldn’t even look at your overall season stats. Just look at your conference stats when everybody’s playing the same people because your overall season stats, you could beat one team, 120-40, and your scoring margin and rebound margin and all that stuff is not real. All teams benefit from it. We benefited from it. Other people benefited from it.
But the bottom line is I really think once you get into conference and you’re halfway through league play, you can tell who you are more through conference stats than you can through season stats. Our season-long stats haven’t been very impressive at all in my opinion. But our conference stats, and I don’t study it daily, but our conference stats from an offensive standpoint efficiency, obviously from a defensive efficiency have been much, much better. The two things we haven’t done well in league play at all is shoot free throws and rebound the ball.
We definitely I thought were rebounding the ball and shooting free throws better out of conference, and I can’t blame that free-throw shooting on competition. Usually nobody guards you when you shoot them, so you can’t really blame it on that. But we’ve got to get where we can make free throws consistently.
Q. Have you guys done a better job protecting the rim than maybe you thought you would?
COACH SELF: No, not better than I thought we would. I still don’t think we’re near as good as what I thought we would be protecting the rim. I watched the Oklahoma State game again today. I’ve watched it two or three times, but I’m amazed how many times they got all the way to the rim. I thought Iowa State and K-State we probably did a better job of not letting them get all the way to the rim. But maybe we’ve done a better job in the last three or four games, but I still think that’s a big area that we can improve in.
Q. On the defensive side of things, do you have an idea of field goal percentage or numbers want to be at like benchmarks?
COACH SELF: Not really. I think if we can hold opponents under 38 I’d be really happy. Historically, if you do that against good competition, you’d be really happy. A lot of people think under 40. But some of the best teams field goal percentage is 41 or 42, but they create enough havoc and get more steals and do some other things that kind of offset a high field goal percentage. So it’s all in your philosophy.
But in my world, if we could average 7, 7-and-a-half steals a game and hold opponents to the 38, 39 range and then be plus five or six on the backboard, I would say well, we’re starting to gain on some things. We’re still in some possessions and limiting other people’s possessions, which is probably pretty good.
Q. It’s within an hour drive ask still home country for you. Is it always going to be special to go back there?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I love Stillwater and I love OSU. We spent 11 years of our life there, but it’s not like it used to be. When I was at Oral Roberts and just left to go to Oral Roberts and we played there every other year we’d play home at home with them, that was kind of a unique deal for me, because I was so young and didn’t know. We’re going to go. We’re going to take our team and we’re going to go show everybody over there, all our friends what we can do, and we ended up getting beaten 39-42, I think.
Tulsa we didn’t play. Illinois we didn’t play. It was emotional for me going back there, our first game back here. It was a big Monday, if I’m not mistaken, and they had a final four team. They were great. And we weren’t quite as good, and I think I called three timeouts before the 16-minute mark because things weren’t going really well.
But it’s not anything different for me anymore. It’s just like going to Ames or just like going to Norman, except you have a chance to see people after the game. I won’t see any friends before the game. For the most part, at least that is the way it usually works. I certainly won’t try to have lunch with anybody or anything like that, and then after the game I get a chance to kind of reconnect with some folks. But it’s always good to see familiar faces. The place is important to me. Lot of people there helped raise me and that kind of stuff so appreciative. But over 30 years it kind of dwindles, the emotion that you have when you go back.
Q. The players are very happy for Wayne, had a good game a couple games ago. The game against Kansas State there was a lot of support. Do you see that with this team?
COACH SELF: There are a lot of intangibles going into having a good team. One of them that goes into it that I think can be so misused and you take for granted is I think they actually like each other. There are a lot of teams that you act like they like each other, but deep down they don’t like each other. Yeah, yeah, I’m happy for him, yeah, right, but what about mine. He’s taken my minutes. Yeah, I’m really happy for him, but he’s taken my minutes. That is the mindset with some teams, but I don’t see that with this team.
I think they’re genuinely happy with each other. They like each other. They want each other to be successful. When you have two players that are as respected as Perry and Wayne, I think our players genuinely care when they do well, especially when a guy maybe has been laboring a little bit.
We talk about Perry, he spoils us because he’s so consistent in so many ways, but he made a couple of tough plays against Iowa State that were huge. I mean, the charge he takes and making the basket and going down on his shoulder hard and getting up and being back in transition to stop them on one possession and things like that. Those are things that kind of go unheard of, but those are things that make coaches most proud.
The players get it. They understand when guys are performing well, and guys need something good to happen. Certainly Perry went through a little rut, and Wayne’s gone through a little rut, and hopefully they’re back out of it now.
Q. The other assist to turn over ratio for Devonte right now–
COACH SELF: What is he 32-3?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I gave him too much credit. Yeah, that’s pretty good. It’s not as good as 20-1. He was 20-1 at one time. He’s done a nice job. If you look at it, Wayne’s made shots in league play. Kelly’s made shots or excuse me, Brannen’s made shots in league play. Devonte and Kelly, though they were making shots earlier, they haven’t really made shots in league play. We can kind of like this and that.
