While Kansas continued to struggle, and Bill Self continued to drop his head in frustration on the sideline during the team’s 77-60 loss to Iowa State on Saturday, I kept thinking back to a recent conversation I’d listened to.
Four months ago, Steve Prohm was on “The Basketball Podcast” with Chris Oliver, and the discussion turned to book club he’d recently started as a team-building exercise.
Iowa State’s coach had seen something in an early summer practice he didn’t like — guys turning down open looks — so he was happy that week’s chapter of Joshua Medcalf’s “Chop Wood, Carry Water” focused on self-belief.
“How do you continue to give guys great confidence? I think that’s the biggest thing as a coach,” Prohm told Oliver. “If they’re looking over their shoulder all the time, that’s not breeding great confidence. If you call me up and say, ‘Golly man, Steve, your teams play with big energy and great confidence,’ then that’s a great compliment about your team.”
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The two teams clearly diverged in this area Saturday, making up part of the reason for the teams’ 17-point difference.
Iowa State entered the game as a 34-percent three-point shooting team. KU entered the game as a 34-percent three-point shooting team.
But throughout, only one of the two squads appeared confident about their next shot going in.
The Cyclones started the game 0-for-7 there but didn’t lose faith, perhaps remembering Prohm talking about open threes in an early-summer practice: “If we’re going to turn down really good, wide-open threes, what shot are we trying to get, guys?”
Iowa State made 13 of its next 18 shots from the perimeter while knocking KU out in the second half.
“I want guys to play with great confidence to where if they’re open,” Prohm said, “I want them to feel really good about shooting the basketball.”
Prohm’s comments after the game stood out as well.
He was asked about his team’s excellent shooting Saturday. Remember, coming in, his team had shot exactly the same percentage from three as KU ... with most fans considering perimeter shooting as the Jayhawks’ biggest weakness.
“I think this team has some (shooting) ability,” Prohm said. “Nick (Weiler-Babb, 35 percent career three-point shooter) is 2-for-4, but I think he could always be a 2-for-4, 2-for-5 guy.”
Prohm then spoke about Marial Shayok, who went 5-for-5 against KU.
“Marial shoots everyday. That’s why when you miss those against Oklahoma State (3-for-11), he deserves to take them,” Prohm said. “He works, he works, he works, and he’s getting rewarded for that.”
Prohm continues to use every opportunity to pump self-belief in his players. Sometimes he has to live with missed threes. Sometimes, poor shot selection might follow.
But the end result, on Saturday at least, was exactly what he wanted. He was the leader of an aggressive team.
It also makes you wonder about the psyche of this KU basketball team following another poor shooting effort.
The Jayhawks made 6 of 20 threes Saturday, marking the fourth straight game the team went 33 percent or worse from behind the arc. On Saturday, like other earlier games, guys appeared to give quick glances to the bench after firing to see if the coach approved.
Self is the king of motivation, and this team might need something different from him. Malik Newman didn’t handle Self’s tough-love attempts for much of last season, so the coach changed his own ways, going out of his way to compliment him last season for all the good things he did in practice; Newman responded by carrying the Jayhawks to a Final Four berth.
From outside appearances, this roster appears to be somewhat fragile. Quentin Grimes seems to be a pleaser, perhaps caring too much in the moment about Self’s response to his play. Devon Dotson seems hesitant to put up open shots, while Dedric Lawson probably isn’t maximizing his three-point ability either.
Iowa State’s defensive gameplan took advantage. The Cyclones swarmed Lawson inside, double- and triple-teaming him to get the ball out of his hands. The result was frequent giveaways and also empty possessions.
“It felt crowded at times. I think that’s where my six turnovers came from,” Lawson said. “Some games I have more room to work. I think they were digging. I should have just been kicking it out, finding guys and playing off guys shooting.”
For that to happen, Lawson has to have more faith in those around him.
For Self, then, it might be time to fake it until the Jayhawks make it.
Maybe this turns out to be an awful shooting team. Maybe the Jayhawks can’t hit 35 percent of their open threes, though that seems unlikely considering the low difficulty of the shot.
This much is certain: The Cyclones’ swagger wasn’t on accident Saturday. Prohm cultivated it and reinforced it, starting with book sessions in the summer.
Look for Self to build his team back up this week. There’s a long season still ahead.