KU head coach Bill Self believes his team has handled being the overwhelming favorite this early in the season, "just fine." After all Kansas is ranked 3rd in the nation and has won its first 11 games. But in an interview with Phog.net one week ago, Self looked deeper inside his team's spotless record and pointed out that close games have been few and far between.
Self was concerned about the lack of "situations" his team had face thus far in the season but it's a catch 22. You want your team to prove itself down the stretch in tightly contested games (like Arizona), but you don't want to whittle away a 13-point lead (like Georgia Tech) just to see if you can survive.
Rest-assured KU's fifth year head coach is looking closely at how his team reacts to close contests. For the most part Kansas has only played three edge-of-your-seat type games: two against Pac-10 opponents (Arizona, USC), and Georgia Tech which turned into a nail-biter on Tuesday.
There's a common thread found within all three games - Kansas has let the other team back in the game instead of going for the jugular. Letting teams hang around is a dangerous thing for any top-ranked team. Against Arizona, KU missed a chance to rein an early haymaker on the Wildcats. A dominant first half run ended with the Jayhawks up 20-9, but the half ended with the score tied at 40. In a hotly contested finish KU took the tight one in overtime.
Against USC, KU was up 54-45 with 3:05 left in the game. Instead of stepping on the Trojans, the Jayhawks let them up for air and needed a clutch, end-of-shot-clock three by Mario Chalmers to secure a win.
Tuesday against Georgia Tech, KU came out of the gates attacking and looked impressive for stretches of time. With 5:21 remaining in the unfriendly confines of an ACC opponent, Kansas was up 61-48. The Jekyll and Hyde Jayhawks suddenly looked extremely shaky down the stretch - not converting free throws, running inefficient offense, and making untimely turnovers.
Three wins is not enough for Self to be completely comfortable with how his team is finishing games. With Big 12 play approaching, where every game has the potential to be close, it could catch up with the Jayhawks sooner rather than later.
Kansas has yet to face a top 10 opponent this season and has only faced two ranked opponents (Arizona, USC).
Miami (Ohio) is next on the docket. The Red Hawks may not be ranked, but they will provide another type of test for KU. This game will definitely show us how mentally tough and disciplined this Kansas team actually is.
Nothing frustrates a team that likes to play fast more than a team who likes to methodically plod along slowing down the pace and using every precious second of the shot clock each time down the court.
Head coach Charlie Coles team is about defense and execution and Kansas will emphasize patience.
"They're very well coached and sound," proclaimed Self at Thursday's weekly press conference. "Nobody has hung 70 (points) on them in 47 consecutive games or something like that. You would think at home we would try to create some pace in some way, shape or form, but that would be a concern to not let them totally control the tempo."
As if dealing with the tempo isn't enough. The Jayhawks will also need to find a way to contain Tim Pollitz. Pollitz is on a roll and just led the Red Hawks to a win over Illinois on Thursday (61-58). Pollitz, a 6-6 senior forward, has scored 17 and 26 in his last two games.
"Their four-man is as skilled as anybody that we'll play this year. How many four-men lead (their team) in assists? He had 26 points and nine assists last game (vs. Chicago State) and he's their four-man. They play through him and he's not even their leading scorer. They're very well coached and sound."
Of course stating that there's only one coached concerned about stopping the other would be false. Charlie Coles will have to find a way to stop one of the nation's most balanced scoring attacks.
"Seven different guys have outright led us in scoring in eleven games," said Self. "There isn't anybody else in the country that has that. I think that is the strength of the team."
In KU's last seven games, only Mario Chalmers has repeated as a top scorer. Self believes having five players averaging double-figures is one of the strengths of his team."Brandon (Rush) mentioned it on our coaches show. He said `different guy, different night.' The guys have accepted that and they aren't hung up on shooting the ball or getting off so many attempts or scoring so many points. In all honesty, whoever is playing the best that night, we have enough balance that they can be the go-to-guy. A lot (of teams) would like to have that problem," Self stated with a smile.