Self Discusses Regular-Season Finale in Weekly Presser

Player Interviews

LAWRENCE, Kan. – With its 11th-straight Big 12 Conference regular-season title already on lock, No. 9/10 Kansas will travel to No. 15/15 Oklahoma for the finale of the league slate. Head coach Bill Self addressed the media about his team’s injury issues, strength of schedule and the differences between a good season and a great one.
The Jayhawks and Sooners will tip-off on Saturday, March 7, at 3 p.m., on ESPN. Kansas will be the No. 1 seed at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship, March 11-14 at Sprint Center in Kansas City. On March 12 at 1:30 p.m., the Jayhawks will face the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed game to be played March 11.

Q.  Tell me why you could rally from an 18-point deficit and win, how Iowa State could be down by 20 and in four minutes 32 seconds get 22 points.  Texas rallied against Baylor.  Why is this happening in college basketball?
COACH SELF:  I think it’s always happened based on my knowledge and, the other thing is, it’s happened at home.  All the games were at home and the crowd plays such a huge role in it.
But in our game, our game’s a little different than the Iowa State game.  Iowa State went off offensively.  We didn’t make any shots.  We’re down 18 points with 18 or 17 (minutes) left and didn’t make any shots.  But we did get stops, we really defended well the second (half).  (Wes) Didn’t do anything in the first.  But really defended well and rebounded well in the second half and the crowd got into it.  At our place, the crowd gives us so much confidence.  Our guys, no matter what the situation, they think that they can somehow pull it out.  And they did.
Q.  Bill, the other night you said it bothers you when people sort of dismiss the conference streak by saying the Big 12 is (top heavy) — what do you think the perception is of the league?
COACH SELF:  This year, nationally, I think the perception is it’s great.  I think the perception is it’s not a top-heavy league.  It’s a parity league, which I think is fair.
But the difficulty in our league is that there’s only 10 teams.  I mean, the reality in some leagues you may have 14 or 15 teams.  So you have five or six really, really, really tremendous teams at the top, but you could have four or five teams that maybe aren’t as strong toward the bottom.  So you don’t play everybody twice and that kind of stuff.
Of course, we had an unbalanced league for years when we had 12 in our league.  But I think the perception in our league and what the pundits and what ESPN has done as far as promoting our leagues, talking about how strong it is, I think it’s been very favorable this year.
But we’re still in a flyover state and we still don’t get the attention that an ACC or Big Ten or the Big East gets, back when it was so good.  But I think that so much emphasis is put on postseason, which is fair, that the regular season takes a back seat to that and people a lot of times don’t appreciate or don’t remember what you do during the three months.  They just remember what you do the three weeks.  And I do think that’s unfair.  I think the postseason is more important, don’t get me wrong.
And I think there’s no way you can take away from us that we’ve had a good season.  But in order to make it a great season you’ve got to play well in the postseason.  That goes without saying.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about our league being down or this or that.  Since we’ve been in our league, I could be off on this, but I think we’ve had three different teams go to the Final Four, us, Texas and Oklahoma State.
And if I’m not mistaken, I think in the league in which we played in, so when Missouri and (Texas) A&M was here, I think since we’ve been here, every school but one had gone to at least a Sweet 16.  And seven or all but two or whatever have gone to Elite Eight since we’ve been here.
And, of course, Missouri went to the Elite Eight.  K-State went to the Elite Eight.  Oklahoma went to the Elite Eight.  A&M went to the Sweet 16, Texas Tech went to the Sweet 16 and Texas has been Final Four.  The one school that hadn’t was Iowa State, and they went to the Sweet 16 last year, if I’m not mistaken.
So everybody has done well.  So I think people must say you must not be a very strong league if the same team’s having success every year.  I don’t know.  But certainly it’s been a very competitive league.
Q.  You’ve talked about a lot about how you can have a good season by winning the league. But what does it take to have a great season?
COACH SELF:  I think (it) depends on what your ceiling is as a team.  I think if you were a team that was maybe projected to finish eighth in the league and you finish fourth and go to the NCAA Tournament, it’s been a great year.
So many people equate to what is “great” or what is “good” is based on the end result, as opposed to what your ceiling is or what your potential is.  And in our situation, if you’ve got good enough players to win outright or tie for a league championship, then absolutely you have good enough players to go do well in the postseason.
So I think with us, winning the league is good, really good.  But in order to make it a great year you’ve got to play well in the postseason.
Q.  What did you mean the other night when you called the RPI and they said you were No. 2 or something? 
COACH SELF:  There was a report on ESPN saying that we played the weakest schedule in our league and it was the polar opposite.  We played, by far, the best schedule in our league over the last 11 years or whatnot.
So I just called and got a report on what our strength of schedule was.  And I think Chris (Theisen, men’s basketball SID) did, too. Chris really handled it; (he) called and got strength of schedule, because the numbers were skewed a little bit; because what they compared the numbers with was our strength of schedule within the league.  Whoever wins any league, your strength of schedule is lower than the teams that don’t win the league because theirs is going to be higher because you play them twice and they don’t get a chance to play themselves or we don’t get a chance to play ourselves to improve our (ranking) deal.  So it was just a bogus report — that was probably accurate — but it doesn’t hold water because every team that wins their league is going to play the weakest schedule in their respective league if you play everybody. You have to, because you don’t play yourself and that’s kind of how that balanced out.
