Self Previews Oklahoma State Trip in Weekly Presser
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with a two-game lead halfway through the Big 12 Conference season, No. 8/9 Kansas will hit the road for a pair of road games at Oklahoma State and at Texas Tech. Head coach Bill Self held his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the trip back to his alma mater, three-point shooting and how is players genuinely like each other.
No. 8/9 Kansas (19-3, 8-1) will tipoff at Oklahoma State (15-7, 5-5) at 1 p.m. (Central) on Saturday, Feb. 7, on ESPN.
Q. Wayne Selden, Jr., is always having to guard the other team’s best defender. Is that the reason he hasn’t shot particularly well the last few games? Is his defense taking him out of the offensive 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 are really a lot of important tangibles going on as to 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’s worried about other things. So he shot it 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 percent from three (39.8 percent). If you had told me he would shoot 40 percent, we’d really be happy. Where he hasn’t shot the ball as well was from two-point range, 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 Austin, Texas 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, 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 Greene’s numbers from three-point range in league play are almost unheard of. Is it too early to talk about him as far as how good a shooter he is? 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 once we got into league play we shot it a little better. But regardless if Brannen’s stats are 40 or 50 or 60 percent, 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 (Brandon) Rush, maybe Tyrel (Reed). I think Brady (Morningstar) 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 of 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 transitions which creates more threes. I think a lot of it depends on the game. But historically, 30 percent of our shots historically have been threes. I think we’re close to being right on that again this year.
Q. Cliff Alexander has 10 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, so it’s 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. 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, 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 (Lucas) 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 eight. If those eight are playing well, we may not get to nine 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, then 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 percent of your shots usually from three. Do you have a system and then it just goes to that number?
COACH SELF: No, no, we haven’t done anything to talk about that. 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 percent 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 percent 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. 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. Before 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, do you want to be the team that didn’t do it? Do you want to be the one that 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. TCU came with a little pressure at the end of the game in Fort Worth. 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. 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 when Frank (Mason III) is playing 35 minutes, he does such a good job in late-game situations and goes to get open on his own. Sometimes he doesn’t have the same energy level to get open on his own, and it’s really important that he does.
But I think we’ll handle it better moving forward. We worked on it a lot yesterday. 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. 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. Is there a key to field goal percentage defense? How do you explain that?
COACH SELF: The numbers have been a lot better. 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 the direction of being 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. In 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 — from an offensive standpoint efficiency, and 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.
I thought were definitely 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 (free throws), 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 you thought you would?
COACH SELF: No, not better than I thought we would. I still don’t think we’re nearly 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 against 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 for ‘benchmarks’?
COACH SELF: Not really. I think if we can hold opponents under 38 (percent from the field), 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 (percent would be best). 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 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 been 30 years since you’ve played for Oklahoma State–
COACH SELF: 30 years? Wow.
Q. Obviously, Oklahoma State is 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 had 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 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 by 42 (94-52) and 39 (84-45), I think.
At Tulsa we didn’t play (OSU). Illinois we didn’t play (OSU). 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. 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. A lot of people there helped raise me and that kind of stuff, so I’m very 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 Selden, Jr., and for Perry Ellis when he had a good game a couple games ago. In 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 is and I think you take for granted is: they actually like each other. There are a lot of teams that 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.’ 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, but those are things that make coaches the 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’ Graham right now – is that about as good of a stretch that you’ve seen?
COACH SELF: 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 (Oubre, Jr.) made shots or excuse me, Brannen’s (Greene) made shots in league play. Devonte’ and Kelly, though they were making shots earlier, they haven’t really made shots in league play. But one thing that’s been consistent for the most part is that we’ve taken better care of the ball, even though we had 16 (turnovers) 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. When you watch a game like Oklahoma versus West Virginia — not that you’re necessarily rooting for somebody — you understand if West Virginia loses, you’re going to be two games up on them. How do you watch a game like that? Are you coaching in your head?
COACH SELF: No, I’m not coaching in my head, but I do have favorites. There are some teams that I don’t necessarily care for them more than the other team, but there are certain situations (in which) we may pull for a team more than others. But it’s so early and you want something to happen.
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.
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 emotionally (involved) 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 both really pressure the ball. Oklahoma State does some too. Does that determine how much Devonte’ Graham plays?
COACH SELF: He could. 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 (Oubre, Jr.) 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 in them.
So any of those combinations, as long as Frank or Devonte’s on the court at the same time, I think any of those combinations can be effective for us depending on who is playing well.
Q. You talked about practicing one way but then you end up scoring a different way in games. What is that like for the coach?
COACH SELF: It happens all the time to all programs. (We determine that) ‘This is how we’re going to play,’ over and over. All of a sudden, foul problems dictate, ‘Well, that takes away the low post.’ 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? 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 like we’d planned, when going back and looking at it on film looking at it. We didn’t think that was really right to do. It wasn’t. But the way they defended the post and how ineffective we were scoring in the post, we’re just going to have to be a drive-it team. I thought our guys adjusted pretty well and actually did a pretty good job with that.
We probably practiced playing that way 15 minutes. I think a most 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 in players like Brannen (Greene), Devonte’ (Graham) and Cliff (Alexander), are you a team that can bring guys off the bench and they’ll give you a different style?
COACH SELF: I would say probably not. I don’t think our style changes based on personnel. If they’re trapping in the post and giving us problems trapping in the post, 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 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 within 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 know 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 (when recruiting) 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, intangibles can be more important than trying to evaluate that in football than in basketball. Like on Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins), you’re going to take Wiggs no matter what, or Joel (Embiid), you’re going to take him no matter what. But when you’re taking a football player that may need a redshirt or this or that, you’re trying to project down the road.
We’ve been fortunate because we’ve been able to get good immediate players, but we’ve also been able to get players that have developed in our program; the Landen Lucases of the world, or Travis Relefords or Elijah Johnsons or Kevin Youngs, that have turned out to be good players over time for us, in large part, because they were tough and had intangibles.
Q. How have you seen Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte III improve?
COACH SELF: How has Phil improved? He shoots it as well as anybody, but I think his conditioning has helped him more than anything. He moves the ball better than anybody in our league. He’s tough as nails. I think his ball handling has improved where he’s getting to his own shot and forcing help and getting other shots, whereas maybe his first year he’s more of a stationery type shooter. But he can score off the move really, really well. I think that’s one thing he’s gotten very good at.
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