Vols Give It To KU

Mass chaos ensued this weekend among the top 25 teams in the country. Kansas found itself in the middle of the melee after a loss to Tennessee Sunday in Knoxville.

Beware of the wounded. An old phrase commonly heard and usually true.

The Tennessee Vols entered Sunday's contest against number one Kansas shorthanded after a week featuring suspensions and dismissals. But it was the Vols with just six scholarship players who were the aggressor throughout. Bruce Pearl's kids looked adversity in the eye and defeated Kansas 76-68, handing the Jayhawks their first loss of the season (14-1).

"Toughness, poise, competitive juice," Self answered when he was asked why KU lost this game. "I think Tennessee deserved to win the game they outplayed us without question. Poor coaching, whatever, it was, total lack of us being as one today. I thought we were guys on islands. I thought we were looking out for ourselves. They outplayed us. We got what we deserved."

And then there were two.  Texas and Kentucky are now the only two unbeaten teams in Division I and both will likely receive a bump up in the rankings. Kentucky narrowly remained that way after a hard fought win against Georgia on Saturday while Texas took care of Colorado at home. For Kansas the undefeated talk is no more.

"We weren't going to run the table," Self said wryly. "That wasn't going to happen. I guess it is mathematically possible for two teams to do that if I'm not mistaken I don't predict that will be the case either."

If you looked at the Kansas schedule prior to the season beginning this was a "trouble" spot where a first loss could occur. But most pundits believed with Tennessee reeling after off the court problems, there was no way the Vols would take down number one.

This one looked strikingly similar at times to the game against Cornell on Wednesday. The Jayhawks once again had some trouble defending on the perimeter in both man defense and zone. Self attempted to change the pace and force the Vols to use clock with a 2-3 zone. The Vols took shots late in the shot clock but nailed some clutch long range jumpers.

"The zone actually did what it was supposed to do," according to Self whose team forced just eight turnovers in the game. "They milked the clock down to five seconds and had to just throw up a shot and get a shot and they were able to do so and made a couple of them. I don't think the zone was poor we didn't get out of it exactly what we wanted to from getting stops. But we probably did get out of it going into whether the ball goes in or not we probably played better zone then we did man."

Tennessee shot a shade over 48 percent in this game (48.1)which was the highest percentage of a KU opponent this season. That came on the heels of Wednesday's game where Cornell shot over 40 percent. Sounds overly critical but KU's defense is accustomed to holding teams under 40 percent on a regular basis. It is rare that two straight opponents go over the 40 percent mark.

"You can say we need to defend it this way, we need to defend it that way, whatever. You could be right you could be wrong in what your approach is to defending. The bottom line is guard your man. The bottom line is guard your man and we didn't guard our man," Self pointed out.

On the offensive end the execution was lacking and for about 30 minutes of this one the game belonged to the Vols.

Sherron Collins put up 20+ again (22 points) but took 20 shots to do it. The Jayhawks took shots early in the clock in this one instead using the customary ball movement that makes a talented team like this nearly impossible to guard.

A lot of it is lack of executing. I'm a big believer in this you're going to score what 20-25 percent of your shots from execution or how you play? You're going to get the rest of them on broken plays and guys going and making plays, or rebounds or deflections or whatever. We didn't get any of that stuff.

Against a Tennessee zone defense Kansas failed to attack and played passively.

"They play zone so it seems like to me we should be able to rebound a little better but the ball stuck. This was a bad game where the ball stuck to me. We predicate our success offensively on ball movement, body movement, and getting the ball to the second and third side. I thought we gave them every opportunity to adjust and get reset defensively because the ball didn't move very quickly."

Kansas shot an uncustomary 37.7 percent and assisted on just 10 of 23 field goals. It was a sure sign of lack of ball movement and maybe lack of playing like a team. Self lamented the lack of production from the four spot and said they got "nothing" from that spot (8 rebs and 7 points from the Morris twins combined).

From the five spot Self also pointed out Cole Aldrich's lack of aggression and when he was asked why Aldrich hasn't been aggressive the answer was, "I don't know." It is certainly not enough for a potential all-american to take just five shots. He was a force on the glass with 18 rebounds with eight of them coming on the offensive end.

"A lot of that is our big guys when they do get the rebound they're not aggressive," said Self when asked about his team's lack of shots from the interior. "I mean how can Cole get three shots the first half with six offensive rebounds?"

Self answered several questions about the offense and most of the direct criticism came about Aldrich whose numbers are down from last season and are even lower the last five games. He's doing the job on the glass but the Jayhawks need more point production from a player who should be more of an offensive threat.

