The ball would move, and the players would glide through the motions, but Bill Self could always tell that something was missing.
It wasn’t effort level — Kansas’ freshmen were coachable and hard-working. But the problem with young players, as the cliché goes, is that they simply do not know what they don’t know. Sometimes ignorance isn’t a character flaw. It’s just a way of life.
So in the early months of the season, as the KU freshmen tried to find their place, the Jayhawks’ offensive sets often looked robotic and programmed. The players would often be in the right spot, but they’d just forget the most important part of the game.
“We say this all the time, you should run offense to score,” Self said. “Sometimes young kids just run offense because they’re supposed to run offense.”
Sometime in the last month, as the sixth-ranked Jayhawks started 7-0 in the Big 12 Conference, it all started to click. Maybe it was confidence. Maybe it was experience, Maybe a combination of the two.
But as the KU defense has struggled to consistently grind down opposing teams, the Jayhawks have found another formula for success: They’re simply outscoring teams.
In seven conference games, Kansas is averaging a Big 12-best 84.9 points and shooting 54.4 percent from the field. And after shooting just 34.5 percent from three-point range during nonconference play, the Jayhawks are now hitting 41.7 percent from the three-point line in conference play.
“When the ball moves,” Self said, “and it doesn’t stick, and we get rotation, we are getting where we’re fairly hard to guard.”
Kansas continued its recent three-point shooting surge in its victory over Iowa State on Wednesday, hitting 10 of 22 from behind the three-point line. It was the kind of performance that caused Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg to consider something that would have sounded absurd three weeks ago. If the Jayhawks’ offense continues to score at this rate, they just might be capable of running the table in the 18-game Big 12 season.
“Sure, I think so,” Hoiberg said. “If they’re hitting shots like that, that’s going to be a tough, tough team to beat.”
On Wednesday night, in the moments after Kansas’ 92-81 victory, Self kept getting asked about the growth of freshman Andrew Wiggins, who is now averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in Big 12 play. For nearly seven minutes, the questions went on. Finally, a reporter took the time to point out that Perry Ellis had finished with 20 points and nobody had even mentioned him.
“Quiet 20,” Self said, before segueing into a larger point.
“I think we’re getting harder to guard because we’re able to score in all five spots. It’s easier to guard a team when you have to defend three spots, or you have to defend four spots.”
From an efficiency standpoint, the Jayhawks are reaching rare territory. After the Iowa State victory, KU is now averaging 1.21 points per possession for the year, the highest mark of the Self era.
But for all the positive trends on offense, the Jayhawks are still averaging nearly 15 turnovers per game in conference play. Each game, Self says, you can almost count on three or four unforced turnovers — the kind of stuff where the ball just goes flying into the second row. If KU can stop wasting so many possessions, Self says, there is still another step they can take.
“The ball still sticks with us,” Self said. “And if you were going to evaluate our passing, I’d still say it’s below where it needs to be.”