Campus Corner

KU’s Bill Self still tinkering with a brand new offense

Kansas coach Bill Self spoke to his team during a timeout during the second half of a 95-57 win against UNC Asheville on Nov. 25, 2016.
Kansas coach Bill Self spoke to his team during a timeout during the second half of a 95-57 win against UNC Asheville on Nov. 25, 2016. rsugg@kcstar.com

OK, you’re Kansas coach Bill Self.

For 13 years, you’ve built a team that has dominated teams with post players. You’ve used spacing and angles to get those guys easy shots, racked up 12 conference titles in a row and never had to stray too much from the offensive principles that have worked year after year.

Then ... this year happens. Your best players are guards, and it becomes apparent early that “small ball” — a four-guard attack — will need to be a major part of your team’s identity.

This left the future hall-of-famer with an interesting offseason challenge: He needed to come up with a new offense to fit his players the best.

So what was most important? Self and his staff wanted movement, but also opportunities to get to the offensive glass; specific roles for each player, but also freedom where guards could freelance to create for themselves or others.

These concepts formed KU’s new “four game,” a mixture of the weave and high ball screens that Self has called most frequently with his small lineup on the floor.

So how has it worked?

Let’s look at some of the play’s successes from early in the season.

Long Beach State, Frank Mason drives for two

We get a good look at “four game” in this clip. It starts as a weave, with KU’s 5 man Udoka Azubuike coming up to set a high ball screen after a few passes.

Once defenders start to see the pattern, they tend to try to cheat while knowing the guards are coming to the middle of the floor to continue the weave.

Frank Mason takes advantage of this, making an aggressive drive left to go by an overplaying defender. Notice also that because Azubuike has come out to set a ball screen, there are no Long Beach State big men in the lane for help defense.

Mason is able to finish the layup, and this is a good example of KU’s spacing helping to get a close shot for a guard.

Long Beach State, Svi Mykhailiuk three

The weave helps Self create that natural motion that he wanted out of this offensive set, and it also can cause some confusion for the defense.

Long Beach State doesn’t communicate well, which leaves Svi Mykhailuk open for the unchallenged three-pointer.

Duke, Josh Jackson offensive rebound

Self says his guards haven’t attacked the offensive glass as well as he’s wanted out of “four game,” but here’s an example of how it could work.

Lagerald Vick takes a similar open three to what Mykhailiuk had above, and after setting a screen, Josh Jackson reacts quickly to get inside position on his man before grabbing the offensive board.

This is one of the best possibilities for KU, as an open shot combined with an offensive rebounding opportunity has a great chance at resulting in a productive possessions.

So where has “four game” gone wrong this season?

UNC Asheville, Udoka Azubuike ball screen

It’s tough for plays to work when they’re not executed properly, and here, freshman Udoka Azubuike simply forgets to go to set a ball screen. Look closely, and you can see Mason motioning for Azubuike to come forward, even if it doesn’t help.

This play ends with an Azubuike travel and also Self letting the big man know about his mistake.

UNC Asheville, guards not attacking

In most of the other examples, KU’s guards are weaving around the three-point arc, appearing as if they could drive toward the rim at any moment.

After this possession, Self got after his players for not “attacking downhill,” as guys were a bit more lackadaisical with the weave while not putting any pressure on the defense.

This possession ends with an Azubuike illegal screen, but it likely could have been saved earlier by KU’s backcourt (or if Vick hits Azubuike rolling to the basket for a dunk).

UAB, Vick over-drives

KU gets what it wants out of “four game” here until the final second.

Vick attacks a bad closeout, then gets to the lane to force help. All he needs to do now is shovel the ball across the lane to Jackson for a dunk.

Instead, Vick takes one dribble too many, picking up a charge and prompting Self to yell across the court that Jackson was “wide-(backside) open.”

You can be sure Self has evaluated these clips, and here’s something else to know: “Four game” probably won’t look like it does now later in the season.

“That’s just something to get us through right now,” Self said of his team’s new set. “I think we’ve done some pretty neat stuff, but we haven’t done anything that I feel like right now that consistently, that this is how we’re going to play in March.

“I still think we’re tweaking and trying to figure it out.”

It’s a fascinating subplot to the season. In his 14th year at KU, Self has had to invent what he believes his team’s offense should look like.

And no, he doesn’t have all the answers just yet.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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