Self Previews Sunflower Showdown in Weekly Presser

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – With rivalry and top-25 games on the calendar for two of the next three days, No. 9/11 Kansas has its sights on one game at a time. Friday afternoon, head coach Bill Self addressed the media about Kansas State, the Big 12/SEC Challenge scheduling change and what it takes for good teams to be great.
No. 9/11 Kansas (17-3, 6-1) returns home to host Kansas State (12-9, 5-3) in the Sunflower Showdown sponsored by Dillons, Saturday, Jan. 31, at 1 p.m. (Central) on ESPN. The Jayhawks then host No. 15/16 Iowa State on Feb. 2 Iowa State at 8 p.m., for ESPN Big Monday.
Q. Why do you think K-State is doing so much better in conference play?
COACH SELF:  Well, the games that I’ve studied have basically been conference play, and they’ve been pretty consistent in conference play.  But everybody goes through rough spots, and usually when you go through rough spots is when you labor to score, and we’ve certainly done that.  I think their offense is flowing better, and obviously Nino’s (Nino Williams) has had a great conference season, and Marcus (Foster) has played very well, and they’ve still got an anchor, obviously, in (Thomas) Gipson.
So they have some nice pieces and have played very well.  If you’re 5-3 in a great league, and you’ve obviously played pretty well.
Q.  What do you think of the reports on Nino Williams not being able to play?
COACH SELF:  What do I think of the reports?  Well, I assume they’re accurate.  I can’t imagine a media member ever saying anything that wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate.  So as a fan of the game and a fan of his, seeing him play in high school — he’s had a good career and he’s capping it off the right way this year, his senior year.  So we hope everybody plays, but I can’t comment on an injury to somebody else.  I have no idea.
Q.  Is Marcus Foster any different this year?  What do you see in him?
COACH SELF:  Last year I thought he was aggressive.  In the games that I’ve studied, he looks like he’s even more aggressive than last year, splitting ball screens and doing some things that he maybe did last year, but it didn’t stand out to me. He makes guarded shots, which is something that all great players have to do, but I think he’s more confident to do that kind of stuff.  To me he looks more aggressive.
Q.  Does Foster get a lot more defensive attention this year than last year?
COACH SELF:  I would probably say so.  Not talking to other coaches in the league that have guarded him, but I know he’s going to get plenty of attention from us.  But last year we tried to make it a point of emphasis also, and I think we did a decent job over here and we didn’t do so well over there.  In large part, that’s how the games went too.  They beat us over there, and we won here, in large part because I felt like we probably did a better job on him here than over there.
Q.  For Landen Lucas to come off the bench, is that impressive?
COACH SELF:  Yeah, we talked about that the other day that Landen and Hunter (Mickelson) and Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk), do not get your dauber down.  You’ll get a chance to play.  I didn’t know it would be the next game, you know when everybody’s in foul trouble in the first half.  But for Landen — and you guys know better than me — the stats were all screwed up, the minutes, and all that stuff, that night.  But I think Landen played the last 10 or 11 minutes of the first half, and Hunter played the last six minutes of the first half.
So we don’t practice that combination much at all, but I thought they did fine.  Landen was one of our better performers.  There was a small sample to pick from in that particular game, but I thought he was very good.  I thought he played well, and I thought Hunter did, and of course Svi came in and made a big shot when we didn’t have much momentum in the first half.  So guys need to keep a good attitude because they’re going to get an opportunity to play.  It may not happen every game, but it will happen.
Q.  With Landen Lucas, it’s kind of hard to believe he’s still a sophomore.  What is his next step?
COACH SELF:  He’s a rotation player for us now.  Who knows what his next step is, who knows who we recruit and that kind of stuff.  But Landen Lucas will be good enough to be a starter at Kansas.  Now a lot depends on who else we have, but Tarik Black was good enough to be a starter at Kansas and didn’t start.  We’ve had a lot of guys that were good enough to be starters and didn’t start because of other guys that were here.
Landen can play starter minutes or be good enough to be a starter,  but a lot just depends on who else that’s in the program at that time.  I think that would be the goal of every coach is to have eight or nine guys that are all good enough to start, certainly, that’s what we want to get.
Q.  The Big 12/SEC Challenge next year is moving to the end of January right in the middle of your conference play, does that affect you?
COACH SELF:  I can’t speak for other coaches, but in my opinion, the Big 12/SEC Challenge is good.  It’s good for our league.  It forces everyone to schedule a hard game, all of those things.  Timing is bad.  So what you have to look at is: does the good offset the negative?  And I think the answer is yes.  The exposure that day.  That kind of stuff brings attention to your league and the SEC.  Overall, it’s good.  I don’t think any coach would tell you they’re crazy about the date, but if I’m not mistaken, Larry (Keating) can address this better than I could.  But with the bowl season and everything else going on, there wasn’t’ a window for us to do it prior to that.  Would that be accurate?
