Even though KU shot just 38 percent – including 4-of-19 from behind the arc, 0-for-8 in the second half), he didn’t seem too concerned. Instead, he smiled easily when he talked about his team’s defense, rebounding and hustle.
He was effusive about the havoc his team created for a bad ball-handling Trojan squad, forcing numerous loose balls and creating 26 points off 25 USC turnovers.
Shoot, after hearing that KU grabbed a staggering 20 offensive rebounds, Self was able to joke that the Jayhawks’ lousy shooting was the key to padding that statistic.
All in all, the coach was happy with the win. “You always want to look pretty, but we need to gain confidence winning games when you’ve got to grind it out, so this was a good game for us,” he said.
He continued, “We have just as much chance to be good in March as we did two weeks ago.”
But don’t get the idea that Bill Self hasn’t taken off his crimson-and-blue-colored glasses lately. Far from it. He knows that his team has problems, and Monday night, he admitted that those won’t be easy to remedy.
Self said a lack of leadership and an unexpected shortage of maturity have hindered his squad’s progress.
“Last year, you got three seniors that, regardless of their performance, they played every day. Every day. You go back last year, Julian and Mario weren’t playing a lot early,” Self said.
But not so this season. In comparison, “This year, our freshmen have to play a lot early,” he explained. “We’ve got some guys who were playing high school ball and AAU just a few months ago. So it’s going to take time.
“We’re behind where I think we should be because we not as mature as what we probably thought coming in.”
“I remember [the media] asking, ‘Are you ever going to get a rotation? Are you ever going to figure out who you’re going to play?’ and all that stuff. That’s not our problem now. We know who we want to play, but we’ve got a lot of young guys.
Self also worries about depth, saying that his team isn’t as deep now as they were to start the season. Combine the loss of one big body in C.J. Giles, who was kicked off the team, and the slow recovery of another, center Sasha Kaun, and the Jayhawks sometimes struggle terribly due to the lack of a back-up for Darrell Arthur.
If that weren’t enough, the continued progress and development of talented returners like Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright has been a challenge, due to their drastically-altered roles with this year’s team.
“You look out there and you’re starting three sophomores, and those guys are going through different things emotionally that they didn’t go through last year. Hey, there’s pressure to perform now. You’re preseason player of the year – two guys on our team – there’s pressure to perform. Last year, if they didn’t perform, we just played somebody else. There’s some pressure now,” Self said.
By process of elimination, Self has begun looking to one player to become the team’s leader.
“You’re playing three sophomores and two freshmen who haven’t been through anything, and Sasha has no confidence yet because he hasn’t been out there. And you don’t have C.J. (Giles). Darnell hasn’t played that much. Basically, Russell’s your only experienced guy.”
Will Robinson become that leader this team badly needs?
“We’ve said that for a year-and-a-half now. We hope so.”
Self is keenly aware of the intangibles that it takes to turn a talented group of players into a great team. He’s just as aware that this team lacks some of those and knows an early April trip to Atlanta is riding on whether or not this team can develop them. And, he said, that’s a tough task that has to come from the inside.
“We talk about it all the time,” Self said, a hint of frustration in his voice. “Until we step up and have a guy take charge of this team, it’s going to be hit and miss. And I can’t do it. Our staff can’t do it. There’s got to be some inner stuff that’s talked about between players.”