Getting Defensive

You wonder what there could possibly be to complain about if you're 22-1 and ranked second in the country. Phog.net tells you why Bill Self feels this is no time for KU to rest on its laurels.

Kansas head coach Bill Self’s practice plan put a heavy emphasis on one area this week– defense.

Yes, his team is second best in the nation in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and tops in the Big 12. So how could Self possibly have anything to complain about?

Self has made his opinions known after the last three games for KU, and the fifth year coach does not like what he’s been seeing. The perimeter defense has been more porous than normal and lately his guards have lacked the defensive discipline necessary to keep guards out of the lane.

At Kansas State, the Wildcats guards appeared quicker than KU. Colorado, which plays a four-out offense, succeeded attacking off the dribble, and Monday, Missouri’s guards seemed to get to the rim with ease.

Keon Lawrence and T.J. Tiller combined for 38 points Monday. A trio of Buffalo guards (Cory Higgins, Marcus Hall, Richard Roby) combined for 46 points. Clent Stewart and Jacob Pullen, role players for K-State, ended up with 31 points between them.

As the games get bigger and the competition gets stiffer, Self knows the recent performances from his guards will not cut it.

“Coach is refocusing us,” Russell Robinson told reporters. “Coach always talks about getting a false sense of who you are when you don't play teams as strong as teams in the Big 12. He does a great job of grounding us and working us hard in practice to get us ready."

"When you get into the teeth of your schedule, the other team has comparable athletes to what you have. I feel like that we may have not played to the defensive level that it appeared because we we're going against players that couldn't beat us off the bounce. Now we are going against guys that can beat us and we have to get better,” according to Self.

The normal thievery we’ve been accustomed to specifically from Mario Chalmers and Robinson has been nonexistent the last three games. KU averages close to ten steals a game on the season but they have failed to notch more than three in each of the last three games.

It’s not necessarily the low number of steals that alarms Self, it’s the combination of the lack of turnovers and the lack of fundamentals on the defensive end. It’s also probably not a coincidence that the big men have endured more foul trouble of late. Poor perimeter defense definitely has had an impact on that area putting more pressure on those who are the last line of defense.

“Our technique has gotten pretty flawed and careless,” Self stated. “We are getting beat way too much on the bounce because of lunging and reaching and we are not forcing turnovers. It's a bad combination when your don't force any turnovers and you still get beat. We can do both. We can pressure and not get beat, but that certainly hasn't been the case of late. We need to get a lot better with our perimeter defense."

"I think he wants us to be more solid,” Chalmers said referring to Self’s wishes. “By us being more solid, it keeps our big men out of foul trouble, so once we do that, it will be good. I think we can apply a little bit more pressure outside. We still need to play by the fundamentals and regular defensive rules. We just have to do that and put more pressure on the offensive guards."

Self has always been known as a defensive coach and one entire practice this week was spent solely on defensive drills and principles. The difference when KU works on something this diligently is that the tools are all there. Kansas has terrific defensive guards but Self just needs to find a way to renew the vigor and restore the principles he’s taught these players.

"We still have the best defensive guards around. They just haven't played to that level. You don't go from being a great defender into a bad defender in a week,” said Self. “But there are a lot of things that we can improve on. We just have to tighten some things up."  

Kansas will find out very quickly if it has “righted the ship” against some of the Big 12’s best guards when the conference’s feel good story of the year comes to Lawrence.  

Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears brings an array of talented perimeter players. Junior guard Curtis Jerrells leads the team in scoring (14.4 ppg) but he’s not the only guard playing well for this 17-4 Baylor squad.

"They are probably the best collection of guards that we've faced so far this year,” said Self heaping high praise on the Bears. “Baylor is probably as deep at the guard position as anybody in the country. (Aaron) Bruce has been there forever and he is hard to guard. (Curtis) Jerrells is a pro and he's hard to guard. (Henry) Dugat is as athletic as anybody in the league and then you bring in Tweety Carter and Dunn is fabulous. They have five really good guards."

This should be the perfect test for a KU team looking to improve at the defensive end of the floor.

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