Kansas coach Bill Self likely had doubts early in the season after committing to a drastic change.
A four-guard lineup — or “small ball” as he likes to call it — appeared to be best for his team. Still, this was new territory for the Jayhawks, as they’d run a similar set exactly four possessions in 38 games last year.
“I know probably it wasn’t the most comfortable thing for him to do,” KU center Landen Lucas said.
Self still trusted what he saw early in practices. Josh Jackson was thriving at the 4 position while making plays for others. Guards Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick also continued their improvement, and a small lineup presented more potential playing time for both.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The team, though, also had to create a new offense that would fit the personnel. Self and his staff crafted sets that created ball movement and offensive freedom for guards, along with opportunities for big men to get to the offensive glass.
So four months later, with one game left in the regular season, how has it all turned out?
Probably as well as anyone at KU could have hoped.
The Jayhawks’ schedule-adjusted offensive efficiency is the top mark in Self’s 14 seasons in Lawrence. And while college offenses are better as a whole this year compared to seasons past, KU’s offense still ranks in the top five nationally — something that’s happened only four times in Self’s tenure.
Most fans will recognize KU’s offense based on its weaves and dribble handoffs. And though that might appear similar each time, it’s actually more complex that it looks, with Self adding wrinkles and counters throughout the season.
There’s guard Devonté Graham using a brush screen to open up space for Josh Jackson — a set KU also used against UAB earlier this year.
There’s a call to take advantage of defenders who anticipate the weave, with Jackson cutting to the basket for an alley-oop.
There’s even a variation with the main purpose of getting Lucas a deep post touch inside.
KU’s offense has been diverse. It can be altered to attack defenses in different ways, and the presence of four guards also makes the Jayhawks more dangerous in transition.
“It’s worked out for our team so far,” Lucas said, “and I’m pretty sure for the (NCAA) Tournament, it’s going to help us a lot, just because having four ballhandlers out there on the court really helps you be prepared for just about anything that a team could throw at you.”
Self certainly would have had critics if this hadn’t been effective. The Jayhawks offense was good last year, and it was probably difficult to go away from a style that had helped win 12 straight conference titles.
So now, Self deserves credit. KU’s offense has been excellent. The Jayhawks are leading the competitive Big 12 by three games.
And the coach — one who has been labeled as stubborn in the past — has molded himself around his team’s best pieces, pushing the Jayhawks to a ceiling they might not have achieved otherwise.