Jayhawks enter postseason still looking for some ‘oomph’
If the only objective on the last day of the regular season was to pick up another victory, Bill Self would have been thrilled with the play of his Kansas basketball team on Saturday.
The truth is he was looking for more.
Self had no complaints about the way the Jayhawks handled Baylor’s zone defense in a 78-70 win at Allen Fieldhouse. In fact, the coach thought his players executed solidly for the most part.
With Devon Dotson attacking off the dribble and Dedric Lawson and David McCormack knowing exactly where to locate the Bears’ weak spots, the Jayhawks had few issues finding high-percentage shots.
On a couple of occasions, the Big 12’s third-place team even achieved near perfection in the half court, staging in unison the actions, screening and precise passing that allowed Quentin Grimes to lob alley-oop assists to freshman skywalker Ochai Agbaji.
Still, KU’s 16th-year head coach didn’t think the Jayhawks were “anything exceptional,” he would say afterward.
“We executed OK. It was just that the game didn’t have any oomph,” Self bemoaned of the performance. “Which obviously is a little disappointing, being our last game this year (at home).”
The Jayhawks (23-8 overall, 12-6 Big 12) needed a springboard of a finale to launch them into the postseason on a high note. Instead, they got a ho-hum home victory that didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the idea that they’re about to take off and finally play to their ceiling.
At least during the immediate aftermath of the win, Self was tepid on the state of the Jayhawks’ play following the 31-game regular season.
“I don’t really think I’m in love with how we’re playing, but I also don’t think that I’m ultra-concerned with how we’re playing,” he said. “You’re gonna be concerned this time of year, because from this point forward it’s one-and-done, so to speak, if you lose in both tournaments.”
KU’s most recent three-game winning streak came in mid-January, when the Jayhawks bookended an overtime road win over TCU with home victories against Oklahoma State and West Virginia. You many recognize those three opponents as the Big 12’s eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place teams in 2019.
The Jayhawks also won three in a row in January, beating TCU at home, Baylor on the road and Texas in Lawrence.
Even though Sprint Center often turns into a de facto home game for Kansas during the Big 12 tournament, it’s hard to talk yourself into believing there’s a scenario in which these Jayhawks win three games in three days.
“It’s gonna be hard to do,” Self admitted. “We know that, with playing guys as many minutes as we play them. But we’ve done it before and we’ve done it last year, and certainly we’re capable of going over there and putting together a nice run. I think it’ll be good for us to kind of get our batteries recharged.”
Maybe the Jayhawks didn’t win emphatically versus Baylor because they were still experiencing the hangover of disappointment that accompanied them coming up short in the Big 12 title race.
A first-team all-conference performer as well as the league’s top newcomer, redshirt junior Lawson reiterated Saturday that Self never put pressure on this team to extend KU’s title streak.
“I just wanted to win a Big 12 title just for myself and things like that. Plus, you want to keep the legacy going,” Lawson said. “At the end of the day we fell short and it’s not the end of the world”
The current Jayhawks may not have dominated their peers like their predecessors so often did. But they should at least be able to put all of that behind them now.
“Going forward we’re just trying to be the best team that we can be, have the best year we can have,” Lawson said, “going into the Big 12 tournament and finishing strong, and March Madness from there.”
KU still has close to four full days to prepare for Texas and its postseason debut. We’ll find out Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo., whether the Jayhawks have found the “oomph” needed to outperform their irregular season.