Self Talks Return Trip to TCU at Weekly Presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – As No. 8/11 Kansas prepares to make its first trip back to Fort Worth since falling to TCU last season, head coach Bill Self recounted the experience and previewed the upcoming meeting with Horned Frogs Thursday at his weekly press conference.

Q. How pleased are you with the development of Frank Mason?
COACH SELF: I think he’s done really well. I am happy. I think that he’s very competitive, and he tries real hard.  He gives us a burst of energy and athleticism that really nobody else in our program has as far as being quick with the ball.
So I think that he’s done quite well.  He’s played really well of late, and of course in the Baylor game I thought he was the best player we had.
Q. Mason started so well, did maybe he start too high?
I don’t know if it was a stretch, as a negative stretch, as what I thought our team needed. Sometimes against certain teams it’s hard to play two little guards. That means one of them is guarding (Iowa State’s DeAndre) Kane, or I’m trying to think who else we played right after Iowa State, I thought there was another — Oklahoma State, one of them is guarding (Marcus) Smart. So we elected to go with Wayne (Selden, Jr.) on that (match-up), so that means we start the Oklahoma State game with our littlest guy guarding their 3 man, Brian Williams. Sometimes it’s hard to play two little guys at the same time from a defensive standpoint.
But from an offensive standpoint I think it’s worked out pretty well, when Naadir’s (Tharpe) making shots and playing like that, and if Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) and Selden are playing well — which they’ve gone through periods of time where they have been — I think sometimes he’s not the odd man out, but his minutes are lowered quite a bit because of match-ups as much as anything else.
Q. Looking back on tape at the turnovers against Baylor —
What did we have, 15 or 16? I would say that we’re going to turn it over.  We are. We’re not the best ball handling and passing team that we’ve ever had here. We turn it over eight or 10 times just by other teams getting in the way, so to speak. But I would say another six to eight (turnovers) were totally unforced, from just not being strong with the ball to catching the ball with one hand, trying to dribble fumbles instead of pick them up. Those are things that are correctable, but I would think by now we’d be better at it than what we are.
Certainly, moving forward, we’ve got to eliminate bad possessions where we come away with nothing. That would be a great way for us to play better if we’d just get our turnovers down from 15, or whatever it is, to 11 or 12 a game. That’s a big difference in having a chance to win or not.
Q. You have so many newcomers. Can happened last year down in Fort Worth still be a motivating factor?
I think it could be. I’ve never been one to use that stuff as motivation. We’ve played them since then and obviously this is a whole new team. But we’ll talk about it and we have tape on it (to watch again).
Obviously our defense wasn’t that bad.  You think if you hold a team to 22 points in a half, you’d be at least in the game. But when you go 3-of-23 from the field and have like 11 turnovers in a half — that was just a poor, poor, poor half of basketball. They deserve credit because they caused it, but we can play a lot better than that.  So it may be some motivation, but I don’t know if it’s going to be a determining factor in if we’re ready to play or not.
Q. Was that game one of the more bizarro games that you’ve ever been a part of?
Bizarro? Yeah, yeah, it is, without question, one of the strangest games that I’ve ever been a part of. And I’ve been a part of some strange games. We’ve had some games where you score at will one half and you can’t score a lick the next; big leads that shrink; we’ve been behind 19 or 20 in a half and come back and won. There have been a lot of things.
I really think if you were going to evaluate our games over time compared to other good programs over time, I think everybody has bizarre games. I don’t think we’ve had more than anybody else, but it certainly seems that way.
That was one of the strangest games we’ve been a part of, because I was reminded today, by one of our coaches, saying, ‘Bill, I don’t know if you remember, that’s the most ready to play we’ve been all year. Best practices, most intense warm-up, everybody focused, all that stuff, and we came out and laid an egg.’ I don’t know if there’s really a correlation sometimes on — over time it’s how you practice will be how you play, but sometimes it can jump up and shock you, and that was one of those times that shocked us.
Q. What do you do as a coach when you see a team that’s 0-6? How do you get your guys who are not in that mindset that this is just a roll-it-out-and-play type of game?
Try to make it where the next game is the biggest game on your schedule, which it is. Last year you win the league outright if you take care of business in Fort Worth. Of course we could have won it outright if we took care of business in Waco. There’s always something you could have taken care of business and done a better job. I don’t think that you can have all these tactics and ploys to get a guy really ready or a team really ready for this one event in basketball because there’s so many ‘one’ events. It’s not like football where you’ve got to get jacked up three or four times a year if you’re really good to win the big games.

