Media Day Notebook: Top-seeded Kansas Not Looking Past No. 5 seed Maryland
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In preparations for the NCAA Championship Sweet Sixteen starting on Thursday in Louisville, the top-seed Jayhawks are treating No. 5 seed Maryland like a No. 1 seed.
“I’ve said this before, because it’s happened with one of my teams before,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said during Wednesday’s media session. “When you’re ranked in the top five for a good portion of a season – at least multiple weeks – that means you have shown everybody that you can play to a No. 1-seed level. Even though Maryland is seeded fifth, our guys understand they can play to a one seed. So this is a hard — this is really a hard matchup, because we really think a lot of their team.”
No. 18/17 Maryland (27-8) maintained a top-10 ranking for nearly the entire season until late February – after losing four of its last six regular-season games. The Terrapins feature one of the most talented starting lineups in the country, led by sophomore guard Melo Trimble’s 21.0 points per game and junior forward Robert Carter’s 10.0 rebounds per game.
“They’re a great group. One through five, they can score the ball,” Kansas senior forward Jamari Traylor added. “They do a great job with their guards of getting shots. Melo is pretty good coming off of ball screens so we’ve got to shrink the floor, help out on him, and we’ve just got to make it tough on them to score. We’ve just got to play physical, and that’s what’s got us here and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
SELF SHOWS APPRECIATION
In the media sessions leading up to Thursday’s NCAA Regional Semifinals, Coach Self also took a moment to appreciate his current team that won a 12th-straight Big 12 regular season title and are riding a 16-game winning streak into the weekend.
“I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed coaching a collective group more than what I have this year just because it’s fun for them,” Self said.
MANNING DRAINS HALF-COURT SHOT
In the traditional half-court shot to end open practices during the postseason, senior Evan Manning came through in the clutch. Before last week’s first round game in Des Moines, Iowa, it was Devonte’ Graham who swished it from long range. Graham also made the team’s half-court shot before the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City.
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) March 23, 2016
TURGEON PREFERS LARGER STAGE TO FACE ALMA MATER
Former Jayhawk Mark Turgeon, who played under Larry Brown in the mid-1980s, will be facing his alma mater for the seventh time in his head-coaching career. Turgeon went 0-6 against Kansas while at Texas A&M from 2007-11.
“The Kansas thing is not that weird to me anymore or unique,” Turgeon said. “It was a little bit that way the first time we played. Being at Texas A&M, we played them a lot. You get used to it. I’d rather play them in a national championship game than a Sweet 16 game, but here we are so we’ll play it. It is what it is.”
Complete quotes from Wednesday’s press conference are below:
BILL SELF: We’re excited to be in Louisville. Certainly, our team is excited to be here. And I haven’t had a chance to even see the inside of the building yet, but I’m really excited to get out there and see the Yum! Center and really grateful for the opportunity, and certainly looking forward to playing a terrific Maryland team tomorrow.
Q. Coach, can you talk about Louisville as a host city and what you think of the city overall?
COACH SELF: I haven’t been here that often. We played here when I was in college and then I coached here when I was assistant at Oklahoma State, and I’ve been to the (Kentucky) Derby a couple of times. So that’s about been my only experiences here in the city.
But people here are nice, very friendly. And certainly the convenience of having the hotels and everything right here close to the Yum! Center I think is great.
Last night we were able to take our guys to Churchill Downs for dinner. That was a special deal for our fellas, too. As long as we play well, I think I’ll really, really enjoy this place.
Q. Coach, I know you played against Mark Turgeon in college. You also coached him. What are your recollections of him as a player, and what do you know you’re going to get from a Mark Turgeon-coached team?
COACH SELF: Turg was a good player. He wasn’t very big, but he got all the talent he had out of that 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame he possibly could. I did play against Turg a couple years. Our program wasn’t quite at the elite level that Kansas’ was. He definitely won a couple more than we did when I played.
I had a chance to coach against him when he was at (Texas) A&M, and his teams are sound. He’s very clever in how they use their personnel. Sometimes it looks the same, but it could just be a different angle or something like that that makes it hard to scout and hard to guard. And they’re always sound.