Q.  What’s the latest on Perry Ellis’ health?
COACH SELF:  He’s responding well to treatment, but he’s definitely not going to play (Saturday at Oklahoma), exactly what the doctors said the other day.  Hopefully in a week we’ll know if he can get out there and play.
That is not anything that’s been negative whatsoever.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  But hopefully by next Tuesday or so we’ll have a better feel on what his status will be for the Big 12 Tournament.
Q.  Do they rate those sprains on how serious they are? Is Perry’s a mild sprain?
COACH SELF:  I don’t know the exact determination of the sprain.  I just know he’s got a sprained knee.  I think they do rate them, but I don’t know what level it is.
Q.  Is there anything on the status of Cliff Alexander?
COACH SELF:  No. Nothing.  Zero.  Status quo.  So the chances of him playing on Saturday, from our estimation and based on the little bit of information that we have, would be very slim right now.
Q.  Obviously this time of year you prefer to be just making some fine tuning.
COACH SELF:  We’ve got to change everything.
Q.  You went through this last year with Joel Embiid’s injury.  Does it affect your preparation for the postseason?
COACH SELF:  I don’t know that it will affect the preparation for the postseason a lot, but it will certainly affect how we go and play well and win Saturday in Norman.  We’re not going to have Perry, probably not going to have Cliff.  So you’re going down there with three bigs and Wayne’s (Selden, Jr.) ankle isn’t 100 percent.  He’s day-to-day and will probably not practice today and (is) doubtful for tomorrow.  So who knows what our team will be going down there.
So maybe we’ll try to tweak some things and have some fun with it, to be honest, on how to try to attack them without having obviously the team that you would normally have and the team that played so well when we played them the first time.
Q.  You mentioned the guys going to be out.  Frank Mason III’s played a ton of minutes.  Are you almost thinking about treating this game as maybe not playing your regulars as much as you normally would?
COACH SELF:  I think that we could not want to treat it that way and turn out treating it that way.  Depending on Wayne’s situation, Kelly (Oubre, Jr.) hadn’t played a ton of minutes, there won’t be anybody that’s played a ton of minutes other than Frank.  But I’m not going to do that (rest) with Frank.  Frank wants to play.  If we want to give him some time off, he can rest on Sunday and Monday.
But, no, I’m not looking at it like that.  We’re going to go down there trying to win the game, without question.
Q.  What do you think you guys can still play for over the next week in terms of seeding or do you think it in those terms?
COACH SELF:  You know what, I don’t know that we can really help ourselves.  I think we can hurt ourselves.  I don’t know if we were to run the table, win out.  I don’t know if that gets us to a No. 1 seed.  I would think there would have to be a lot of things happen to other teams for that to happen.
I do believe that if we play well from this point forward, we postured ourselves to be a No. 2 seed, without question.  And then depending if things don’t go well, then could we fall a line or two?  Absolutely.
I really hadn’t looked at it like that.  Other than the fact that let’s just try to get as healthy as we can and try to do some things for this one game to put ourselves in a position to win in Norman and then hopefully by next week we’ll have our full complement of players back healthy. That’s why I don’t think we need to change a lot because I think what we would change today may look totally different by next Tuesday or Wednesday, if we have everybody back.  But we are kind of in limbo right now.
Q.  Did you think this game would be for the Big 12 title and really important at one point?
COACH SELF:  Yeah, when we were down 18 in the second half (vs. West Virginia).  I thought all along it could come down to the game in Norman.  I did.  I think OU has as good personnel as anybody in our league.  And they were terrific against us up here.  I don’t know if you remember, (but) we got the big lead and they just played lights. They came back and got the lead and we made some plays down the stretch.
But I think OU is a team that can play and defeat anybody.  I really do.  And so, to me, we’re still playing for a lot.  Like what I talked about earlier, we’re playing for seed lines and that kind of stuff.
So even though it’s not as meaningful in the big picture from a conference championship (standpoint), it’s still pretty meaningful to both teams.
Q.  Having just won your 11th-straight Big 12 title, in your mind do they blend together? Or can you separate them pretty well individually?
COACH SELF:  I don’t know that I can separate them all.  I can tell you I could probably remember key moments in most of the seasons, where things kind of clicked and things kind of fell together.  Or if things kind of fell apart.
The first year that we won the league, where did we start out, 10-0, and didn’t finish strong and allowed OU to come back and tie us.
And some years we’ve been down two games with five to play or whatnot.  But I will say I’ll probably remember this year as much as any of them.  Because this was more of a grind to win this year.  The league was so good and our talent level is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s very, very good, but we’re not running the No. 1 and No. 3 NBA Draft picks out of the tunnel or some other things like that.
So for the team to do it in the manner in which they did, I think it’s pretty special on those kids’ part.
Q.  Would you say this is the hardest season in the 11-straight wins of the Big 12 title?
COACH SELF:  I would say that.  I would say there’s been some other years that we were behind.  But I would say this has been the hardest season to win, in large part because the differential in talent is so small throughout our entire league, because everybody’s got guys and everybody’s played good teams.