This is a sport where you want to get them fired up, don’t get me wrong, get them really ready, but I don’t think you make this out to be so big and then you come back the next game and say that was big but this one is even bigger, and you come the next game, that was bigger but this is even the biggest. I don’t think you do that in basketball. It’s on the guys to get themselves ready to play and understand they’ve got a job to do and go do your job. You can’t do your job without energy and enthusiasm.
Q. Can it be more difficult to go into an environment like TCU that doesn’t maybe have the same energy?
I do think this: I think our guys enjoy playing in front of energy. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We’re spoiled here by our fans and what we play in front of every day, and then we go on the road and we play in front of a 90-percent filled building or 95-percent filled building, and we think, ‘Dang, where is everybody?’ and the home team is thinking ‘This is the best crowd we’ve had all year.’ We have to be cautious about that. You’ve got a job to do, go do your job. The building will be full at TCU I would think. Last year it was full.
NCAA Tournament games very rarely are they full. Very rarely. Unless you play in Kansas City, which was nice.
But for the most part, these are the type of environments that are the environments you have to play well in to advance.
Q. Eighteen days ago no one was panicking, but if they would have told you after losing to San Diego State that you’d have a two-game conference lead just a little over two weeks from now, how big a surprise would that have been, and is it the tough schedule itself that maybe prepared you to have this great start?
It would have surprised me. After the San Diego State game, I don’t know if I meant this but I said it: We’ve got a better chance of going 0-5 than we do 5-0. I didn’t tell the players that, but I told our staff that. They’re like, no, we don’t. I’m going, yeah, did you not just watch what I saw?
So obviously we were down about that one game, but I really think just a couple of plays have keyed us. I think shooting the ball well early, Wayne (Selden, Jr.) getting on a roll early in the game against Oklahoma and the hustle play that he and Jo (Joel Embiid) and Perry (Ellis) made on that one possession, I really think that spearheaded our conference season. I think that one play has got it where it’s more contagious and things like that and kind of gave us kind of new life.
But yeah, I would have been surprised.  Not that I didn’t think we were a good team. Just at that moment I didn’t think we were a good team.
Q. You made a comment, I think after the San Diego State game, where you mentioned that you felt maybe you and your coaches had yet to really get your best feel on the rotation and how to work the guys best together. After going 5-0 now do you feel like (you’ve gotten there)?
I don’t remember exactly what I said because, as you know, I can say things off the top of my head and have no thought on why I said them. But in this particular case, I do think that we were a team — and I still think this because I told our guys yesterday — we’re still a team that hasn’t figured it out yet. If we’ve figured it out yet, then why are we playing 10 guys? You don’t need to play 10 guys or need to play nine guys. You need a fifth guy to come through, and really, when the fifth guy comes through there’s really no need to play a sixth, unless fouls or injuries dictate that you do so.
Right now we’re kind of in a situation where we haven’t quite figured it out yet. One day it seems like Conner (Frankamp) gives us a spark, another day it’s Brannen (Greene) that gives us a spark. And trust me, those kids would rather know going in ‘I know I’m going to get these minutes and I know I’m going to be his sub.’ But there are some things that we haven’t quite figured out yet.
One thing we haven’t done yet, because sometimes it hasn’t allowed us to, we haven’t played our two bigs together much at all. But when they have played together limited minutes, they’ve played well. So that’s something else that we can maybe do.
And then we haven’t played small. We’ve got a little small package we can play, but we haven’t played small yet. So there are a lot things that I think that we can do to basically become more of a whole team, and be more comfortable with it, that we just haven’t really quite figured out yet, and I’m not sure that’s unusual. I think there are a lot of times that happens with coaches and teams.
Q. Do you look at the conference standings and size things up?
I could not tell you who anybody in our league plays this week except for who we play. I don’t get hung up on that at all. I just know everybody plays each other twice.
But I’m not going to lie and say I don’t look at it. There are times where maybe I pull for certain teams more than I pull for others. But it’s up to us.  It doesn’t matter what everybody else does as long as we do what we want to do, and that’s the way I think everybody looks at it. They can’t worry about what Kansas does. We’ve just got to take care of business ourselves, and that’s how I look at it. We can’t worry about what everybody else does, we’ve just got to take care of business ourselves because if you do that (worry about what other teams are doing) it’s going to be such an emotional roller coaster that you can get caught up on.
Now, the last two weeks of the season, that would be a lie. Of course we’re going to look.  But right now, it’s too early to even pay attention.
Q. There were two times in the Baylor game where the referees went to the monitors to look at elbows, and neither time there was a foul called —
Well, the second time they only went to the monitor because I told them to, because they went to the monitor because he (Baylor head coach Scott Drew) told them to. I knew there was nothing. I just wanted to do it because that’s how the game started.