Yeah, and with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge or whatever else is going on.  That will be the story January 30 on ESPN.  But I don’t think anybody’s happy about stepping out of the league.  We’ve done that in the past, and it hasn’t worked out great for us.  So you can’t look at it as what’s good for us, because the team we’re playing has done it, too. They’re stepping out of the league, too.  I know that with us in the past, have played our open window.  Every team has an open window during conference season, for the most part.  And our open window has been our first Saturday or Sunday when we’ve actually played a big, non-conference game.  So therefore you don’t get a bye during the week where everybody else is getting a bye during the week.  So that’s worked out pretty well for us.
This will be a little bit different, but, you know, it’s fine.  I don’t think it’s the best, but it’s certainly the best of what we have to work with.
Q.  How has Frank Mason III grown into being a leader of this team?
COACH SELF:  I think everybody looks to Frank. He’s been our most consistent player without question.  Even the game the other night, he didn’t play great, but you look at it, he did a great job on (TCU’s Kyan) Anderson, who can really score.  He and Devonte’ (Graham) did a great job on him.  He plays 37 minutes and he makes every play down the stretch with the exception of missing free throws there late.  He may never play down the stretch offensively to put us in a good position.  Leader is a little strong because I hope we have multiple leaders.  But he’s the guy that everybody knows needs to be on the court.  So from that standpoint, he’s definitely got everybody’s respect.
Q.  Overall, 20 games into the season, is this the team you thought it would be?
COACH SELF:  I think we’re not far off from being where I thought we would be, but how we got here has been up and down.  It hasn’t been a consistent, smooth-sailing road, but I’m not sure that’s all bad, too.  I think all good teams need to go through some stuff and certainly we’ve gone through enough stuff, highs and lows, that may end up helping us down the road.
Q.  Do you think that TCU was a rare off-game for Kelly Oubre, Jr.?
COACH SELF:  For Kelly?  Yeah, he was out of it.  We knew the day before the game he was out of it.  On gameday, whenever you ask a player, ‘How are you doing?’ They’re going to say, ‘I’m good.  I’m good, coach.  Don’t worry about me.’  Whenever they say, ‘Man, I feel terrible,’ you know they probably don’t feel very good on gameday.  That was kind of the case.  Kelly didn’t feel well at all.
Q.  Bill, you may not be able to answer this, but when you guys get a little separation in a league race, does that put more pressure on opponents to be able to beat you just because of the historical string of titles?
COACH SELF:  I have no idea.  We haven’t gotten any separation yet, so I hope you can ask me that a week or two from now and that would be fun to talk about.  But right now, there’s been no separation.  But I don’t know if that puts any extra pressure on anybody.  I don’t see it that way, but maybe others do.  That would probably be a better question for other guys.
I do know this though:  When we have been behind two games with five left or whatever, there is pressure on us.  So I guess you could say that because that’s certainly been the case.  A couple years ago (2012-13), we lost three in a row and we almost won out (won seven in a row) to get a piece of it.  I think we did win out with the exception of the last loss of the season at Baylor.  I think we won at seven or nine in a row, something like that.
So, yeah, there is pressure.  So if we feel it, I’m sure other people feel that they need to play well, but there is no separation yet at all.
Q.  What do you think the players think of the rivalry now that Missouri’s gone, and it’s K-State?
COACH SELF:  Our guys know their guys.  We work camps together in the summer and things like that.  We’ve always thought of K-State as being a rival.  I think they’re probably more of a respected rival whereas maybe Missouri was more of a hated rival.  I don’t know how everybody feels around here about that, but that was probably true at least from the way maybe a lot of people look at it.
But there is no question they’re a rival.  We’ve developed rivalries with other programs and other teams, but certainly K-State’s had enough success against us of late, including the last time we played, that our guys look at it as a rivalry, without question.
Q.  When you look at the way you’ve gotten to this record, does it tell you something about the mental make-up of your team since almost every close game you’ve been in this season, your team has won?
COACH SELF:  Well, we’ve also had some games that weren’t close that we make close, you know, like a late game.  But you’re right, except on one thing.  The Iowa State game, we had a chance, and we didn’t close that game.  We had the ball down four with a minute left and ended up not making plays down the stretch.
But you’re right; for the most part, we’ve done some good things.  Knock on wood, up until TCU, we’ve been a good free throw shooting team late (in the game), and we’ve taken care of the ball late. But we didn’t do it down there on either front.  I said this to our guys yesterday, “In order to have great seasons, you’ve got to win games where you don’t play well.’  And we have really taken that to heart in trying to win some games where maybe we didn’t execute really well on both ends.
Q.  Coach, what are your thoughts on Stephen Hurt and Justin Edwards, who are both transfers into the K-State program?
COACH SELF:  They’re not the only ones that are newcomers, but they’re good.  Hurt’s highly recruited.  He’s a JUCO guy.  We looked at him; a lot of people looked at him.  That was a good get for K-State.  Certainly, he’s big and he’s got skills.  He’s got touch, too.  I like Edwards.  He’s kind of a right-handed Oubre, so to speak.  (He’s) Really long, has a good wing span and he can shoot it too.