So I think Turg is a terrific coach. I think he’s an elite coach, and certainly he’s got Maryland playing extremely, extremely well. And their team is very, very talented.
I’ve said this before, because it’s happened with one of my teams before. When you’re ranked in the top five for a good portion of a season – at least multiple weeks – that means you have shown everybody that you can play to a No. 1 seed level.
And I think we’re catching a team that even though they’re seeded fifth, our guys understand they can play to a one seed. So this is a hard — this is really a hard matchup, because we really think a lot of their team.
Q. What’s the main difference between young and veteran teams? Do you think that last year – when we had two freshmen-dominated teams in the Final Four – was an anomaly or are we going to see more of it?
COACH SELF: Second first. I think that we’ll see it again. I think a lot of it just depends on good fortune. There’s going to be recruiting classes out there that a university is going to get three of the top ten or three of the top 15 players in America, so-called, to their respective school.
The way kids are picking schools now, a lot of them want to go with buddies. So that could happen again.
Now, the way it happened last year, to have a couple of schools that everything fit perfectly with young kids, I don’t think that’s the rule. I think that’s more the exception. But it will happen again.
And there’s going to be lightning in a bottle again because some of these young players are so talented. But certainly, for me personally, because I’ve been on both ends, I’m not sure that there is an exact formula that works better than others. I think talent still prevails more times than not.
But something about experience and having guys that have really invested into the program, I think, lends itself to having guys prepare on a daily basis because they know this is what it is for them, whereas a lot of time the one-and-done kids know that, hey, this is just a short stop before they move on to the professional level.
So, I mean, give me the best players. That would be my philosophy. But, certainly, a team like ours right now that you have one senior but you have a bunch of vets that play a ton, I think, is maybe the most enjoyable way to do it.
Q. Just wondering how Frank Mason III is doing physically. Is it something you even worry about with his toughness, and also if you can just kind of evaluate the point guard matchup in this one?
COACH SELF: I’ve said this before. Frank’s a little bit like Jim Brown when he gets tackled. It takes him forever to get back to the huddle. I don’t think — I think Frank’s fine. I think his health is fine. I think he’s had the nagging things that obviously bother everybody. Does his hip hurt? A little bit. Does his foot hurt? A little bit. But not to the point where I think he’ll be less than 100 percent when the adrenaline gets flowing.
He’ll have to be 100 percent because the point guard matchup is — there’s a lot of great match-ups in this game on paper. But can Frank do a good job on Melo (Trimble), because when Melo is on top of his game and when he’s in attack mode and he’s playing with ease, he’s as good as any guard in the country.
So Frank, it is going to be a great matchup for Frank. But it will also be a great matchup for Melo, too, because they both have to guard each other. It’s just not a one-way street.
Q. Bill, what’s been the biggest difference in the way Wayne Selden Jr., has played this season and particularly in the tournament?
COACH SELF: I think that Wayne, in his first two years, settled too much. I think that he did not play to his body or his athletic ability as often as what he can. Because I think Wayne can have great possessions and impact possessions even when he’s not shooting the ball, and I think he’s doing that more.
He’s getting to the free throw line a lot more, and he’s driving it more and not playing to just the perimeter shots. So at least for the most part, this year, that’s been the case. I think in the tournament, Wayne’s one of these guys that can give your team a lot of confidence because he can make some plays that nobody else on our team can make.
So he’s kind of like a physical leader for us. And he’s a guy that’s got a little bit of size and he’s got a quick release so he can maybe get a shot off that maybe some other guys can’t do when you run bad offense. So it’s real important that he stay aggressive and he play well from this point forward. From this point forward, everybody is going to guard. What happens is you’ve got to make open shots, but you need to be able to make some tough shots. He’s a guy who can make tough shots for us.
Q. The market of Louisville has had the number one top TV rankings for college basketball, which leads some to say that this is the mecca for college basketball. How would you make the case for Kansas and Kansas City being the college basketball mecca?
COACH SELF: I think, obviously, in the Bluegrass State, everybody loves ball. I mean, that goes without saying. I can’t speak to television ratings, because I have no idea.
