All I Want For Xmas Is...

Kansas heads into the Christmas holiday with an unblemished record but that doesn't mean KU head coach Bill Self's Christmas wish list is blank. Phog.net takes a look at what Self might want to see delivered for his current Kansas Jayhawks.

A couple of weeks ago when asked to grade his team thus far Self offered up a "C+ or B-" rating saying, "There's times when we look really good. I think and there's times when we don't look so good."

Coaches are never satisfied and Self knows his team needs to continue to get better to win a conference title and make a deep run into March. So it doesn't matter that his team is 11-0 for the fourth time in the Self era at KU. There are always ways to get better.

 "I thought initially to start the season we were much further along than what I had anticipated and I think the last couple of weeks we haven't been as good as we were when we started," Self said on a Big 12 conference call less than two weeks ago.

Really Self received his most important present early when Josh Selby saw his first action of the season. The freshman guard has been nothing short of outstanding and it's scary to think about the ceiling with a kid that's only going to continue to get better and better. We've already seen some marked improvement in spots for Josh especially on the defensive game after just two games. Selby's output has been immediate and awesome and Kansas might not be 11-0 if not for his game-winner against USC.

For now allow us offer up the sleigh and the reindeers as Santa hopefully slides down the chimney and makes good on three critical Jayhawk Christmas wishes in 2010. 

Defense, Defense, Defense
One thing is certain – this Kansas team can score. Self admitted he is surprised at how easily this team has been able to score on the offensive end. It's no surprise that this team leads the Big 12 early in the season and is the best in the country in field goal percentage (53.4 pct). We could spend our time talking about how super KU's offensive production has been and how this team shares the ball – good enough right now for fourth in the country in assists - but for Bill Self it all begins and ends at the defensive end of the floor.

Fresh out of the gates this season KU's defense looked solid. But as the competition has picked up at times the defensive effort has wavered. The Jayhawks are still giving up just a shade under 61 ppg BUT Self has sensed a difference lately.

"When you shoot quickly and you don't always play smart offensively at least really, really guard on the other end," Self continued. "That's just what we haven't been doing consistently. Defensively I don't think we're playing with the same energy we were earlier in the year."

Listen there's no reason to sound an alarm as far as the defense is concerned. KU still keeps plenty of opponents under 40 percent and gives up just 37 perecent from the floor so far this season. If you back up beyond the three-point line Kansas gets even stingier allowing just over 26 percent from behind the arc.

But against Arizona the Wildcats shot 45 pct and KU allowed 27 points from Derrick Williams. UCLA shot 48 pct and Tyler Honeycutt went off for 33 points. Then when facing USC in another tight win Alex Stepheson and Donte Smith combined for 38 points. It's a fact that the Jayhawks continue to have issues defending the post area.

Self has employed a fair amount of big-to-big doubles in the post area and the success with it has varied. Against USC the rotations weren't quite there but certainly KU did a much better job against Cal. The defense has to stay on an uptick heading to conference play for Self to feel truly comfortable and happy and for KU to continue to emerge as a national title contender. 

Self is willing to continue to loosen the reigns and allow his team to play freely on offense but if and only if, it plays hard at the defensive end of the floor.

More Energy
One thing leads to another. Self mentioned the energy and there were a couple of games where it was lacking. But Josh Selby appears to have injected the team with a new energy. Much like Sherron Collins, Selby has the moxie and isn't afraid to show his emotion. He's a leader already emotionally and as he gets more comfortable he maybe the catalyst for the type of energy this team performs with.

"I think a lot of it is the energy," said Self prior to the USC game. "I don't know why it seems like to me we haven't played with the same defensive intensity as what we were playing not necessarily the first game or two."

The intensity was there against California in a game that became physical and chippy but Kansas needs to have that type of fervor on the defensive end consistently and it starts with effort and energy.

Better free throw shooting

If you peruse the early season statistics in the Big 12 you'll see that Kansas (64.9 pct) ranks second to last in the category of free throw shooting percentage. In fact, only preseason Big 12 favorite Kansas State (54.5 pct) shoots it worse from the charity stripe. That better change for both teams. If you really want some perspective Kansas is currently 259th out of 346 Division I teams in free throw shooting.

KU is still beating teams by an average of 24 ppg but the games are about to get a lot tighter. Free throw shooting and getting to the line is what wears teams down and allows the Jayhawks to dominate and pull away in games. At times KU hasn't been able to maintain large leads and/or step on the throat of the opposition and free throw shooting has a lot to do with it. 

Coaches don't like to talk about it because they feel it gets in the heads of players even more but going forward Kansas simply has to be better from the charity stripe and however Self decides to address the issue is fine, but it is an issue.

Right now on the Kansas roster only Selby, Tyrel Reed, and Brady Morninstar are shooting it at higher than 75 percent from the line. The good news is Selby will have the ball in his hands a lot down the stretch but Tyshawn Taylor, Marcus Morris, and Thomas Robinson are all under 70 pct from the line. Markieff Morris is one of the only Jayhawks to improve his free throw shooting percentage from last year to this year (62% to 75% this season).

We could go on and split hairs and talk about KU being loose with the ball at times – this team certainly giveth and taketh. Tyshawn has more turnovers than anyone but yet his assist-to-turnover ratio is amongst the best in the conference. As a team KU's assist-to-turnover ratio is still something to be proud of. You just would like to eliminate the times where the unforced turnovers occur.

But all of this is splitting hairs really with a team 11-0 and ranked 3rd in the nation. Self has a lot to be thankful for this Christmas with a talented roster and another legitimate crack at some postseason hardware I don't think he'll find coal in his stocking just an ever-present wish to improve.

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