Q.  Having gone from two rivals in K-State and Missouri, to only playing K-State now, how much different has that been?
COACH SELF:  To be really candid, it’s not good.  There are certain things about it that you can make a case for. There are certain things about it that we haven’t taken a step backwards.  But I think everybody likes waking up in the morning disliking somebody.  So from that standpoint, it probably hasn’t been great.
But, it’s kind of the way it is.  It’s the landscape of college athletics.  It’s not just us, it’s happening everywhere in every league.  I don’t know if Duke and Maryland are going to play.  There are a lot of different things going on in the landscape.  But certainly, we’re fortunate and glad, as I’m sure K-State is, to have each other.  It’s good.  At Oklahoma State and OU we had Bedlam, which is good, and there are still plenty of rivalries.  As the league grows and gets older, there will become more and more rivalries, but it’s hard to replace 180 games or whatever. 
Q.  Coach, with the Super Bowl this weekend, do you pay attention to what two of the more interesting and better coaches in their sport, how those guys do their work, their job and get their teams going?
COACH SELF:  I do.  I think they both (Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks and Bill Belichick, New England Patriots) have contrasting styles, without question.  But I don’t study is this week, I probably study it more during the regular season.  You said a unique thing.  You’ve got two great coaches.  There are however many teams there are in the NFL, there are that many great coaches, and then there are coordinators — two per team — that are also great coaches.  There are so many guys out there that know what they’re doing.
Certainly, those two are as good as anybody, without question.  But they also have superior players, too.  So I much of it is, as it is in any sport, X’s and O’s and all that stuff.  But as much as anything else, (it would be to) get guys’ heads right, have them play with a free mind, be disciplined — intangible things that go along with coaching as much as anything else.  How do you handle Super Bowl week?  How do you handle that guys are rested? They’re both pros at that because they’ve both been there and done that.  I think those are the things that are unique about the week and how those guys go about their business.
Q.  What is the most important thing you want to see from your guys after the TCU game?
COACH SELF:  People say that if you play with lack of energy, you’re not playing hard.  That’s not true at all.  You can play hard and sometimes you’re just not as enthusiastic and have as much energy.  Can you go to work every day with the right mindset, but it doesn’t always work out that way, you know?
So you need to have enthusiasm in everything that’s going on.  I feel like when we’ve had that, we’ve been really good.  But the Kentucky game we had it, and we were bad.  Every other team we haven’t played well against, if you look back, it’s like the energy level isn’t quite as good. When you’re not quite as talented and when the whole key is sprinting to a ball screen to force a late hedge and you’re not quite as energetic, you get there a half a step later and.  Y just a little bit late.  I think that’s what’s happened with us too much.
Not that they’re not trying, but there is a difference between trying and competing.  Part of competing is getting yourself mentally ready and energetic to go do it.  That, to me, is the biggest thing.  We’re not always going to play well, without question.  We’ll turn it over or shoot a bad percentage or miss a block out.  We’ll do things.  But when we play with energy, you can do those things and somehow your athletic ability makes up for it a lot of times.  When we haven’t been energetic, we don’t seem to make up for it.
Q.  What have you thought about Wayne Selden, Jr., during conference play?
COACH SELF:  Wayne can play better.  He’s great, but he knows he can play better.  I think they can all play better.  I personally think Frank can play a lot better.  I think Perry (Ellis) can play a lot better.  I think Cliff (Alexander) can play better.  There is a lot of room for improvement, but we’re not going to play great every night.  That’s not who we are.
We’re not a team that’s built like that.  We’re young.  People sometimes forget how young we are.  But Wayne is a guy that’s too talented not to have the law of averages prevail a little bit, seeing the shots going in and that kind of stuff.
Q.  Speaking of mental toughness, how hard is it for a young team to look past the K-State rivalry?
COACH SELF:  That’s human nature.  No matter what we say.  When the (Chicago) Bulls went 72-10, they probably handled it as well as anybody, but there were probably still a lot of games the guys didn’t play well and the other guys bailed him out.  That is the way it is with all teams.  If you could somehow find that formula that every night you’re going to go in and do this and that, then you wouldn’t be coaching.  You’d obviously be doing something else and be very, very wealthy and have your own island somewhere.  So it’s an inexact science.  Everybody struggles with it.
The teams that struggled the least with it are the teams that usually are the most mature and have the most success.  We’ve actually done a pretty good job with it.  In college basketball, I think more so than in most sports, when there are less ‘great ones’ and more ‘good ones,’ the playing field is leveled out.  So when you just lose your edge a little bit, it definitely increases the odds of somebody being able to beat you if they’re on their game that night. But the big thing is you have to have enough respect for the game that you play it the right way each and every day and sometimes I think teams struggle with that.
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