The excavation began in the hours after the loss. Kansas coach Bill Self sat down and pored over the game film. His staff peeled back the layers and diagnosed the issues. One day later, on Wednesday, the Jayhawks sat down as a team and broke down the defeat.
There is a cliche in sports that the film does not lie, and in this case, after a 74-63 loss to No. 11 West Virginia on Tuesday night, the film offered a list of harsh truths. It did not reveal any incurable maladies or pre-existing conditions, but by Thursday afternoon, it had put a light on some intriguing question marks.
“I think there’s a lot of things that were pretty apparent,” Self said.
The Jayhawks remain 14-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12. For the moment, they are still No. 1. The loss on Tuesday — a road setback against the No. 11 team in the country — did little to derail their Big 12 title hopes. But it also re-emphasized this idea: The Jayhawks are not flawless, and in a wide-open year in college basketball, they have vulnerabilities that must be addressed as they enter the heart of the Big 12 season.
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“It’s one thing when one player has a bad game,” senior forward Jamari Traylor said. “But I feel like pretty much everybody had a bad game.”
When you are the coach at Kansas, every loss is cause for soul-searching and reflection; every loss sparks a need for explanation. So on Thursday, two days before KU returned to the floor against TCU at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, Self sorted through the issues before an afternoon practice.
1. Emotionally drained
“We weren’t into it as much for whatever reason,” Self said, “and I think that was pretty evident by body language and energy level.”
If Self was looking for explanations, they could be found. The Jayhawks were playing the second game of a two-game road trip, a grueling portion of the schedule that included individual trips to Texas Tech and West Virginia in the span of four days. Kansas was also just eight days removed from an emotional, three-overtime victory over Oklahoma.
Self did not use the travel as a crutch, but the film showed what was obvious on Tuesday. The Jayhawks were not engaged. Their body language was poor. Their focus waned. The result was a 22-turnover performance against West Virginia’s pressure.
“I think that they sped us up and sped our minds up,” Self said, “and we didn’t attack them very well at all.”
2. Lackluster energy on defense
“We just got away from everything we’ve been doing,” Traylor said. “Defensively, guys just weren’t into it.”
From a purely statistical standpoint, the Jayhawks were above average on the defensive end. They limited West Virginia to 33.3-percent shooting and held their own against a strong rebounding team.
But the Mountaineers shot 47 free throws and exposed the Jayhawks’ perimeter defenders with dribble penetration. The breakdowns were so numerous that Self wondered whether he should have switched to a zone defense.
“We talked as a staff afterwards,” Self said, “should we have played our crappy 2-3 zone for a brief minute?”
In the moment, Self stuck with his traditional man-to-man, and in some ways, the reason was revealing.
“Obviously, (we) wanted to win the game,” Self said. “But if it’s the last game of the season, then maybe you do (play zone), but I really didn’t want to bail our players out by telling them, ‘OK, let’s try something different.’ I wanted them to have to guard their guards and keep the ball in front of them, and we couldn’t do it.”
3. Main problem was offense
With the turnover-issue serving as an anchor, the Jayhawks averaged just .829 points per possession against West Virginia, the smallest output of the season by a significant margin.
“Our offense was so inept,” Self said.
Self pointed to the guard play — junior Frank Mason was not himself — to the passing, to the energy level and aggressiveness. He did not point to the three-point shooting, or rather the Jayhawks’ lack of it. But the numbers were interesting. While struggling to finish around the basket, the Jayhawks shot 50 percent (10 of 20) from three-point range, a better percentage than inside the arc.
For the season, the Jayhawks remain the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the country, hitting 46.2 percent. Conversely, they rank outside the top 250 in three-point attempt percentage, with 31.7 percent of their shots coming from outside the arc.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing if the number of three-point attempts crept upward, Self said, but teams are actively trying to chase Kansas off the three-point line.
“People are running at us and forcing us off the line,” Self said, “or to make plays off the bounce.”
More specifically, Self said, the Jayhawks’ three-point percentage was higher than usual against West Virginia. The Jayhawks took 49 total field goals, with 20 coming from behind the arc. In Self’s view, that’s an adequate number. The problems ran deeper than scheme or style, he said, and that may have been the most encouraging thing about Tuesday’s performance.
His team had a bad night on the road against a top-25 team. The Jayhawks couldn’t overcome their deficiencies. So much of the loss, he said, was correctable.
“It’s sports,” Self said. “I mean, (the) Patriots do it. Golden State (Warriors) did it (Wednesday) night. It happens a lot of times. And sometimes talent still prevails, but when you play a team that’s as talented and as good as West Virginia, that’s not going to work.”