After the loss to A&M, I jotted down some notes that I titled "Resolved & Unresolved." In the subsequent five games, there has been a migration of some items from one list to the other, mostly in the direction of resolution, which is nice.
- Rotation. Coach Self seems like he's found the right starters, and his bench guys inject energy almost every time. This was not the case last year, and even earlier this year, when Kaun, Jackson, Wright and Hawkins (last year) were in and out of his doghouse and the starting lineup. I'm not getting too excited about this, because it's one of the more elementary requirements for any deep advancement in the tournament.
- Pace. During Self's first year, it was clear that Miles, Langford, and Simien all struggled with his insistence on cohesive half-court defense, which prevented a lot of the sprinting out that characterized Roy's offense (and probably was a major part of why those guys came to KU). Langford especially seemed to struggle when he wasn't getting multiple opportunities for (relatively) easy transition baskets. This year's team seems to have fully embraced Self's approach, while also running a pretty mean fast break when they get the opportunity.
- Defense. It's Coach Self's calling card, and it ensures that KU is competitive in every game. There isn't a team in the country right now who has a definitive answer to it; I say this with confidence because Florida is really the only team that would appear to be dominant, and we all know what happened there.
- Bench. A newly resolved matter, thanks to both Sherron Collins and Shady (whose huge rebounds late in the K‑State game allowed KU to steadily pull away). Darnell Jackson is always solid, and occasionally he is a total badass. Watching him tearing shit off the glass and kicking it out to RussRob is a comforting sight, especially when Kaun and Shady seem to have so much trouble laying down the law in the paint.
- The go-to guy. Yes, Collins has emerged as a major late-game threat. Is he a true go-to guy yet, though? I'm not sure. Coach Self gave him the ball in last possession of the A&M game, rather than Chalmers, Rush, or Wright, so clearly the staff believes that Collins can do it. He's got the moxie, not to mention the game, for making big plays late in the game, but the reason that I think that this is still unresolved is that, usually, when you've got a go-to guy, the rest of the team seems relaxed and comfortable, and this comfort translates into wins in close games. Thus far, I seen very little comfort during close games (a la Missouri, Iowa State, A&M, Texas Tech). I started to see more of it during K‑State, but it still took some luck — Rush's three-point play after Julian's terrible no-look somehow skittered through four K‑State defenders — and some K‑State mistakes in order for KU to escape with a win. Nevertheless, this is getting better, no question. What needs to happen: Kansas needs to win an A&M‑style game, a down-to-the-wire game in which the other team keeps bringing it (like Florida), and in that game the go-to guy needs to execute on every possession, like Acie Law of A&M did.
- Post play. If this team didn't rely on scoring in the post, I'd say that Sasha Kaun has been pretty solid. He rarely makes a bad pass; he picks up the occasional stupid foul (but seems to be getting better in this regard); he establishes position well and draws defenders. Defensively, he's rarely out of position. Little of this ever makes it on a stat sheet, and all of it contributes to open looks for other players on the offensive end, and fewer opportunities for the opponent on the defensive end. So he's solid, except for the fact that he becomes offensively inept at really inopportune times. It's hard to ignore the many, many occasions when he has failed to finish the bunnies; if he gets fouled, we all know what we're in for. Shady, on the other hand, simply needs to get hungry. All of the tools are there; they just need to be brought to bear with a little passion. Not that I'm going to make any Rudy Gay comparisons. There's no way that Self would ever allow Shady to conduct himself with the nonchalance that Gay routinely brought to UConn. What needs to happen: Shady needs to show more of what he showed against K‑State; Kaun needs to convert his easy baskets; Jackson needs to keep doing what he does.
- Easy baskets. Free throws fall into this category; so do layups. I've never seen a team blow so many open, close range buckets, or brick as many FTs. Jackson and Kaun are approaching Richard Scott-level incompetence in this regard, and even Chalmers and RussRob (admittedly, my favorite of the current Hawks, esp. after he got in Cartier Martin's face during the K‑State game) isn't 100% reliable down the stretch. And Rush missed the two FT's after Huggy's T, which could have put KU up by 7. (Good thing Collins hit a three in the ensuing possession). Anyway, one virtue of Roy's teams is that they seem to get 10–15 easy baskets every game: fast break layups and dunks; post guys who get sprung open by a back screen; open jumpers for the big guys trailing the fast break. Self's teams must get fewer of these looks, which may be okay since they seem to have trouble converting them anyway. What needs to happen: It may be impossible for this team to become a good FT-shooting team, but it's eminently possible for them to make layups, especially Kaun.