"He had the ball three or four times at two feet or one foot and didn't shoot it", Self said about his junior center. "Obviously he's not aggressive. Our whole team's not. We've certainly been on Cole about was to put himself in position catch it and go score. When you play against quicker athletes like that it gets magnified a little bit. I think he can do better being able to catch and get a shot up or at least be an offensive presence because right now he's not. He's looking to pass the ball way too much without giving himself a chance to score. That's not why we lost but I do think that contributed to our poor offensive play."

This was a spirited press conference for Self. You could sense the frustration and a lot of the terminology and philosophies we've heard him point out this season again came up. KU is still searching for an identity but to fully understand Self's mindset after this one you have to read some of his comments in full after this loss.

"I think we have the capability of being a...not a good…but a great first shot defensive team. I think we have the capability of creating havoc defensively. I think we have the capability of being tough because we do have some tough guys. I don't think we have the capability of being able to outscore your team. Or a team that executes better every night than their opponent. I don't think that's who we are and I don't think that's who I want us to be. But I think that's in our guy's mind that's what they think they are.

You go into a hostile place - and today the crowd was great - You go into a hostile place and you get behind early now all of a sudden guys instead of executing are saying ‘well, I need to do this or I need to do that' instead of saying ‘we need to do this'. You've got to become a group where you see it through everybody else's eyes. I told our guys and I'll be critical of our team but this is the way it is for a lot of teams out there. Do we really go through the game thinking how I can get my other four teammates on the floor better? Or do we go in the game thinking how the other four teammates can affect me? And as long as you worry how it affects you, you're not a good teammate. That's a hard core fact in life or in this game. How do you affect everybody else around you? That will determine if you're a good teammate or not. I think we've got good teammates I don't think today we were good teammates because I think today we were kind of on an island. We needed certain guys to do certain things for us to have success. We need certain guys to be defensive stoppers and guard certain guys, we need certain guys to take advantage of a size advantage inside and play more physically. We needed that but that's not what we played to. So from my standpoint we didn't play to our strengths that would give us the best chance and I think that's all about becoming a team and becoming a better teammate."

Was so well put by Self and he was so passionate about it you can read it through and draw your own conclusions. But the bottom line is that his team is still searching for an identity. The question remains what will be the identity-builder for this team?

If Tennessee was a turning point last season, remember that KU followed that up with a poor performance against Michigan State in East Lansing heading into conference play.

"I don't know if Tennessee was a team before this last week. I don't know if Kansas is a team yet," Self told reporters candidly.

"Usually in my experiences things occur to really allow your guys to become a team. Sometimes they're negative things, sometimes they're positive things. Sometimes it's winning a game that maybe you pulled one out you couldn't win. It could be a plethora of things. But with us? We haven't gotten it done yet in becoming a team in my opinion. When you become a team you know who you are from an identity standpoint.

I bet you Tennessee is closer to becoming a team with an identity than they were before. We're not any closer than we were yesterday because you camouflage some things and winning does that but in my opinion there's too many unknowns with our group right now to really say that we are a team that we can hang our hat on this. That's just being very candid and honest. I will say this also – I would say the majority of the teams in America right now haven't found themselves yet. So I'm not being overly critical of our team I'm being critical of the fact that we haven't gotten to where we need to be yet."

People all over the airwaves on radio and television will be asking ‘is this a good loss for Kansas?' Well, coaches don't believe in good losses at least on the surface but when analyzed down the road those blinders you may have on while building a 14-1 record maybe suddenly come off. Suddenly when coach speaks, the players listen a little more intently. It is as if to say, ‘hey, you tried it your way and it didn't work. Let's try my way.' And in Lawrence Self's way is best and he's proven it with close to 400 wins in his career.

"All the loss does is magnify what you don't do well," Self pointed out. "Winning camouflages your weaknesses. A loss exposes you. Now maybe we can get better because we've been exposed."

"I think a loss can really mold a team," Aldrich stated. "We lost three of five my freshman year and I don't think we would've won a national championship if we didn't lose three of five. You get in a fight you get hit in the face you just gotta keep on fighting through. You gotta take those and run."

"I did tell them this you know coaches…a good loss…there's no such thing. We want to win every game. All that stuff but if winning camouflaged getting better then we're better off to have this happen so we can start getting better now. We could look back 4 weeks from now and say ‘hey, we became a team upon finding this out about ourselves'. If we do that – I'm cool with it. If we don't do that then this is a really, really bad loss. I'm hopeful that we can do that," said Self.

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