Self Talks College GameDay in Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The last unbeaten team in Big 12 Conference play, Kansas men’s basketball will start a tough three-day stretch against top-25 opponents Iowa State on Jan. 17 and Oklahoma on Jan. 19. Head coach Bill Self took questions regarding ESPN College GameDay in Ames, shortened shot clocks and how it’s too early to talk Big 12 race.
No. 9/10 Kansas (14-2, 3-0) takes on its second of four-straight nationally-ranked teams when it plays at No. 11/13 Iowa State (12-3, 2-1), Saturday at 8 p.m., on ESPN College GameDay.
Q. Can you recall other coaches who have had this much success with transfers as Iowa State has?
COACH SELF: I don’t think I can. There’s a lot of schools out there that that you think would be a good place for transfers to end up. But certainly there’s none of them that’s worked out better than what Fred’s (ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg) group has. They have been right on point on how they have conducted their recruiting.
And you stop and think about it, how smart it is, because whether you’re — this is not a knock against Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Idaho — but you’re looking at a lot of states in our area that don’t produce the numbers of elite athletes because of population.
What gets you to a level playing field is possibly going out and recruiting guys that are age 21 or age 20 that have been around the block a couple of times, understand what it takes to compete at a collegiate level and then have them go compete against freshmen and sophomores. I think it’s a pretty smart way in which he’s conducted his business.
Q. Is there something to be said about that being a “last chance” for a kid?
COACH SELF: The misconception about transfers is a lot of times you think there’s a negative reason on why they occur. That’s not necessarily the case at all. I think studies show that a lot of times, it’s because of style; it could be playing time; it could be a lot of different things of why kids choose to elect to go somewhere and sit. But I really think that once you get a guy that has sat a year, now you know he can’t transfer again.
So you bring up a good point; it almost forces you into, ‘Hey, I’m here, might as well certainly do what Coach says and make the most of it.’ But I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case in Ames, but I know that would be the case the way I would look at it. But Fred and his staff, they have done a marvelous job in getting these guys to blend in and play together as a unit.
Q. ESPN College GameDay is great at home, but what are they like on the road?
COACH SELF: I like them. Last year, we did the one in Stillwater (at Oklahoma State) and didn’t play very well in that one at all. We have had one at Missouri, if I’m not mistaken. I’m trying to think where else we’ve been on the road. We’ve been in Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan on GameDay. We were at Texas one time on GameDay. We probably had four or five ourselves here.
I was a little disappointed we didn’t get a GameDay at home because that was a second-straight year. Because what it is is an infomercial for your program and for your school. It is a 24-hour infomercial, which is great. But it would be good for our guys to play in that type of environment. It would be great for their players to play in a game that draws such national attention, and certainly a game that deserves national attention. So we’ll be very excited to go.
Q. Did you watch the ISU at Baylor game last night?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I watched the game last night. I didn’t watch every possession because I was trying to actually watch tape of Iowa State, and you can actually get a lot more stuff done watching tape in the same amount of time than you could watching a game because of, you know, all the breaks and commercials.
But yeah, I watched most of the important possessions there late, and of course they played fabulous down the stretch to come back and actually take the lead. Then I don’t know if I’ve seen Baylor play better than what Baylor did to get a 15-point lead in the first half. That was a nice comeback on the road.
Q. After last year — with the freedom of movement, a year and a half later, what do you think of the way games are called and the way guys are able to move on the floor?
COACH SELF: Are you basically talking about the Oklahoma State game and the number of fouls?
Q. A little bit, but I’ve seen it in other places, too. The game last night was the same way.
COACH SELF: It was the same way? You also look at our game at Baylor, what did we shoot, six free throws? And what did we shoot, 13 against Texas Tech, something like that? So there has been numerous games where we have not shot a large number of free throws.
I actually think the officials are doing a really good job. I think that there were some certain things that they called closer in the last game because of the chippiness to make sure that they had control over it. I think that was more of an anomaly than what it normally would be.
But I certainly think that they have actually done a pretty good job with it. Even though it usually starts out strong and then it kind of tapers off a little bit in a lot of circumstances, I think the games have been well officiated from that standpoint.
Of course that doesn’t mean you’re happy with every call; you’re never going to be. But what happens when you go back and watch tape is you realize they did a lot more right than what you would have gotten right standing there from the sideline in the position that you were in.
Q. Getting back to scoring, it seems way down this year. Do you agree?
COACH SELF: (Yes, it’s) Way down. You know, you stop and think about it. This is an interesting stat I thought.
I think in conference play, we may be the second-leading scoring team in our league — it may be third — and we are averaging 70 points a game in the league, which is the lowest number that we’ve ever averaged here.