But I will say that when you stop and think about, obviously, us being 30 miles away, Missouri being a couple hours away, K-State being a couple of hours away, Wichita being three hours away, and then you look at college basketball experience being there, the Hall of Fame and then you look at NAIA National Tournament being there and all the NCAA Tournaments that have been played in Kansas City Municipal Auditorium or whatever, I think when you add up all the history, I think that you can make a case that Kansas is probably — Kansas City area is probably about as knowledgeable and historic a place that our game has seen.
You could say the same thing about Philadelphia, obviously. But Kentucky, unbelievable history, tradition and all these things. But when the inventor of the game is your first coach, I think it definitely gives you a leg up on some folks when you start talking about history.
Q. You said that you might be a tiny bit looser this year in that you think the personality of your team sometimes rubs off on the coach. So I’m just curious, in what ways have these players rubbed off on you? How have they rubbed off on you?
COACH SELF: I do believe that. They say the team can take on the personality of the coach, but I think a lot of times the coach can take on the personality of the team if you trust them, if you enjoy being around them all the time, not just on the court but off the court. If they can give you grief and you can give it back to them in fun ways.
I do believe that this team has rubbed off on me because, I don’t care what a coach says, it’s hard to be real loose if your team isn’t competing hard or not trying hard or not playing well. You want to encourage them and give them do-better talks to do better.
But sometimes these guys police themselves. I’ve really, really, really — I mean, we’ve had a ton of one-and-dones and we’ve had No. 1 picks and a lot of lottery picks. And I’ve enjoyed coaching them all. I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed coaching a collective group more than what I have this year just because it’s fun for them.
My guys don’t get near the credit they deserve for being as good a players as they are and NBA prospects. But at least that’s my opinion. But the bottom line is they enjoy that underdog role. They’re recruited to our place with the same expectations that Wiggins and Embiid were recruited to our place. When people don’t talk about them, that gives them a chip, and I love teams that operate that way.
But, still, yet they like each other and they basically — there’s one stat that matters, and that’s wins and losses, and not individual performances. And they’ve just been so much fun to be around.
Q. You and Mark Turgeon both coached under Larry Brown and Mark played for him. Could you just talk about, briefly, the influence that Coach Brown has on young basketball talent to help them develop into elite level coaches?
COACH SELF: Turg and Coach are close, and they should be. He recruited him, he played for him. But I would bet that Coach is not real comfortable talking to me or Turg about the other team. I would bet that.
But when you’re a young player a young coach, you think you know more than what you do, but you realize you don’t know anything when you get around Coach Brown.
So the fact that you can be around a guy like him early in your career and he can influence you the rest of your life, because you can learn 70 percent of what you’re going to learn in that first year or two just because you don’t know anything and he’s a wealth of knowledge.
So I think that he would have great impact on anybody that he touches when they’re at a young age, especially because we all had so much to learn and he was such a wealth of knowledge, he gave it to us. He didn’t hide it from us. He shared it. I guarantee Turg still does the same drills he did with coach back in the day.
I don’t know if there’s a more of a sign of respect that a coach could give another coach than actually believing in things that he learned 30 years ago.
Q. Coach, you kind of just alluded to players kind of developing maybe a chip on their shoulder. How would you say that Cheick Diallo has handled expectations?
COACH SELF: You know, Cheick is as good a kid as we’ve had. He’s been great. Tries hard every day. Works as hard as anybody in our program. The bottom line with Cheick, and this is not a knock to him at all, it’s just that we’ve had some other guys probably perform better with the other players on the court than what he was doing at the time.
Then we got on a roll and he’s kind of been the odd man out. Just to be very candid. But Cheick will get the last laugh on everybody, and I think he knows that. I think he knows he’s young in the game and he’s got a lot to learn. But certainly his enthusiasm and his want-to hasn’t been dampened at all by not playing as much as I know he wants to play.
But, still, yet I feel confident that if his number’s called, he’ll be prepared to deliver because he prepares hard every day.
Q. From a distance, it would appear that Kansas has better success with veteran teams than one and dons. Do you think that’s true and, if so, what are the reasons?