Q.  You have guys like Hunter Mickelson or Landen Landen that weren’t playing a lot when you had everybody. Now Landen’s had to play multiple big minutes and Hunter got in the other night.
COACH SELF:  They both played great.
Q.  When they come in and are ready like that, is that a credit to them for keeping themselves ready?
COACH SELF:  That’s a credit to the players.  And I think Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) is going to get an opportunity, too.  Those guys have kept good attitudes and (remained) positive. I told Hunter after the game, walking into the locker room, ‘Hunter, you did good, but you always knew you would.’  He said, ‘Of course, just give me a chance to play.’  One of those things, which I think is a great attitude.
He, Svi and Landen have probably had as good of attitudes as anybody in our program.  It’s not easy to do when you want to play and don’t get a chance to and you’re sitting there (on the bench).  It’s like you don’t want the quarterback to get hurt, but you want an opportunity (yourself).  That’s kind of where those guys have been all year long.
Q.  What kind of role can Hunter, specifically, fill for you?
COACH SELF:  He can shoot and he can block some shots.  He’s not physically strong like Cliff, but I thought he moved his feet great.  I thought his ball screen defense was great.  I thought he busted his butt.
I thought he made the most of the opportunity, big time.  We hadn’t talked about it, but how about the play Landen made to end the game?  I mean, that was an unbelievable play and to fall like he fell and to get right up and play the entire overtime.  That was a stud play. That play right there doesn’t get enough credit because that won the league.
It was a big-time play by a guy that hadn’t had a chance to play a ton of minutes.  So what was football mantra, ‘Next man up’ or whatever?  We don’t talk like that, but we say all the time that ‘Faces change, expectations don’t.’
I expect whoever is out there to play well like that.  They came here (to Kansas) because they’re good players, so they should play well.  And I think they will.
Q.  Against OU here (Jan. 19) you made a school record nine three-pointers in the first half (9-for-11). How do you approach improving on that mark in Norman on Saturday?
COACH SELF:  What did we make, 14 or 15 for the game, something like that?  I don’t remember. [KU was 10-for-19 from 3-point range vs. OU, 1/19/15]
But we’re not going down there hopeful to make that many or wishing to make that many, but I would say this: without an inside post scorer like Perry – and you know all the other guys can certainly fill the void — but without his ability to score in tight, I would say it would probably behoove us to make a couple of perimeter shots Saturday.
But I won’t even talk about it, I never talk about missing shots, all I talk about is taking good ones.  That’s how I’ve been, at least with my team.  I’ll talk to you guys [the media] about, ‘Yeah, we shot it bad or we shot it great.’  To me, it’s a good or bad shot when it leaves your hand, not if it goes in or not.  In my opinion, over time, you can’t coach that way.  If you make shots, you play well.  If you miss shots, you play bad.
I think it’s a good or bad shot when it leaves your hand and what you do behind that is what’s most important.  But I do get it; teams that make shots have the best chance to win.  We’re playing against maybe two best shot-making teams in our league in Iowa State and OU.  Certainly, we have to play great defense because we don’t want to go down there and get in a horse contest, because that probably wouldn’t be good for us.
Q.  Would Brannen Greene, specifically, be a guy that it would be good for him to see his shots go in?
COACH SELF:  Yeah, it would be great for all our guys.  He and Wayne shot it so well for a period of time.  But since that period of time, they haven’t shot it as well.  But that’s okay, too.  I told Tyshawn (Taylor), when he was here working out with our guys, ‘It took you six shots to make one shot in the NCAA Tournament.’  And we go all the way to the Finals.
He makes his first three-pointer, if I’m not mistaken, with like three minutes left in the game.  So to me it’s okay.  The thing about it is, we beat NC State that the same year.  We made three shots outside of two feet for the entire game, but we beat that the other night because I was told we made zero the other night outside of three feet.
But you’ve got to make shots.  You’ve got to have some shot-makers.  But the bottom line is we need to get good shots.  If you get good shots, they’ll fall.  I’m confident in that.
Q.  Is it a two-player race for Player of the Year in the league?  Or how do you see it?
COACH SELF:  I don’t know.  I don’t think Perry’s injury helps him a lot, statistically, because he obviously took a game off with the West Virginia game.  He was sick, too.
He wasn’t really effective at all before he got injured, because he was sick.  But, to me, you can make a case for Buddy (Hield, Oklahoma).  Buddy is terrific, without question.  And, of course, Georges (Niang, Iowa State) has had a great year, too, in Ames.
But, to me, Perry, what he’s done as far as putting us on his back during the conference season, I think speaks volumes for him.
Last year, Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) did not get it.  I’m not saying that he should have gotten it.  But I was just disappointed that the voting was done before the season was over when you win the league by two games and he (Wiggins) goes for 41 (points) the last game.
So I’m just hopeful that whatever is done, everybody should vote after the season is over as opposed to doing it prematurely. If Perry doesn’t win it, he doesn’t win it.  But I think he’s certainly played himself onto the first team, without question.
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