I think statistically, at least in the games that I’m most familiar with, I think scoring is way down. And I think a lot of that is bad offense. I think a lot of it is that it’s easier to coach defense than offense, and a lot of times easier to stop people than it is to exploit people. I think a lot of coaches feel that way.
But our players’ skill sets, I don’t think are quite as good. I think it’s just generally going down in large part because we don’t have as many great players playing in the college game as what we’ve had in most of the years past because none of them stay past their sophomore year.
Q. Sometimes people equate scoring to the quality of play. Do you think in college basketball, is that down, too?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t think the product is down at all. I think that here is the philosophy: the other team can’t score, you can’t lose. And you can control your defense and your rebounding and things like that. You can control that a lot easier than you can control execution and making shots.
I think that a lot of people understand that. I think it’s hard to win games because people give up less easy baskets. One stat that you can look at, and one reason why numbers are down it appears to me, is there’s less transition in college basketball than what there appeared to be in years past. And of course with less transition, there are obviously fewer possessions and there are also easier opportunities to get baskets.
So that doesn’t surprise me at all, but the product is still great. You know, you go through phases of time in baseball (when) home runs are down or home runs are up; and (in) football (when) scoring is down or up. That’s just kind of the way it happens.
But I think the rules committee has done a good job to promote the right things to give offenses not an advantage, but if it’s run right and executed right, that you would have an advantage over somebody that’s not as sound defensively.
Q. Is there any word on whether to reduce the shot clock?
COACH SELF: So we’re going to get rules committee stuff today.
A lot of coaches are not in favor of shot clock reduction. They think that would — if you had trouble scoring now — try getting the shot earlier in the clock where you don’t give the defense a chance to break down.
I’m not one that feels that way. I think that the shot clock should be reduced, because I think coaches will adjust and we’ll go to work to try to score earlier in the clock than what they would maybe if there was a 35-second, as opposed to 30- or whatever they reduce it to. I think it would be a positive change. But a lot of coaches across America do not feel strongly about that at all.
Q. You allow 32 percent on two-pointers, what have you done well to prevent those?
COACH SELF: Well, I think our activity level has been way better. I think we are getting our hands on more balls. I think our help side guarding the ball has been better. I actually think we’ve done a better job of keeping the ball out of the paint and I also think we have done a better job of blocking or contesting.
But it’s also not a true measure of where we are because it’s only a three-game series. But if you go back — if you go back probably since Christmas and look at the UNLV game and the Kent State game, I do think that we have been better on the defensive end. I don’t want to say great, but I think we are starting to guard like I envisioned us guarding when the season started.
Q. If the blocking is contested, you guys lost a lot last year — are you pleasantly surprised that you have guys to challenge?
COACH SELF: No, not pleasantly surprised but I am more pleased. Because I thought that would be something that we would be decent at regardless.
I tell you where we’ve gotten better is blocking shots from behind. I think Jamari (Traylor) and Wayne (Selden, Jr.) have both done a really good job, especially in the last game. There were some big plays that were momentum changers that Wayne made late in a possession where guys maybe would get a layup and he goes from nowhere to block it out, which leads to two points (for us) in a hurry, and I do think we have done that.
But we do not have a great shot-blocker. Cliff (Alexander), obviously, would be the best one that we have. But we have got more guys contesting and blocking than probably what we’ve had in years past where we relied primarily on one guy.
Q. You’ve been asked about Perry Ellis a lot in the last few weeks. How close is he to what you envision him being next year?
COACH SELF: I think that Perry is just a fraction away from doing the things that we had envisioned him to do. I think one thing he has to do, he’s just got to go be a player. He’s got to go be a player that’s aggressive and believe that he’s a player. He needs to believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night he takes the floor, because when he plays well, he is. He’s proven that.
I think Perry is going through a little bit of a situation where maybe we’re winning and maybe it’s okay for him to defer like he has in years past, because the end result has been okay. And that’s no good for us. He’s got to be a guy that is the most aggressive guy looking to score every night that we play. Even if he misses shots, he makes things happen if he’s aggressive.
I don’t think he’s far off at all, and certainly his talent level is as good or as better as it’s been since he’s been here. I just think there’s a little bit going on with him from a confidence standpoint, or maybe from a mental standpoint, that maybe he’s rationalized that ‘It’s okay to be the way I am because the team is doing well,’ and I don’t think it is. I think he’s got to be our go-to guy, and I don’t think he’s far off. I wouldn’t be surprised at him having a series of big games very soon.
