Kevin Haskin: Toughness will be something for Jayhawks to think about along bus ride

Trip through Big Eight territory looms with road game Saturday at Nebraska

Kansas coach Bill Self addresses the Topeka Jayhawk Club during a luncheon Thursday at the Downtown Ramada Inn. (Kevin Haskin/The Capital-Journal)

Maybe a tour of the old Big Eight toughens the Kansas basketball team. Well, at least a short flashback.

 

The Jayhawks will bus to their only nonconference road game, making what was once a familiar trip to Lincoln for a 7 p.m. game Saturday against Nebraska.

Oh, the ride will be in deluxe coach for sure, but time on the highway spent thinking about back-to-back defeats could be good for what ails the Jayhawks and their troubled defense.

“Other teams would say it ticks them off and I think this team will be that way,’’ KU coach Bill Self said.

As early as Saturday, though?

A slight makeover will begin then when Arizona State transfer wing Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible. No declaration has yet been made regarding freshman forward Billy Preston. Also, the situation with Silvio De Sousa and his quest to join the Jayhawks sometime during the semester break still must be finalized.

Until then, Self is left with what he labeled his “softest team’’ at KU following a 95-85 loss to Arizona State on Sunday.

“We’re not a very good defensive team right now, but certainly having those extra bodies will make us better,’’ Self told an audience of Topeka Jayhawk Club members Thursday at Downtown Ramada Inn.

“I told our team (Wednesday), and they’re great kids, that this is the hardest team to coach since I’ve been at Kansas. That’s because every other team we’ve had as coaches here, if (someone) wasn’t doing it right …’’

Self then proceeded to recall various standouts he could summon when they were once reserves, including Frank Mason. All of them went on to play professionally, or in the case of Devonte’ Graham, will eventually.

“Now,’’ Self added, “if (someone) isn’t doing it right, it’s … try harder.’’

Few options exist on the bench. Again, that will change if Cunliffe can just provide a few minutes each half to spell Devonte’ Graham or Lagerald Vick, who are each averaging 34-plus minutes.

Preston and De Sousa are truly key “if we were to have our full team,’’ Self said, “though we won’t be as good as we can be until February.

“And even if we don’t have our full team, if we can get one of the two it will probably be the same case, but right now I feel like we can just use anybody (namely Cunliffe) for five or six minutes a half and that could make us better.’’

Significant changes to the Kansas concept and structure, however, seem unlikely.

The matchup zone Self mentioned as a potential defensive solution following the Arizona State defeat is something he would be prone to using for only brief stretches because of his preference to play man.

The tactics Self suggested for potentially slowing down the game by prolonging possessions do not fit a team that has been quick to bomb open 3s and looks to attack overmatched defenders with lob dunks.

Deliberate thinking is required to advance a deliberate offense and many of the Jayhawks are too gifted reacting naturally to open looks.

Consistency, of course, is a factor that becomes magnified when a thin roster does not play its best basketball. To that end, Malik Newman must look harder to make the right pass, Svi Mykhailiuk must handle the ball better and Udoka Azubuike needs to post up strong in order to draw fouls.

And those are flaws that must be confronted by KU offensively, not defensively.

“Dok is never going to be a guy who makes a lot of free throws or shoots 80 percent from the line,’’ Self said of his 7-foot- sophomore, who has made nine attempts and is shooting 42.9 percent.

“With that being said, this is what’s frustrating to me is how many fouls has Dok drawn? He’s shot 21 free throws. He’s the biggest man on the planet, strong, he’s athletic, but he doesn’t get anybody to foul him. Even though he’s not a great free throw shooter, he’ll be much better shooting eight a game as opposed to two a game. That puts the other team’s big guy in foul trouble.’’

The example used with Azubuike is one of many Self can cite to promote toughness.

One of many, no doubt, he has addressed that the Jayhawks can contemplate on a bus ride through old Big Eight country.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

3 POINTERS FROM SELF

Kansas coach Bill Self addressed the Topeka Jayhawk Club at a luncheon Thursday at Downtown Ramada Inn. Among answers Self shared to inquiries he fielded from TJC members:

Thoughts on being a grandfather following the birth of his first grandchild, Ella:

“That’s actually the greatest thing. She’s perfect. She really is. She’s perfect. I was able to go down there 20 hours last week. I was probably down there 20 hours and probably in her presence during the day eight or 10 hours, and I probably held her eight or 10 hours. But she still is 0-2, so she’s got to improve on that.

The prospect of playing Wichita State in a nonconference game:

“They’ve done so well down there, but trust me, you only schedule not to do what other people want you to do, but what’s in the best interest of your program. I don’t think any business would say I want to do this because I think it would help our competitors.’’

The impact of the 3-point line on young kids learning to shoot:

“It’s kind of frustrating as a coach when you see young kids want to shoot 3s. All they’re doing is practicing bad habits. They’re not strong enough to do it. You develop muscle memory associated with a bad habit.’’

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