University of Kansas

How a Bill Self adjustment — and 10 minutes of practice — helped KU shut down K-State

Bill Self happy with bounce-back win over K-State

''No matter what happened today, we were going to compete our butts off,'' Kansas head coach Bill Self said after his Jayhawks beat rival Kansas State on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.
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''No matter what happened today, we were going to compete our butts off,'' Kansas head coach Bill Self said after his Jayhawks beat rival Kansas State on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

Bill Self spoke softly, even though his words carried great weight.

This was at a raised table inside United Supermarkets Arena, less than an hour after the worst defensive performance of his Kansas tenure in the Jayhawks’ 29-point loss to Texas Tech on Saturday.

There were many issues for KU that night, but Self didn’t need a replay to know what was most damaging.

“Our ball screen defense,” Self said, barely over a whisper, “hurt us more than anything else.”

Let’s appreciate, then, how quickly this story line changed.

Two days later, the Jayhawks overwhelmed rival Kansas State, 64-49 at Allen Fieldhouse. Here are the numbers that stood out most:

• Texas Tech: 61 possessions, 91 points

• K-State: 61 possessions, 49 points

The secret, in this case? K-State coach Bruce Weber brought it up in the first 30 seconds of his postgame press conference.

“Credit to them,” Weber said. “They just kind of switched everything.”

Self didn’t have the power of foresight Sunday. He couldn’t have known then if this significant adjustment — one made hastily with The Streak potentially on the line — would work out great or blow up in his face.

The plan was still this: Self was going to continue his own evolution with Dedric Lawson.

Two weeks ago, the coach changed the big man’s role on offense, shifting him to the perimeter more to reduce double-teams and also take greater advantage of his face-up game.

On Monday, Self moved Lawson outside the arc again. Only this time, it was defensively.

Lawson was asked to switch on all perimeter screens with other guards — something that became apparent in the first possession of Monday’s game.

It was a leap of faith for sure; Self said his team was able to practice the new style a whole 10 minutes Sunday.

“We guarded differently than we (have) ever guarded this year,” Self said.

Over the next 40 minutes, though ... it worked. K-State guard Barry Brown scored a season-low four points and the Wildcats had their worst offensive game in Big 12 play.

“The switching just kept us stagnant,” Brown said.

There was more to it than scheme, though. Lawson also was an improved version of himself, coming to Sunday’s practice determined to play with increased defensive effort. He admitted leaving Lubbock frustrated after Texas Tech made 16 of 26 threes.

“You can say that they were on fire, or you can say we gave them open shots to get confidence,” Lawson said. “When they got confidence, the basket got big.”

Some of those shots became available because KU was playing its previous way. The Jayhawks hedged ball screens with both of their two big men on the floor, which protected the paint but also led to some open and semi-guarded threes.

Self decided to mix it up at Sunday’s practice, trusting that Lawson could adjust to a new role.

“He’s so smart,” Self said of Lawson. “He can figure stuff out.”

The potential downside of doing this was defensive mismatches. There were times when Lawson was on an island outside against the super-quick Brown, and also when 6-foot-2 point guard Devon Dotson had to muscle up while getting posted by 6-10 Dean Wade.

KU played through those instances just fine, though, with Brown and Wade combining for 3-for-15 shooting with six turnovers.

“We all took a challenge,” KU forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “We were all locked in.”

Self estimated that his team gave up 20 points — or more — on ball-screen defense against Texas Tech. On Monday, he could only recall K-State getting five points in that same setting.

“It was a big improvement,” Self said.

And also a gutsy call.

KU changed its defensive identity Monday, with Self once again chameleoning himself to best fit the pieces on his roster.

Creative. Ambitious. Sorta crazy.

All three accurately describe KU’s maneuver on Monday — and also the coach who suggested it in the first place.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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