JAMARI TRAYLOR: I just feel from this team, you just got guys that are hungry and we know how it feels to take losses. And we’re just a little bit more focused. That’s probably about it. We’ve just got a little bit more experience being out here and we know how it feels to go out here. When you take a loss, it sits in the back of your mind and you’re going to do anything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think what he said kind of answers the question perfectly. Older guys have the mentality. They’ve been here before, and they don’t like that feeling of losing. So they kind of put that heart out on the line more than a one and done kid would.
I think the guys are just hungrier.
Q. We see a lot of different styles, coaching styles. We’ve got Mark Turgeon, who takes his players’ cell phones away at night, and Jim Larranaga, who has his Miami team playing baseball last night. How would you describe Coach Self and his approach with you guys and his philosophy and what he’s like to be around?
GRAHAM: I think he’s — this year especially he’s been letting us be more free. Putting a lot of responsibility on us, treating us like adults. Just he’s given us that treatment, but we can’t abuse it. He’s allowing us to do things, whatever we want to do, especially on the court, playing free and however we want to.
He just expect us to be adults and treats us like that.
We went to the Kentucky Derby yesterday and visited that, which was nice for us. That was fun. It was great. A great experience. You get to see historic stuff like that. It was nice.
Q. Following up on the experience angle, what kinds of things can a coach ask of a veteran team that he can’t ask if it’s a lot of freshmen? What do you understand that maybe younger players don’t? For both players.
TRAYLOR: I guess just to be more focused and more accountable. We know what Coach Self expects from us a little bit more. We’ve been put under pressure situations before. And we’re just ready. So I guess that’s the difference.
GRAHAM: Maturity is definitely another thing that a freshman wouldn’t have as much as a junior or somebody like that, if they’re in the situation talking trash situations and stuff like that, just to be mature about the whole thing. That’s another example.
Q. For Jamari in particular, what does it mean to be in the Sweet Sixteen after it’s been three years now since you’ve been here? And how are you appreciating this experience?
JAMARI TRAYLOR: It’s just a great, a great feeling to be able to get back here. These last couple years we’ve been bounced a little bit early, and it’s definitely left a bad taste in our mouth as a team. We’re just more focused. Every possession matters. We’re just more in tune, more of a tight-knit group. That’s pretty much it. We’re just living in the moment. We know any day could be our last day playing. So it’s just everything’s more magnified.
Q. Devonte’, the second half of the Big 12 schedule, you guys hit a stride. A lot of that, you stepping up, becoming more of a leader. When did that kind of role — when did you really accept that role, and how did it help the team?
GRAHAM: We had a meeting with Coach, four of the starters — me, Frank, Wayne and Perry — because we didn’t really know who our fifth spot would be. It kept shifting back and forth between guys. And Coach just came up and was talking to us about how we all needed to lead in our own way. We were looking for a leader. We didn’t have a leader early in the season. We were trying to pick out one leader, which wasn’t working for us because not one person can really lead the team.
We do a good job of having multiple leaders leading in their own ways. I think that meeting really kind of helped me after that.
Q. Is there anything in particular about Maryland that’s concerning to you?
TRAYLOR: They’re a great group. One through five, they can score the ball. They do a great job with their guards of getting shots. Melo (Trimble) is pretty good coming off of ball screens so we’ve got to shrink the floor, help out on him, and we’ve just got to make it tough on them to score.
We’ve just got to play physical, and that’s what’s got us here and we’ve got to continue to do that.
GRAHAM: I think what he said with the ball screen, we’ve just got to shrink the floor, especially when he’s coming off ball screens, because he’s good at getting in the paint and finishing and dropping it off to his big man. So ball screen defense will definitely be a big part of the game for us.
Q. Devonte’, you had said after your game the other night, Perry, who doesn’t get a lot of fanfare, you called him the key to your team. Tell us some of the things that he does that don’t show up on the stat sheet. What’s it like being out there on the floor with him?
GRAHAM: One thing, I mean, he just stretches the defense. When he’s at the four especially, you’ve got to respect the 3-point shot so it kind of keeps the big guy out of the paint, which causes driving lanes for me, Frank and Wayne. And we do a good job of kind of exploiting that and getting into the lane and trying to make plays for each other.
So I think that’s one of the biggest things that he does that goes unnoticed.
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