No. 8-ranked Kansas’ failure to sweep three mid-major teams and win the recent ESPN Events Invitational falls on Bill Self’s own shoulders, KU’s 19th-year head coach said Tuesday night on his Hawk Talk radio show.
“The game that we lost I think is as much on me as anything, because I think I kind of took away some momentum by subbing. That’s when things started going poorly,” Self said speaking of the Jayhawks’ 74-73 loss to Dayton in Friday’s tourney semifinals in Florida.
In all, he used 12 players in that contest as well as KU’s other two games — a 71-59 first-round victory over North Texas and 96-83 third-place game victory over Iona.
KU led Dayton by as many as 15 points and held leads of 20 points against North Texas late and 23 against Iona.
Of squandering the lead versus the tourney champs, the Dayton Flyers who ultimately beat KU on a buzzer-beater, Self noted: “I think it’s all on me. I think we sub too much. You want to give everybody a chance to play, but the starters were cooking. Let’s call it like it is. They were cooking.
“You take two out, they play six, seven minutes. You take one out, another one out, the next thing you know you have four reserves in the game and the team goes on 8-2 run and we lose our momentum. The reserves played very well in stretches,” he noted. “As a group collectively I don’t think our bench was as good as far as keeping or increasing leads. I think we actually gave back a lot of momentum when we went to the bench. That’s on me,” he repeated, “because we were playing four or five subs or reserves at a time. It needs to be two or three max. I’ll figure it out. I really believe that’s on me more than the players.”
Self has used a starting lineup of David McCormack, Christian Braun, Dajuan Harris, Remy Martin and Ochai Agbaji. He’s incorporated forward Jalen Wilson into the mix the past three games following his suspension to start the season. Also, Mitch Lightfoot, Bobby Pettiford, Joseph Yesufu, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Zach Clemence and KJ Adams have all looked as if they’re ready to provide significant minutes this season.
“It’s kind of a difficult thing,” Self said, “because 12 guys deserve to play but we should only play nine. Even as fans, you tell me, ‘OK, which three sit?’ It’s kind of hard to figure it out. We will figure it out but it’s too early in the season to figure it out right now. We need to give the kids a chance to play to kind of see who is better in certain situations.”
Self stated: “It’s not a problem unless you feel like your season is over Nov. 30, then of course you want to do everything to try to win a game. It’d be a problem if we don’t figure it out by February. I think we will.”
Self responded “no,” when asked by Hawk Talk host Brian Hanni if he’d ever had a challenge like this before — to orchestrate minutes for so many players properly.
“During the course of September, October and early November, what usually happens is separation occurs,” Self said. “And with separation they just kind of figure it out themselves. The separation really hasn’t occurred. We haven’t had separation like before I sat out J-Will (Wilson). There’s no question he was one of our two best players. You based your team and everything around that. We were thinking all along, ‘Well, good gracious Jalen would be our backup 5 (post man). Now we can play four guards. We need to get those four guards in the game.’
“Jalen doesn’t play, then Zach Clemence impresses or KJ Adams impresses you. Then Jalen comes back and he’s not the same player yet that he will be. It’s kind of thrown it out a little bit. It’s hard to look good if you don’t play substantial minutes, but you want to give everybody a chance to play,” Self said.
Self offered some insight into what he’s thinking when he’s shuffling so many players.
“There’s some games I think Remy has been terrific,” he said of Arizona State transfer guard Martin, “then I look at it we don’t guard. There’s been some games I think Juan (Dajuan Harris) … the ball moves so much better when Juan is in the game. Then I look at it I think sometimes we are better with Bobby in the game.
“You can make the case KJ is really not a 5-man, but he’s our best offensive rebounder. He’s our best defensive rebounder. He’s our best perimeter post defender. Good gosh when you play a little team that plays a post man maybe KJ is the best guy to be there. If KJ is the best guy to be there you just sat (bigs) David, Zach and Mitch.
“We’ve just got to figure it out. I will and we will,” he added repeating separation will happen, “but it just hasn’t happened yet.”
Self noted that in beating North Texas and Iona and losing to Dayton, “as a group I thought we were well above average offensively and below average defensively. When we play well we play really well. I think we’re getting up and down the court faster than we have in a long time, maybe ever.
“We are better in transition. The ball is moving fairly well. Technically we can do some better things. Our defense has been excellent in spurts and it’s been very poor in other spurts.”
KU will next meet St. John’s at 6 p.m. Central time Friday in New York. The Red Storm, like KU, will enter the game with a 5-1 record.