Kansas basketball coach Bill Self won’t be addressing the Big 12 race with his players anytime soon.
“I think we need to quit talking about winning the league, even though that’s kind of expected around here,” Self said Thursday at his weekly media luncheon at Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s obviously a fair question with us having a chance to do something nobody’s ever done (win 14 straight regular-season league crowns). We need to just talk about getting better each week. If you do that, the wins and losses take care of themselves. That’s what our focus is.”
The Jayhawks, who last season tied UCLA for most consecutive NCAA Division I conference titles, would certainly love to make it 14 in a row and have that particular record all to themselves.
But, as Self said, with the team off to a 1-1 start and Texas Tech, Oklahoma and West Virginia all 2-0, it may be unproductive to dwell this early on the standings.
“I will say this, we haven’t had many situations where we did not get off to good starts in our league,” Self said. “Now, we’ve won the league when we started out 1-2 before. But the majority of the time we’ve gotten off to good starts.”
A loss to TCU (13-1, 1-1) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, would drop the Jayhawks to 1-2 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2005-06 season — one in which KU rallied to win the league with a 13-3 record.
The Jayhawks opened 7-0 in 2016-17, 3-0 in 2015-16, 3-0 in 2014-15; 7-0 in 2013-14; 7-0 in 2012-13; 7-0 in 2011-12; 3-0 in 2010-11; 13-0 in 2009-10; 8-0 in 2008-09; 5-0 in 2007-08; 3-0 in 2006-07; 1-2 in 2005-06 and 8-0 in 2004-05, accounting for all years in the streak.
KU was 5-0 in the league Self’s first season, ultimately tying for second at 12-4.
“We can’t be looking too far ahead because you can’t win the whole thing if you are not winning every day,” sophomore guard Sam Cunliffe said. “He’s (Self) been talking, making sure we go in this next game focused on this game, not looking too far ahead, not taking the loss (Tuesday to Texas Tech) and making us feel like, ‘Oh now we can’t win,’ or taking a win and making us feel (they can’t lose). You’ve got stay level-headed no matter what happens.”
Self said it’s important for the players “to keep our confidence level high.”
“I talked to one of my old coaches today. We haven’t been through a situation where people are saying, ‘What’s wrong with Kansas?’ We haven’t gone through that in 12 years, where people would say, ‘Oh, my God, they’re struggling.’ We haven’t been through that,” Self said.
“We may have been through a stretch where we lost a couple in a week or one time we lost three in a row, but when you lose three in a row and start out 7-0, you’re still 7-3.
“We’re going through what 97 percent or 98 percent of all teams in America go through — ups and downs. It really is this: We’re not very good right now, OK? We’re not near as good as what we can be.”
The Jayhawks, in fact, have dropped two of their last three games in Allen Fieldhouse and for the first time since the 1983-84 season dropped two home games by double digits in a single season. KU has lost to Texas Tech by 12 points for the worst home loss in the 15-year Self era and also lost by 10 to Arizona State.
“Now, can we play really well? Absolutely,” Self said. “But we’re inconsistent because we don’t have an identity. An identity is when things are going bad, you still have that deal (in football) you can run the ball. Identity is, no matter what, you can still rush the passer. That’s an identity you can hang your hat on no matter what.
“We’re trying to develop an identity. You can look really good, then you cannot look really good. If our identity is going to be shooting the basketball, it’s going to be like this. Those are things we’ve got to improve on.”
Self said there’s definitely no need to panic.
“When you say that we’re not very good right now, I didn’t say that after the Texas game (92-86 victory in league opener). When I say ‘we’re not very good right now’, I’m talking about to be elite. There’s a lot of things we got to improve on in that area. But the exciting thing is, if you don’t go through some crap, and this isn’t a lot of crap, but it’s enough you don’t want to go through a lot of it. If you don’t go through something tough, how are you going to develop that toughness unless you go through it?”
Self said he doesn’t look at 1-1 in the league “as anything that is bad. I look at it like, ‘Yeah, I wish we didn’t lose.’ To get to where we want to go, some things have to be addressed and guys have to take ownership of. We got to do a better job coaching them to get them to the point where we want to be at the end. If we go through the season just by making shots, winning games just by that, I promise you, it will be a flame-out. You got to have something you can really hang your hat on besides that.
“We’re not awful defensively. We’re just not good. We’re not a terrible rebounding team. We’re just not a good rebounding team. There’s times where we’ve been very good in both areas and there’s times we haven’t been very good.
“But the best teams, I guarantee you, defensive field goal percentage is down, they understand the ball, they take care of the ball. Those are all areas that are correctable, but certainly a mindset has to be improved.”
Azubuike’s back sore vs. Tech
Self said on the Big 12 coaches teleconference that Udoka Azubuike experienced some back discomfort in Tuesday’s 85-73 home loss to Texas Tech. The 7-footer had 11 points and seven boards in 28 minutes.
“His back is sore. He didn’t move very well against Tech we didn’t think,” Self said. “It was not lack of effort. I just don’t feel he’s quite 100 percent.”
More on Preston, De Sousa
As of the time of Self’s noon comments, nothing had changed regarding the status of freshman forward Billy Preston.
“As of last night I expected we’d have some semblance or some idea of exactly where this was. I meant before the game Saturday,” Self said. He said on Wednesday’s Hawk Talk radio show that a verdict on Preston’s eligibility could come “any minute.”
“Certainly I’ve said for a while now sooner rather than later. I can guarantee you it will be sooner rather than later, but I don’t know what the outcome will be on it, honestly,” Self added.
Self was asked if Preston could step right and play effectively Saturday at TCU if he’s cleared.
“(He’s) pretty ready,” Self said. “I think we’re talking about basically two months since he’s played. Has he practiced? Yes. But he’s also been on the scout team a lot. If he practiced for an hour and a half, it’s hard to give a guy you know is not going to play in the foreseeable future enough reps to really take it away from somebody else that does have to play.
“If Silvio (De Sousa, freshman who is waiting on NCAA clearance) takes three or four weeks to get comfortable, Billy would take a week to get comfortable. You shouldn’t expect too much right out of the chute, but he’s a talented kid, though.”
Asked if Preston could head to Europe to play for pay in advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, if the NCAA deems him ineligible, Self said: “We haven’t even talked about that. Our whole focus has been getting him here playing. If obviously we get a negative report back, we’ll have to deal with that and get with he and his mother, determine what the best thing for him would be after that. But we’re very hopeful that’s not the case. We haven’t even talked about that.”
Recent IMG graduate De Sousa is going through the normal process to get cleared to play college basketball.
“Since January 2nd (when the NCAA office reopened after a holiday break), in the last 48 hours, there’s been a lot of different things going on because they have to give us the questions they need answered (regarding amateurism issues),” Self said.
“The thing about it is, people say, ‘How hard is that?’ Well, he comes from Angola. Club teams, documents, did he ever play in this tournament, pros played in that tournament, were there pros on your team? There’s all these different things. You have to have written things to prove that he’s an amateur, he wasn’t a professional playing, all that stuff.
“Then the communication with Angola I won’t say has been bad, I won’t say that at all. But a 9- or 10-hour difference, getting everybody over there to see what you want to do as their priority sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to get done. It’s not that easy doing that if you’re calling somebody from the same town here in the States sometimes.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of some other people getting the information to us so that we can be sure and give complete information to the NCAA on that. But if he wasn’t an African kid, yeah, it would be done. It’s a little bit more hoop jumping.”