“Bill Self is one of the best college basketball coaches of our generation.” – Everybody.
I’m not here to question Bill Self. I just want to get that out of the way now. You’ve all seen the message board posts where some brave soul attempts to say something like “I disagreed with Self’s game plan because of _____.” And then all the crimson and blue internet warriors attack the guy that even dared to disagree with him. “Well until you win 8 straight Big 12 championships, I think I’ll trust HCBS.”
It’s quite silly, to be honest.
Those that may “disagree” or even question a game plan or strategy aren’t doing so because they think they can outsmart Bill Self, but because they want to win so bad, they hold their team to a higher standard. I fall into that category. And to me, this offense has been pretty ugly to watch the last few games. I thought it was worth a little discussion.
Let’s start with some numbers. In four of the last five games, the Jayhawks have scored in the 60s. For some comparison, KU had only scored in the 60s twice over the first 12 games. Many of you might point to the quality of opponent increasing throughout the year, and I agree there is probably something to that. But three of of those four teams we recently played rank 105th (Temple), 135th (Baylor), and 266th (Texas Tech) in scoring defense this year.
Often the difference between scoring 65 and 75 in a game can come down to whether you make your open shots. Bill Self generally runs a motion offense that should, in theory, create open shots (more on that later), but he can’t put the ball in the basket. The Jayhawks have made 28% of their 3-point shots in those four games. The naked eye would also indicate quite a few misses around the basket as well — “missin’ bunnies” — as Self would say.
Perhaps that’s all it boils down to: temporary shooting slumps and missed layups. Those things can be fixed overnight.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it, though.
Weak-side hi-lo setup
Most casual basketball fans have heard of Bill Self’s patented “Hi-Low Motion” offense. It was an offense that he has used with great success all the way back to his Tulsa days, where he reportedly installed it in four days time. It is not an offense that any team can run, however. It works best with two quality post players and versatile perimeter wings that can penetrate, and more importantly, can shoot. The #1 goal of the hi-low motion is to get the ball deep into the paint for a high percentage basket. That said, it has a number of iterations that can create open looks for every person in the offense.
Self has used the hi-low to some degree ever since he’s been at Kansas, but he is not tied to it the way that some coaches are tied to their system. This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about Self’s coaching out there on the AAU circuit — that he is only a hi-low guy. This misconception should theoretically bring in talented big men because it means they will get the ball a lot. Unfortunately, a silly percentage of big men (6’8+) think they should play the 3 and won’t accept “playing with their back to the basket” (See Padgett, D.). More damning is recruiting the slashing guard. The biggest complaint about the hi-low is that it means you generally have four guys in the paint (O4, X4, O5, X5), making it difficult to find an angle from the top of the key.
I say all this because you can largely throw most of it out the window when you watch this year’s team. For one, the 2012-13 Jayhawks don’t have a dynamic post scoring threat. Withey is a phenomenal basketball player, but dynamic scorer will not be on the back of his basketball card. And the rest of our front court is either undersized or inexperienced.
Kevin Young had some success early with his post entry passes from the point forward position. However, Temple and Iowa State put the blueprint out there on how to stop this practice. Whenever Young would catch the ball near the top of the key, Young’s man would sag back to front Withey, giving Young a wide open look. Unfortunately, Kevin doesn’t have that shot, and, for the most part, doesn’t have much of an offensive game in general. He has been pretty ineffective during that stretch, overall.
Perhaps right on point, Perry Ellis is playing with a lot more aggressiveness of late (and he does have that 15-16 footer in his repertoire). I think we’ll start to see Young’s and Ellis’ minutes even out and perhaps even tilt in favor of Ellis over the second half of the Big 12 season.
To counter the change in defensive strategy (sagging the X4), I think Self is starting to urge his guards to attack the basket from the top of the key. Against Baylor, the normal “weave” out front between the three guards turned into a weave and penetrate. The four man cleared out giving a look of a “dribble drive” offense. I personally think this is where we are going this year. Against Texas, I believe it was part of the game plan but Texas’ on-ball defenders were pretty effective (as Self would say “we couldn’t get our shoulders past them”).
Look for a continued emphasis going forward of Releford, Elijah, Ben, and Tharpe attacking the rim, often with all four on the floor at the same time (See: last six minutes of the Texas game). It won’t always be pretty because I don’t think any of those four would be considered natural slashing scorers. But this team needs them to be. It will create some open looks for the big guys, open looks for corner 3s, and a much higher percentage of second chance opportunities around the rim.
Also look for Ben to start averaging 15+ shots per game. If this team is going to make a run deep in the tournament, I think we can all agree it will come down to him. Self has to know this too. He needs Ben to understand that he is better than the guy trying to guard him. He needs to understand that his team wants him to shoot. I think he’ll get there. And when he does, watch out.
I think a greater emphasis on attacking the basket will do wonders for this offense. It will open up passing lanes, open up scoring angles, create mismatches, and at worst, cause the other team to foul (over that same 5-game stretch, we shot 95/123 from the free throw line, good for over 77%). This team has a great defense and fast break, which will need to continue at a high level. The half-court points will come too, and when they do, this team will be last standing on a lot of brackets.