Self Talks TCU at Weekly Presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Ready to rebound from Monday’s road trip, No. 7 Kansas holds a one-game lead in the Big 12 Conference standings and will play host to TCU on Saturday. Head coach Bill Self took questions on both topics and several others in his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon.

Q. Any update on Joel Embiid for this weekend?
COACH SELF: No, not really. He feels better. He’s had, let’s see, Tuesday, Wednesday and today off and he feels better. Like I said before, the MRIs and things like that have been done tell us that there’s a good chance he’s going to get better quickly, that it’s not something that should linger too long, if, in fact, we treat it and rest it appropriately now.

A lot will depend on how he feels 24 hours from now, if he’s able to practice. If he’s able to practice then he’ll play, and if he’s not able to practice, then I would say he would not play.

Q. When you’re making that decision, do you think long-term and maybe it would just better to sit him for a game?
COACH SELF: Of course you think long-term, but you also know that he’ll have a better chance to perform in games in the future the less time he’s off now, too. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him at all, but the doctors and the trainers, they’ll make the call, along with Joel, (based) on him being honest with us on how he’s feeling. A lot of times there’s no reason to hold guys out if they’re healthy, too. We’ll make that determination in the next few days.

Q. Is Embiid just shooting?
COACH SELF: He’s not doing anything.  He dressed out for practice yesterday and did absolutely nothing. Dressed out, so I guess like he felt like he was still part of the team. I don’t think he even shot free throws yesterday.

Q. Were there signs that Embiid didn’t look like himself the last couple games?
COACH SELF: Well, he’s landing on one foot. He’s not exploding. He’s looking around to see if he’s going to get hit as opposed to initiating contact because he’s sore and hurts in different areas. So, yeah, I think there are certainly some signs that he hasn’t been himself. Like I said before, it would be like if you’re a running back and your high ankle sprain hadn’t totally healed, but you could be out there but you’re still not going to be nearly as effective; that’s kind of where Joel is right now.

Q. Any update on Jamari Traylor? Do you know if he’s going to be back or not (for Saturday’s game)?
COACH SELF: Jamari and I are going to visit today; I’ll hold off on that until after we visit today. But I certainly anticipate that visit going well.

Q. With dribble penetration, at this late point in the year, is that something you can still improve on or work around it?
COACH SELF: That’s a great question.  The thing about it is, if you look at us against K-State, how did we score all our points? Dribble penetration. It’s the hardest thing to guard. The ball is the hardest thing to guard. They (K-State) hurt us on dribble penetration a lot, and they definitely hurt us on ball-screen defense, more so than we hurt them on ball-screen defense.

In that particular game, we did not defend the rim worth a flip and we certainly allowed the ball to get in too tight off the bounce.

I do think that you can get better doing it, but I also think there comes a point in time where it’s pride, also, just not allowing it to happen. I thought that there were some times where we’ve done a really good job with it — with the exact same players and exact same skill set — as the times that we haven’t done as good a job with it, and I think a lot of it is just want-to and being tougher and being mentally into it.

We’ve had guys totally sacrifice their offense to guard the other team’s best player and things like that, and the other night we didn’t have that type of mindset.

I certainly think that we can get better at it, but I don’t know if it’s as much technique as it is wanting to really get better at it.

Q. Talk about the screen-ball defense. Is there a toughness element to that?
COACH SELF: Well, yeah, getting through it, obviously, but like Joel didn’t move very well, so Joel didn’t move very well and he didn’t get back to his man a couple times. I think a little bit of it is breakdowns. They probably scored five baskets off ball-screen defense where they got a pick-and-roll or something like that. I’d say two of them were probably plays we just didn’t make, and three of them were probably breakdowns and not being as in tune to what we should be doing.

Q. Since you’ve been here and more specifically, this year, how much emphasis do you put on winning the Big 12 versus some of the other big-picture goals for your team?
COACH SELF: It’s the same every year. It’s the same emphasis every year. If you’re the best team in this league, there’s a great chance you’re going to have an opportunity to play for the highest of stakes in March, and that’s been the case. I guess there’s been two years since we’ve won the league that we did not make it to the second weekend out of the nine or whatever. But other than that, when you get into the Sweet 16-type games, those are the games that are coin-flip games and those are games that can certainly go either way, and those are the games that are the highest of stakes, from the Sweet 16 game on.  We’ve been in seven of the last 10 of those, I think, in large part because if you’re the best team in your league you should be competing in those games. I think they kind of go hand in hand to be honest with you.

Q. When teams go through tough losses like that, do you find out things about your team? What did you find out about your team after the loss to K-State?
COACH SELF: I don’t know yet. We haven’t played since. We’ve only had one 75-minute practice because we had to take Tuesday off. I know they care, but I knew that beforehand.