Officials have a hard job, and the way the rules are, if there’s a chance that it happened and a coach requests it, then they’re obligated to go look. Even the one official told me, “Bill, there was nothing.” I said, “Are you positive?” He said, “Yeah, I’m positive.” I said, “Okay, look at it anyway.”
But I think that’s a negative part of our game. It’s too slow. It slows the game up too much. It’s not the officials’ fault because the rules say to do that, but I think we’re going to the monitor way, way, way too much.
Q. What are your thoughts on the TCU team?
(TCU is) Much improved from last year. (They went ) 9-3 in non-conference and got three road wins non-conference.
In conference play they’ve played better than their record (shows) — last night they could have won that game in Norman. What was it, a tie game with about six (minutes) left and a three- or four-point game and they missed like three free throws in a row? They had a chance in the last two minutes. So that could have been a great road win for them, and we know OU can score easy. (They are) Much better, sound defensively and, when they make shots, they’re definitely a dangerous team. And (Kyan) Anderson is obviously having a very good year.
Q. Did you recruit Karviar Shepherd seriously?
Yeah, we recruited Karviar hard. It’s weird how things work out. We offered Karviar a scholarship, and we only had one to give, and if he’s have taken it, then we would have been out on Joel.
But he committed to TCU, and Karviar Sheperd is going to be a good player. There’s no question he’s going to be a good player, and he’s getting better all the time. That’s how recruiting works sometimes; you recruit a couple of guys, and the timing needs to be right. But I’m really high on him. I think he’s got a chance to be very, very good.
Q. Do you think Tarik Black is playing better off the bench than he did as a starter?  What do you think about his progress?
I think Tarik has played great. His minutes have been limited in large part because Joel has gotten better, but he’s been much better in my opinion. I think everybody would agree, since Christmas, or maybe even since like the Georgetown game. He had like 17 against Georgetown coming off the bench than what he was as a starter.
You know, to me it’s hard — when you’ve got two fouls with 17 minutes left in the first half most every game, it’s hard to get in a flow. But now he gets two fouls and there’s only 11 minutes left because he’s coming off the bench, so maybe that makes him feel a little better.
But I like what he’s given us off the bench, energy and toughness and rebounding.
Q. How is Black’s ankle?
(He) Didn’t practice yesterday, but he should practice today. I don’t know how much he’ll go, but he’ll be fine Saturday.
Q. Do you remember your postgame comments last year?
Do I remember them?
Q.  And how much it kind of played — I think that was the Topeka YMCA, right?
Right, like you don’t remember.
Q. You joked about things coming off the top of your head.
Yeah, that was one of those times that maybe I said some things I hadn’t put a lot of thought into them. But in no way did I mean that – honestly, I didn’t mean that in a negative way toward TCU. They beat us. We had two teams whip us last year: TCU and Baylor.  Everybody else was a one-possession game, of our other four losses. They handled us, so there was nothing taken away from them.
But on our own performance, I thought it was obviously frustrating that we were a team that, the week prior we won like 19 in a row, and to go down and score three field goals in a half, I thought was a little disheartening at the moment. But we did have three assists.
There’s no other game we’ve played this year where we’ve had 100 percent assists to field goals made, no other game. So you can spin it into a positive if you do that. (Smiling)
Q. You mentioned Tarik Black, but how do you like your big-guy rotation right now, with Jamari Traylor and Tarik kind of playing early in the first half? Has that been working for you?
Yeah, it has been; I don’t know exactly what the minutes are, but Joel can go about seven and then Tarik can play six or seven and then if Joel is playing well and doesn’t get a foul, he’ll probably finish the half. That’s kind of been how it is. But Mari (Jamari Traylor) and Perry (Ellis) have been totally different. (With) Mari and Perry, (it) has been whoever is playing the best.  And there have been times where both of them have played well and one has played better than the other, but the one that we usually play is the one that’s been playing better at that particular moment. Like in the last two home games, Jamari has been better, but in the second half Jamari didn’t play much at all because Perry was so good.
I think that’s kind of nice to have, whoever has kind of got a hot hand, so to speak, that we can run with it.
Q. Do you think this year’s team would be more similar to some of the teams in that you’ve had the numbers in the front court, more depth compared to last year? Has it played out the way you wanted it to?
From a big-man rotation standpoint, absolutely. We don’t want to foul. I’m not saying we do, but it’s not the end of the earth if we do get a couple of fouls by guys early. I think that’s important that you have that.
Last year if Kevin (Young) or Jeff (Withey) got one (foul) early — oh, geez. It was like, ‘Okay, how are we going to massage this?’ Although those thoughts enter your mind (now), it’s not the same way they have in the past.
