It's been established this Kansas team is different.
There simply aren't a lot of nights when Bill Self's squad will walk out on the court and claim victory just because it's more talented.
This team doesn't really have a ton of one-on-one breakdown ability, it doesn't have depth, and there aren't surefire NBA draft picks coming off the bench.
But that doesn't mean there's not talent and that KU can't find the recipe to have a successful season. Execution, defense, and plays that don't show up in the box score are even are at premium. Self told all the media early on this season that defense and running offense would be critical to this team's success. It's not surprising that Monday's loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center (80-74) left a sour taste in Self's mouth.
"I'd like to see a lot of things," Self responded after being asked what he'd like to see his team improve on. "I'd like to see us actually attempt to guard, get in a stance and win 70 percent of the 50-50 balls. I'd like for us to not give up layups, to be able to have enough discipline to defend the entire (shot) clock and not break down. I'd like for us to not play tired and to play with more energy and more passion."
After a 9-day lay-off and win against Ohio State, the Jayhawks came out flat in all areas and settled for contested jumpers early in the shot clock going 1 for their first 10 from the field. They turned it over too many times and dug an early hole producing their third loss on the season.
"Offensively, I'd like for us to run our stuff and actually try to execute what we do rather than basically being out there on our own," Self continued. "When we run our stuff, we're pretty good offensively. We just have poor ball and body movement way too many possessions."
And now comes a new test, one of the road variety. Kansas has lived off of being a terrific team away from home and is the reason it has owned the Big 12 since Self arrived. This squad is going to learn a lot about its mettle heading into its first hostile gym of the season and coming off a loss. Yes, the Hawks are playing a USC team that's down and 5-7 on the season but…
"We need to be mentally sharp every night we play," Self admitted, "there's not as much margin for error (this year)."
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said it best, "losing before Christmas is like a lump of coal in your stocking" and for KU were it to come home without the "W" Thursday, it would be a two-game slide as Big 12 play inches closer and closer. That would be a huge lump of coal for a program that is not accustomed to losing.
"From a maturity standpoint, when you have momentum, you want to extend it. When you don't have momentum, you want to curtail it and cut it off. That's just what we need to do. We need to be excited to play and go into Christmas with a great frame of mind. Certainly, a win in California will help us do that," said Self.
One thing about Self, he's a realist. He's going to tell it like it is and Tuesday while previewing the USC game he told reporters on a conference call that KU is not a favorite to win the conference.
"No, not at all. Anybody in the league could have us," Self continued. "I do think that we're going to have a good team. I think we'll have a good conference run, but to think that we would be a favorite right now, I think we have a long way to go before we can even consider ourselves to be one of the best teams. But I do think we have potential to get there."
Exactly. It's not time to push the panic button but it is time to focus. If KU does want to become a conference contender earning a "W" in this road matchup against USC would certainly be a positive step. KU can probably taking a lesson from what Davidson did. Bob McKillop's squad, on an average shooting night, got off to a hot start seized momentum and really never relinquished it. After 12 first half turnovers, Davidson had none in the second half. Self would like to see a similar performance from his team.
"Certainly, going on the road is different. You have to have a tighter huddle and need more focus," Self said.
"We need to really be focused and disciplined - some things that we really haven't been to be quite candid with you, except in stretches. We haven't put together 40 minutes on somebody else's court away from home. That will certainly be a challenge for our guys."
• Watching Travis Releford play defense is really becoming fun. He was singled out by head coach Bob McKillop after the Davidson game for his ability on the defensive end of the floor. When the other coach is talking about ways to make an adjustment to limit Travis' defensive impact, that's impressive. Travis posted a career-high four steals Monday.
• Thomas Robinson owned the glass posting a career-high 18 rebounds and yet another double-double (21 pts).