Q. Is Perry a naturally confident player? You said sometimes his confidence goes up-and-down.
COACH SELF: He remembers his misses where some guys don’t remember their misses. He remembers his screw-ups because he’s conscientious, like you would want your son to be; where a lot of coaches would just as soon not coach your son. They would rather have some guys that can’t remember their bad plays. And I think that that’s something that he’s got to get better at.
I think he’s almost too sweet and too nice a kid at times when things are not going well and he rationalizes, well, we are doing fine, so it’s okay to miss.
But one thing that I worry about with our entire team is our body language. I don’t think we have been a great body language team and I think Perry is one of those guys that can improve on that. I think plays affect him too much.
Perry, to me, is this: You know how we coaches say all the time that sometimes winning never feels as good as losing feels bad? I think sometimes with players, although they may be making good plays, those good plays never feel as good compared to how bad you feel when you screw up. And I think that as a player, that’s a bad way to be. Hey, don’t remember your screw-ups and every great play is an energy boost.
I think when there are expectations on you with things like that and things go well, well, this is what I’m supposed to be doing, as opposed to, man, this is great, I’ve never had so much fun. That’s probably a bad analogy but I think that’s something that’s very correctible and I really see him taking off the last half of our season.
Q. Is Kelly Oubre, Jr., one of those guys?
COACH SELF: Kelly can’t remember. Kelly can be 0-of-4 and have three turnovers and he gets a deflection out-of-bounds, and he thinks that’s the play that actually won the game, which is the way it should be. And I think that’s great. But that’s the way it should be; fun and enthusiastic like that.
Q. Kelly’s time becoming confident was really slow. What was the switch with him?
COACH SELF: Probably just playing time and seeing some good things happen. Maybe me believing in him more, be real candid, because maybe I didn’t trust as much early on, which probably affected him because he wasn’t performing well.
The other thing that I think was kind of a negative, and I’ll get on Larry (Keating, Special Assistant to the Athletics Director) about this: I think our schedule was a negative with that. Because, you know, it can’t be my fault, so we’ve got to blame somebody else.
I think our schedule was a negative with that small thing in mind, because how do you let guys play through certain things when you’ve got to win the game? Which is a compliment to our schedule, because our schedule is off the charts if you guys looked at any of the ratings stuff. And it’s obviously, I believe, going to be an asset to our team moving forward. But earlier in their careers, I think that would be something that’s a little bit of detriment to some of those kids.
Q. What are the challenges of guarding ISU’s Georges Niang?
COACH SELF: Georges is terrific and he’s one of my favorite players in the league, without question. Georges is averaging what, 15 and a half a game? But if you focus too much on Georges, their whole team can go. I mean, Naz Long was 5-of-5 from three last night. The transfer from Northern Illinois (Abdel Nader), that guy can shoot the ball so well. And they have got another one who just came in, McKay (Jameel McKay from Marquette). They have guys that can score from all eight spots (on the roster). They are going to play eight guys and all eight guys are natural scorers, the way I see it.
And they have a point guard, Monté Morris, obviously doesn’t turn it over. It’s one of those things that you’ve got to be concerned with Georges, but it’s not like it was even last year, or the year before, where they had guys that could score from all spots, but I don’t think they have ever gone eight deep that can score.
I think it’s one of those deals that is going to be, ‘guard your man.’ Certainly, I don’t know if that’s a positive for us, because they are very creative in the different wrinkles they give you. But you’ve got to be able to guard your man and you’ve got to be able to not force it. And you’ve got to do that with Georges, but you’ve got to do that with everybody else too.
Q. What do you remember about the last few games versus Iowa State?
COACH SELF: Last year we played really well, and if I’m not mistaken, Joel (Embiid) was off the charts. The year before, Elijah (Johnson) was off the charts and that was a game that we stole. We were lucky to win.
But the games up there (in Ames) have always been very competitive. It’s as good an atmosphere as we will play in this year. Their fans are obviously very enthusiastic and very loyal supporters, and they will be geeked up for GameDay. We’re playing in some other good atmospheres, but I can’t imagine playing in one that will match this year’s atmosphere (in Ames).
Q. What would it mean for the Big 12 race to win Saturday in Ames?
COACH SELF: It’s too early to get excited or down about where you are in the Big 12 race. Because if you look at the game Saturday, every game is going to impact that race.
Sometimes you go, ‘Okay, when does Iowa State play at Texas?’ You don’t have to do that. ‘Well, who does Iowa State play next? Who does Texas play next? Who does Kansas play next?’ Because every game is a losable game your next game. Obviously, it would be huge for us to get another win on the road. But it would be way premature to think that that would mean anyone’s in the driver’s seat so far, because it’s way too early for anybody to feel that way.
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