But one thing that’s been consistent for the most part is that we’ve taken better care of the ball, even though we’ve had 16 the other night, I still feel like we did a better job of taking care of the ball till late, and Devonte’s been a big reason why.
Q. You watch a game like Oklahoma-West Virginia, not that you’re necessarily rooting for somebody, but you understand if West Virginia loses, you’re going to be two games up on that. How do you watch a game like that? Are you coaching in your head?
COACH SELF: No not coaching in my head, but I do have favorites. There are some teams to me that I don’t necessarily care for them more than the other team, but there are certain situations we may pull for a team more than others. But you know, it’s so early and you want something to happen.
My thinking is a lot of times when you wish for something to happen early in conference play, it turns out to be totally irrelevant late, and it may end up biting you. So we just watch. We just watch.
It’s certainly nice to have a two-game lead halfway through it, but to me we’ve still got to play West Virginia twice, and that two-game lead could go to zero if we don’t take care of business. So we just try to watch, not get too hung up or emotional in what’s going on, and then just focus in on what we need to do.
Q. Iowa State late in the game and West Virginia, they really pressure the ball, Oklahoma State some too. Is that how much Devonte plays?
COACH SELF: He could. He could. The thing about it is Devonte’s going to play his 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how the game goes. And Frank’s going to play his 30 to 35, and Wayne’s going to be locked in and play a certain amount, and Kelly and Brannen too. It may be a little more, but it’s nice to have five starters you can play back there and have confidence with them.
So any of those combination, as long as Frank or Devonte’s on the court at the same time, I think any of those combination can be effective for us depending on who is playing well.
Q. You talked about practicing one way and scoring a different way about making plays. What is that like for the coach?
COACH SELF: It happens all the time. It happens all the time to all programs, but okay, this is how we’re going to play. This is how we’re going to play. This is how we’re going to play. And all of a sudden, foul problems dictate well, that takes away the low post and this and that. Now you tweak it. How do we get the ball to where we want it to go without doing it the way we’ve scripted it so to speak, and that happens all the time with all teams.
That is one thing our team has done a pretty good job of thus far is being able to adjust on the fly. What we did against Iowa State offensively was not anything remotely on film looking at it. That was really right to do. It wasn’t. But the way they defended the post, and how ineffective we were scoring on the post, and we’re just going to be a drive-it team. I thought our guys adjusted pretty well, and actually did a pretty good job with that.
So we probably practiced playing that way 15 minutes. So I think a lot of teams have a lot of things in their package that maybe they don’t plan on using. That was one of those times that we did something we didn’t plan on doing and it worked out okay.
Q. With your bench and the different skills you have like Brannen and Devonte and Cliff, are you a team that can bring guys off the bench and they’ll give you a different style? Does that make sense?
COACH SELF: I would say probably not. I don’t think our style changes based on– like if they’re trapped in the post and giving us problems trapped in the post and maybe our emphasis isn’t getting it to the post as much. So we’re going to try to twist something else up. But I don’t look at it like well, if we’re going to play this way, we have to have him in the game. I don’t look at it like that at all.
I look at it probably more defensively than offensively, and like okay, they’re playing two four men now, who is Cliff going to guard on the perimeter? I would look at it like that. But offensively we’re going to try to do things whatever our goal game plan is, regardless, we may have to tweak it within the game. Certainly it would be nice if we could say, okay, we’re going to go down, throw the ball inside and play behind that. But Iowa State didn’t guard a high post and they doubled the low, and that made it hard to do that.
Q. With yesterday being football signing day, what is it for you when it comes to recruiting a guy, there has to be one thing you see out of that player beyond skills that you’ve got to get out of a guy, and this is the type of player we want in our program. Is there one thing?
COACH SELF: Well, if you’re looking at what we look at when we recruit, I would say there are three things. I don’t know what that would equate to in football, but in basketball it would be how athletic, how explosive, can he shoot, and is he tough?
I would think in football you’d have something a little bit different than that, but in theory, probably something pretty similar. Maybe a receiver, can he catch? I don’t know. But that to me is what it comes down to. Then if you’re unsure on a guy, which we’ve been unsure on many, it comes down to basically is he tough, and will he be a good teammate? If you’re going to be a good teammate, if you believe that and if you’re tough, you’re going to find a way to help your program.
Now it may not be in year one, it may not be in year two, but it could be in year three and year four. That’s why it’s a little different with us, because with the really good players we’re recruiting, we’re projecting them for one or two years. With football, you’re projecting them for four or five years, so sometimes I think in football, at least from my vantage point, Dave knows better than me, intangibles can be more important than trying to evaluate that in football than in basketball. Like on Wiggs, you’re going to take Wiggs no matter what, or Joe you’re going to take him no matter what. But when you’re taking a football player that may need a red-shirt or this or that and you’re trying to project down the road.