Q. Talk about your offense. It’s been so good.
I feel like our offense has not been so good. I feel like our numbers have been good, but our numbers are misleading. You look at field goal percentage, and you guys look at the Ken Pomeroy offensive efficiency stuff — I don’t know where we rank or whatever — but we shoot a really high field goal percentage. I would bet we don’t rank that high because our turnovers are so high. So I would rather shoot 48 percent and turn it over 12 times a game than shoot 51 percent and turn it over 16.
Although it’s been good, it hasn’t been what it can be, and so I’m not too excited. I’m glad we’re shooting a decent percentage because we’re taking the ball inside, but we’re wasting way too many possessions.
Q. Would you like to be scoring more in transition?
If you play faster and shoot faster you have less turnovers because there are not as many opportunities to pass it. That’s actually a coaching philosophy, let’s shoot it quick before we turn it over.
I would like to be scoring more in primary (possessions). I think that we can do that if we rebound the ball defensively better, and if we create more havoc or deflections or steals defensively. When you have big guys, I also like to get the ball side-to-side and get those guys touches after the ball is moved.
I think it’s a decent balance. We’re scoring as many points now as what we have basically any other year except, I think, our National Championship year when we averaged close to 81 (points per game) and we’re averaging 79 now.  We’re not that far off what our best scoring teams could do. We’re probably scoring the ball better in the half court than what our other teams have, but we’re not scoring it as well in the open court, and that’s something that we certainly need to improve on.
Q. The other night, when Naadir Tharpe had two fouls in the first half, was it good, given how hot he’s been, for this team to have to play without him a little bit?
I look at it after the fact and I would say yes. But I would say that if Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) had two fouls or if Wayne (Selden Jr.) or Joel (Embiid) had two fouls or three fouls. If it turns out good, then I think it was good.  In that situation I would say yes, plus Frank (Mason) needed minutes. I can play a guy with two fouls in the first half. But when we go to Oklahoma and Naadir gets two (early fouls) on the road and I trust him to play smart and he reaches in almost as soon as he gets in and gets his third, and Frank can’t bail us out because Frank already had two. I didn’t want to get them both three fouls in the first half, which turned out to be a blessing that it happened because Conner (Frankamp) was so good in that moment.
We’ve got to play a little smarter so that way we don’t have to go to a bench every time a guy gets two fouls early in the second half.
Q. How did the guys do in class the first semester?
Everybody did fine. The definition of ‘fine’ is relevant, though. I think everybody can probably do better, but our grades and what we did was good. (I’m) Happy with it.  Everybody took care of their business. But I think there were some Cs that could be Bs and there were some Bs that could be As. But I was pretty proud of how they did especially because that was a bad travel first semester. We never miss school like that, especially leading right up into finals. I thought they hunkered down and did pretty well.
Q. Did you accomplish a lot over break with the extra practice time?
I don’t know if it was extra practice time as much as it was chalk talk and film sessions and things like that. I don’t know if we did or not. I’d like to think we did. I know the kids are excited that school started. You don’t see that very often, getting all these other students back on campus. But I think we got better over break, but it’s still too early to say.
Q. You said something the other night after the game about Andrew Wiggins, about how as good as he’s been, he still kind of leaves you wanting more sometimes.
Yeah, that was meant as a compliment.
Q.  In what areas?
I talked to him about it with his dad afterwards. He had 17 points the other night. If he’s strong with the ball after he rebounds it, he scores 20 or 21 because they strip him or whatever, and that would be a foul if you are more aware and if you’re stronger. It’s not that I want him shooting it more. I just want him to have more of a presence because there are not too many guys out there that you look at and you say, ‘Okay, yeah, he got 20 but it could have been 28, or he got 16 but it could have been 22, or he had eight rebounds but it could have been 14’. I think his numbers should be in the vicinity of 20 and 10 every game.
But that’s not going to happen like that, and I know that, and sometimes you don’t make shots. But I think just like the other day, he didn’t put his head down and drive it at all the first half.  The second half he drove it every time and got fouled like on three or four-straight possessions.  Well, to me, those are free points, and he’s got to be more aggressive doing things like that. But he’s done well.
Everybody is on Joel right now, which they should be, but Joel’s stats aren’t as good as Andrew’s when you look at it. If you talk about what he’s averaging, 10 points a game, well, Andrew is averaging 16. Joel is averaging seven rebounds a game, Andrew is averaging six.
But potentially and how much he’s improved of late and limited minutes and that kind of stuff, you could make a case that Joel’s production has been as good as anybody on our team. But Andrew has done a lot of good things.  Here’s a kid 36, 38 minutes into a tough ballgame not getting a break and also guarding the other team’s best player at crunch time. I think he’s performed better than what a lot of people say he’s performed. But I’ll admit I still think there’s another step he can take.        
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