Will Kansas overcome the first round jinx?
Let’s face it -- no matter how much success you’ve enjoyed, in Lawrence first round NCAA exits are unacceptable. It’s that type of thinking that provoked ESPN’s Andy Katz to declare no coach will face as much pressure in round one of the NCAA tournament as Bill Self. After reaching the Elite 8 in his first season at helm, Self followed up with two first round disappointments. This team is expected to advance well into the tournament and another first round “stinker” would be disastrous for Self and Co. Phog.net believes if KU can just avoid any brackets with mid-major teams starting with the letter “B” all will be well.
How will Kansas deal with expectations?
The magazines have hit the shelves and the first ESPN/USA TODAY poll has been released. The Jayhawks can be found at the top of just about everybody’s list of favorites this season, something Self believes works to his advantage.
“We need to operate under pressure. If we want to be as good as we can be later on this season we need to put ourselves in stressful situations. I think this helps do that,” said Self about his team’s preseason ranking.
Self’s youngsters are a year older and a year wiser but remember -- this is still a young team minus senior leadership. Dealing with high expectations will be a brand new experience for this bunch.
“We’re not going to hopefully be close to being in November or December what we would be in February, but this team will go through some growing pains. We could care less what other people expect,” explained Self. “We’re not going to shy away from our expectations, and I must admit our expectations are very high -- not from a win-loss standpoint, but from a performance standpoint. We want to perform as close to our potential as we possibly can. If we’re able to do that, it will make our ceiling fairly high.”
Who will emerge as the vocal leader for KU?
Intangibles go a long way towards separating good teams from great teams, and right now Kansas is missing a key component. With no seniors on the roster, where will the leadership come from?
It’s never good when the only voices you hear at a practice belong to the coaching staff and right now KU practices are a bit too quiet for Self’s taste.
“An intangible that were definitely not anywhere close to where we need to be is a vocal leader. We’ve got good leaders by example in work ethic and things like that but for the guys… it’s too much out of character for them to really step up to the plate and be that. It’s not comfortable for them,” Self continued. “The only one that’s really comfortable is Sherron. But Sherron is just trying to survive right now as opposed to understanding everything that everyone is doing. So hopefully by Christmas or January he’ll be more comfortable in that role even though whether or not he’s a starter remains to be seen because he’s going to have to play really well to beat out some of those other guys.”
Collins is clearly a born leader but will he be comfortable “conducting the band” if he’s not a part of the starting lineup?
Will Kansas find a consistent interior presence this season?
I ask that question using the word “presence” because the Jayhawks don’t just need consistent scoring from the interior, they could also use a solid defensive force in the middle.
Consistency is what the Jayhawks lacked last year and exactly what Self is looking for this season.
“If I was going to say two guys to watch for with us – It would be Sasha and Darnell (Jackson). I think that they’re a key for us and they’ve also improved a great deal,” said Self less than a week ago.
Instead Self faces a gaping hole in the middle. Those comments were made before Self knew Sasha Kaun would be sidelined for 3-6 weeks with a knee injury. A cloud of uncertainty surrounds C.J. Giles and his status with the team remains unresolved. Suddenly, minus the twin towers, the Jayhawks look rather small.
"We'll have to play Darrell (Arthur) or Darnell at the five and probably move Julian (Wright) to the four. Matt (Kleinmann) will probably play some now and we could move Rodrick (Stewart) to the four and play real small. Those are the only guys left. We have gone from being a deep, long, athletic team to being, in the short term, a team that does not have much inside depth at all. We're a pretty thin group right now."
The Jayhawks have also taken a hit at the other end of the floor with the loss of Kaun.
"That is the biggest concern of our team. We don't guard very well inside. Sasha was our best low-post defender, so that is an issue," concluded Self.
A lot remains unanswered about KU’s frontcourt and the coaching staff will have to do a lot of shuffling to help fill the void up front.
Will Kansas-Florida live up to the hype?
You’ve heard the song, “Don’t Believe the Hype” right? Over the last few seasons that has certainly been the case in college basketball. There always seems to be that one game promoted as the “game of the year” and ending up a flop (see Duke-Texas last season).
On November 25th KU will take on defending national champion Florida – a game fans, media, and players have circled. Self downplays the importance of the early season matchup between two heavyweights.
“I think in football Ohio State-Texas is a legitimate game that you point to because the winner has a great chance to play for a national championship. In basketball, the winner of our game against Florida in November probably isn’t going to have a ton to do with what goes on in March,” said Self.
About a year ago KU made the trek to Hawaii only to end up 1-2 at a power-packed Maui Invitational. Self’s young team found it hard to rebound from two tough losses.
“Coaches and fans, we are totally different. My thing is Florida is going to be a big game but we don’t need to hype it up and make it bigger than what it is which is just a regular season game against a quality opponent and our goal is to get better each and every day and if we do that in the end result you’ll be very happy with in the end. But it’s not one of those games like last year with Maui when you go over there and you don’t perform well you’re deflated and you lose two games after that because you’re deflated. We can’t have that,” continued Self.
“It’s a big game that if you win – great. Obviously it’s something you can build off of. But more importantly than that it’s a game to let us know where we are and to address deficiencies and that kind of stuff. But I’m not sure a lot of those things wouldn’t have transpired in the games leading up to that. The coaches are looking at it like another game,” according to Self.
Early signing is a couple of weeks away and KU fans can expect there to be plenty of activity on the recruiting front according to Self.
“Without saying anything specific about recruiting, we’re hoping to have another big November. We received one commitment and are hopeful although there’s obviously a lot still going on in recruiting, we’re hopeful we can sign a second player,” said Self.