And you say tough losses; to me, it was a tough loss because it’s a game that obviously you’re ahead in overtime a couple times and you’ve got to be able to close out games better, but the reality of it is, across America, everybody has tough losses. Syracuse is the one team that hasn’t had a tough loss yet, and Wichita State. But Syracuse, how would they have bounced back if the shot didn’t go in from 40 feet last night?

I think when you compete in the best league in America I think by most everybody’s judgment, and you’re 9-2 after 11 games and you played six of the games on the road and you play good competition, I don’t think that’s doing bad.

What we should learn, if we’ve learned anything, which I hope we have, is that if we can’t make other teams play bad, especially away from home, then your chances of success aren’t very good. We didn’t do anything to make K-State play poorly the other night.

Q. I thought one of your big-picture goals was lowering turnovers. Seems like lately you’ve done a pretty good job of that.
COACH SELF: Yeah, we had 11 the other night in 45 minutes, and the last time we played K-State we had zero at halftime and 10 for the game, so we’ve done a good job against them taking care of the ball.

I think certain types of teams probably give us more of a problem in taking care of the ball than others, but we were decent against West Virginia, too. Maybe we’re on an uptick there as far as limiting our bad possessions offensively.

Q. How do you think Brannen Greene played during the comeback?
COACH SELF: I thought he did good. Yeah, I thought he was a spark. I thought he played with more energy. He was definitely one of our better performers without question, but especially there late. He was good.

Q. Is this the time of year naturally the toughest part of the year to get guys energized and motivated, this mid-February period where March is still kind of far off?
COACH SELF: You know, I guess. I never look at it like that. You only play 35 games; I don’t see how you can’t be excited every game.

I think if it was baseball and you get to August or whatever, those are probably dog days, and I’m sure football season is the same way — that you get late in the season and it becomes more of a grind.

This time of year, more than anything, it’s not so much if you get yourself energized as much as how your body feels. There are a lot of guys’ bodies across America right now that have a lot of nicks and a lot of guys that are playing with turned ankles or this or that and they’re sore, but they’re not hurt. I do think that’s natural this time of year.

Q. Talk about Conner Frankamp’s progress.
COACH SELF: Conner has done well, too. I get asked questions like this all the time, whether it be Conner, whether it be Brannen (Greene), whether it be Landen Lucas, whoever it is. The thing about it is they’ve all done well, they just haven’t had the same opportunities as some of the other guys have had because if you were to ask me how Selden (Wayne Selden, Jr.) has been or how (Andrew) Wiggins has been or how (Frank) Mason has been at times, you could make a strong case that those guys have been pretty good.

But they’ve all done well, and that’s one of the great things about our team moving forward, even into next year, is that I think we’ve got a lot of guys that will be chomping at the bit to get minutes that maybe they didn’t get the opportunity to earn nearly as many this year.

Q. What do you think about TCU? They still haven’t gotten a win (in Big 12 play yet this season).
COACH SELF: No, they haven’t gotten a win. They’re going to beat somebody, I honestly believe that. They’re much improved over last year. Last year they beat us and Oklahoma both handily. They’ll get one. Certainly, they’ll come in and they’ll play man, they’ll play zone and we’ve got to execute.

If you look at their scores, even against Iowa State, (Melvin) Ejim goes for 48; still, it’s a nine-point game late in Ames. And that’s with a guy getting 48. It’s just a matter of time before they bust through.

Q. What do you think of the emergence of SMU under Larry Brown?
COACH SELF: I think it’s awesome. Under Larry and Jank (Tim Jankovich). Let’s give Jank a little credit. Of course, Jerrance (Howard) would want half the credit, too. I think it’s awesome to see where they’ve been, to see the interest level and the new arena, bringing a kind of college basketball excitement back to the Metroplex. I think is really cool. And to be ranked and everything is quite an accomplishment in a short amount of time.

Of course, everybody that knows him (Coach Brown) knows that it would happen. It’s probably happened sooner than what most people thought, but it’s very cool to see.

Q. You talked about some guys kind of being beat up; you guys play so many of those Monday games. Does the Saturday-Monday schedule have anything to do with that at all?
COACH SELF: No, I don’t think so.

Q. Would it make a difference to play Saturday-Wednesday every week?
COACH SELF: Oh, yeah, sure it would, but that’s not the way it is. We probably play more one-game turnarounds than most teams, but everybody you play on Monday also played on Saturday, so everybody has got the same thing going. But I do think the Saturday-Monday (schedule) is great preparation for the NCAA Tournament because that Sunday is what it’s going to be like on the Saturday between Friday and Sunday during the tournament.

But I think it’s good; I’d much rather be playing in those games than not be playing in them.

Q. Do you think any former Kansas basketball players will be back over the NBA All-Star break?
COACH SELF: I don’t know who all is coming back. We’ve got several that have told us they’re coming back. I don’t have the definite list. (Based off how) Most my guys have operated in the past, we probably won’t know until about 5 p.m. tomorrow that they’re in town and need tickets.
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