It's All in the Intangibles

Mindset. Leadership. Just a couple items addressed by Kansas head coach Bill Self during his Monday press conference. More on the intangibles currently lacking from the KU squad, inside.

Intangibles.
    
With great parity in college basketball, a team needs intangibles to win the close games, the big games. A team needs strong intangibles to win a conference championship, a conference tournament title, and yes, a national championship.
    
KU coach Bill Self hopes his team can pull the intangibles together as the Jayhawks begin three games in a six-day stretch with a matchup at Iowa State on Wednesday. Kansas has lost two of its last three games.
    
“The reason we are not playing near as well right now is strictly intangibles,” Self said at his press conference on Monday. “Things that have nothing to do with putting the ball in the basket, but it has a lot to do with having the mindset of putting the ball in the basket. We just haven’t had the intangible things that I think are controllable be as positive as what it was earlier in the season.”

Self said some of those intangibles are leadership, toughness, poise, focus, and trying to "eliminate as many (distractions) as you possibly can."

“We are playing for hopefully an opportunity to win a league championship,” Self said. “It's disappointing to me that we are talking about intangibles now when it seems like to me you need the most intangibles.”

Self knows the No. 6 Jayhawks (24-3, 9-3) haven’t been helped by the distractions of the recent deaths of Darnell Jackson’s cousin, Kascy Corie McClellan, and Rodrick Stewart’s brother, Allen. They both were murdered and passed away three days before the Oklahoma State game on Saturday. (OSU won 61-60). Sophomore guard Sherron Collins is also battling a knee bruise, and was limited to just 11 minutes against the Cowboys. The Jayhawks committed 21 turnovers versus OSU and played without focus.
    
“We're not playing very well right now,” Self said. “We played miserably on Saturday. I do think that health is a part of the intangible equation. When you don't have health that is when everybody else has to kind of really rally around (each other). Our other players need to play a little bit better and pull the rope a little harder. We know there are some guys that are distracted for real reasons, so everybody has to pull (together). That’s a sign of leadership and guys all coming together. I didn‘t feel like that occurred very well on Saturday.”
    
Self spoke about the team’s vocal leadership.
    
"It probably needs to start with me because we don't have a vocal leader on the team,” he said. “We've been talking about this for three years and its not going to happen. I've got to do a better job of providing leadership for our guys. I can't talk on the court. Our staff and I can't do some things. But from a vocal standpoint, the vocal leader needs to be me. But from an on-the-court standpoint you would hope that the guards would emerge as kind of take the team under control.”
    
Senior guard Russell Robinson addressed the vocal leadership question.
    
“If you ask the guys, I think for the most part, we don’t have that one guy that stands out, but everybody gets their point across to one another in a form that everybody can understand,” Robinson said. “We don’t have that guy, that presence that he (Self) probably wants, but I do think (we have collective leadership).”
    
Sophomore guard Sherron Collins is the team’s most vocal leader.
    
"He is the guy (for vocal leadership),” Self said. “His health right now won't allow him to be that guy.”
    
Collins hopes to play more minutes against Iowa State on Wednesday, and freshman Tyrel Reed will likely see more time since Stewart is in Seattle for his cousin's funeral. After losing their last two road games (to OSU and Texas), KU hopes to get back on the winning track against the Cyclones. Iowa State (14-13, 4-8) has lost seven of their last nine games, and is coming off a 76-64 setback at Texas Tech last Saturday. While the Cyclones have struggled in league play, they are 4-2 at home in the conference and 12-4 in all games at Hilton Coliseum.
    
Hilton is a difficult place to play. Larry Brown’s KU teams never won there in five years in the 1980s, while Self’s Jayhawks are 2-1 at Hilton Coliseum. KU beat ISU, 68-64, in overtime last season at Hilton, and defeated the Cylcones, 83-59, a month ago in Lawrence on Jan. 23. Six-foot-seven guard Wesley Johnson scored 21 points in the loss in Allen Fieldhouse, while 6-10 forward Craig Brackins added 13 points and eight rebounds.
    
ISU is led in scoring by 6-11 center Jiri Hubalek at 13.2 points per game, followed by Johnson (12.5 ppg), Brackins (10.9 ppg), and 6-6 forward Rahshon Clark (8.9 ppg). Six-foot-one point guard Bryan Peterson (5.5 ppg) rounds out the starting lineup.
    
”I think Iowa State is a hard team for traditional teams to guard because their four man (Brackins) is a terrific three-point shooter,” Self said. “They hurt us with the three ball the last time we played them (6 of 28), even though we were up 10 at halftime. I thought they did a good job exploiting that against us. Then they run a lot of halfcourt sets, and we can’t let them get comfortable because they’re a good execution team.

“Wesley Johnson is a hard matchup for any guard because he’s so big, and Rahshon Clark is as good an athlete as we have in our league. They’re better than their record, and they’re certainly good at home.”

While KU may not break out its zone defense against the Cyclones, Self hinted that the “Z” word might eventually be used. KU has had trouble stopping dribble penetration.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re discussing this, because we may have to go that direction,” he said. “Beginning with K-State, they’ve (opposing team’s guards) had career games. We did a good job, (though), on (D.J.) Augustin (of Texas). We practice zone for about 10 minutes every day, and I still feel much more comfortable with our man defense than I do with our zone defense. But the other day (against OSU), (Byron) Eaton’s penetration was very damaging.”

Eaton scored 26 points and made 16 of 18 free throws.

The KU players would prefer to stick to their man-to-man defense and tighten that up.

“No, I don't think we should run zone,” said sophomore forward Darrell Arthur. “We should keep playing man. We did early in the season and we can do it now. I think ever since we lost to K-State (on Jan. 30) we have been on a downfall. Hopefully we can pick it up."

The Jayhawks will certainly have to do the intangibles to finish the season strong and win their fourth straight conference title.

Focus will be a key, especially on the road.

“I would just say our focus hasn't been there,” Collins said of KU’s recent play. “We just have to focus more. We know we are going to get everybody's best shot so we have to start playing like it."

“You have to know your role every game,” Jackson added. “You cannot come into one game and not know what to do. Everyone has to bring something to the table. I think we are still confident, but not at the level where we used to be at the beginning of the season. After that first loss (to K-State), I think everyone went downhill because we didn't want to lose. We have to be a team where we keep it ‘on' all the time. You can't just turn it on and off."  

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