Bill Self, who preaches in-your-face, man-to-man defense, isn’t against implementing the triangle-and-two, box-and-one or even a 3-2 zone if it helps win basketball games.
“Sometimes you do (want to show teams a different look),” said Self, Kansas University’s 11th-year coach, who most of the time prefers a stingy man alignment.
“Coach Krzyzewski (Mike, Duke) has won a lot of games, and he will never do it (play zone). Bob Knight won a lot of games, and he never did it. Eddie Sutton won a lot of games, and he never did it. Mr. (Hank) Iba won a lot of games, and he never did it. That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong.
“Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) has won a ton of games and never plays man. One time he played man was against us. We totally destroyed their zone. We were up 14 in Kansas City ... he goes man-to-man the last 14 minutes and comes back and beats us (89-81, Nov. 25, 2008). After the game he said, ‘We don’t even practice that.’ That made me feel better,” Self added sarcastically.
Self knows why some teams — including Georgetown on Saturday in KU’s 86-64 victory — have been going to the zone against his squad early in the 2013-14 season.
“I think it’s smart coaching,” he said. “Teams are trying to make us think because we are so young. Florida ... their strategy was, ‘Switch defenses because they’ll have a hard time in a hostile environment being able to pick things up.’ We’d never been in that situation before.
“Colorado did the same thing. New Mexico did the same thing (as did Georgetown on Saturday). We’re getting good experiences going against some teams switching things up and making us think out there as opposed to somebody just playing man or zone all the time.”
Though he understands the effectiveness of the zone, Self will never use it a lot.
“I think if you ask 100 coaches, 80 would say, ‘If we could really guard, I wouldn’t play anything else (but man),’” Self said. “That’s what we have to get back. Last year’s team was 36.1 (percent field-goal defense). We’ve been in the top 10 in field-goal-percentage defense nine times in 10 years, and one year we were awful: We were 12th in the country. It is our staple, our identity.”
Toughness: Self was asked to pinpoint the “toughest” team he’s coached in 11 seasons at KU.
“I don’t know. I’ll try to think back. Last year’s team wasn’t the most talented, but they were pretty tough. Our defense was tremendous last year,” Self said of a 31-6 Big 12 champion/NCAA Sweet 16 team that allowed 61.9 points off 36.1 percent shooting. KU outrebounded foes an average of 39.2 to 32.9.
“We’ve had other ones. I thought maybe the year after we won the national championship ... that was a tough team,” he added of the 2008-09 Jayhawks who went 27-8, won the league and also lost in the Sweet 16. That squad allowed 65.4 ppg off 38.3 percent marksmanship.
“The team that went to the national championship and got beat (by Kentucky) was a tough team,” Self stated of the 2011-12 squad that went 32-7 and again won league.
“Hopefully this team will get there. The talent level is as good or superior to a lot of those teams.”
Spots for shots: Self has noticed a difference between the veteran squad of 2012-13 and this much younger edition in 2013-14.
“Last year, we knew where our shots were coming from. We still don’t know how we’re going to score, where the shots are going to come from,” Self said in reflecting on KU’s play heading into Christmas break.
A year ago, he had Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford doing damage from the wing and Jeff Withey taking care of the inside en route to a 31-6 record.
This year, Andrew Wiggins is a prime candidate to lead the outside brigade with Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid becoming likely go-to guys on the inside.
“It’s going to take a while. I said all along it’s a process,” Self said.