On Monday afternoon, Kansas head coach Bill Self conducted his weekly press conference. Jayhawk Slant was in Lawrence and has a complete recap.
Bill Self on the team's improvement since its loss to Kentucky in November
"Back then, we guarded and rebounded the ball better than we have lately. The biggest thing is that the ball moves, and we trust each other a little bit more. The guys have their roles defined in their minds to the point where they know exactly when to be aggressive and when to not be so aggressive. I think all of the players individually are playing a little bit better, too."
On if players need to learn how to become starters
"I hadn't really ever thought about it. Elijah (Johnson) started a few games before this year and I believe Travis (Releford) started a few games before he hurt his ankle at Michigan (in 2011). I think the pressures of having a role where your performance dictates whether we win or not probably has a different feel to (coming off the bench)."
On if players were ready to be starters before they came to KU
"I think they were ready to be starters because they had been here and they had gotten better. They certainly had waited their time and paid their dues. A lot of people say that want it, but you have to know if they are actually ready for it."
On how many of Thomas Robinson's post moves are things that he has developed in his time at KU
"I don't think Thomas has a huge repertoire of post moves, and to be honest with you, we don't teach our guys a ton of post moves. You need to be able to score over your left shoulder or your right shoulder, and you need to have a counter to both of those. To me, there is not a huge reason to teach a guy 14 different moves. For the most part, I would say his moves are things that he has always had in his bag, but they are things that he has not been able to use."
On if Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford have shown enough to be defensive stoppers
"I think so; (Tyshawn Taylor) can be, too. We could be as good defensively on the perimeter as we have (ever) been, but we just don't play that way all the time. It is a mindset that you get; it is something that you work on and emphasize. Those guys have it in them to become better individual defenders without question."
On if other programs do not focus as much on teaching low-post moves
"Danny (Manning) likes teaching them a lot of moves - I don't like teaching them a lot of moves. By the time they are seniors, usually they have developed a larger repertoire of post moves, which is good. Sometimes with young kids, we cloud their mind and make the game more complicated than what it is. I watched (Creighton forward Doug) McDermott play yesterday - that guys has a plethora of different types of moves, more than a lot of other players; he is advanced. One thing that I think is so good about Thomas is, when he catches the ball off the block, he can shoot it, but he can also drive it and get his defender to lean. When he gets you to lean, he can make a move off of your lean. Danny is so good at working with the big guys on different types of things; but I don't think it is something that you need a ton of moves, you just need to be good at what you do."
On if Jeff Withey's sweeping hook shot was developed at KU
"I would say that it probably developed here - the first time I saw it was here. It is a pretty effective move. The thing about Jeff is that sometimes he can take himself out of a better shot, because sometimes he is going away from the basket. I do think it is an effective shot for him. I would like to see him try that every game, if possible."
On if Jeff Withey needs to keep his game simple
"I think everybody needs to keep it simple. NBA players keep it simple; most players in the league can score over their left, score over their right and have a counter to both moves. What they use in the game is keeping it simple."
On voting for the Big 12 Coach of the Year
"I don't know, and to be honest, I really don't care (about who did or did not win). (Missouri coach) Frank Haith won AP Big 12 Coach of the Year, and that is perfect. In all honesty, I voted for him; he deserved it. (Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg) has done a remarkable job, and he definitely deserves it. Everybody gets a piece of it. That is a tribute to the coaches and the programs in the league; the only way you can ever win coach of the year is if your team does well. We had three teams in this league far surpass what their expectations were. You could make a case for a lot of different guys."
On if he saw an all-conference and defensive player of the year season coming from Jeff Withey
"I didn't; but if you recall, I said before the season that I thought he should lead the league in blocked shots - primarily because he is really tall. Certainly he deserves that, I don't know if anybody in our league blocks or alters as many shots as he does. For the most part, Jeff has been consistent for the whole year on the defensive end; defensively, he has been a presence the whole year. One reason Thomas has had such a great year is because Jeff guards the other team's best post player. Jeff has been great for us, he has had a terrific year."
On his message to Travis Releford about being aggressive
"Just the same thing I told you guys; it's time to get that back and he can get it back in practice or just with his mindset. The key to being a good defender - in my opinion - if you're guarding another team's good player is limit his good touches. When you let a player get good touches then the advantage goes to the offense. The best way that I always thought to keep a good player from scoring is maybe not let him shoot it. To me - that's just my Oklahoma upbringing - that if a guy doesn't shoot it, then he's probably not going to score. That's something that I think Travis and Elijah (Johnson) can do a better job of."
On if he takes a different approach in the postseason
"Well we've had success and we've had no success but I don't think it's ever been because of our approach as much as it is maybe just the mindset. I think distractions have more to do with winning or losing this time of year more than anything else. People can say what they want to about distractions and how can you be distracted? But how can you not when you have so many things going on with different family members and different people that have a say-so; next year what are you going to do? You have people in your ear; you have agents, runners saying this is what you need to show people this time. If there is 100 percent trust, then you have less distraction. If there's some that think maybe the people on the outside know more than the people on the inside, you're going to have major distractions.
The thing that amazes me is that outside people don't realize they're distractions; it just blows my mind. The outside people think that they're the only ones talking to you but they don't realize that there's 20 or 30 others doing the same thing; you start adding that up and that's distracting. In their mind they're thinking 'hey this is my boy, we always talk' or 'we go way back' but a lot of people go way back. Mature guys basically cut everybody off; mature coaches cut everybody off and that's not easy to do at all.
Those are the things that I probably worry as much about as anything else. You can have great intentions going into postseason - last year before we played VCU, I had never been with a group any looser - I was able to blow them out after the Richmond win due to a couple of guy's media comments so I had their attention. It was perfect; we couldn't have been any looser going into it and then you go into it and it just has a different feel to it. Just ask Russell Robinson; it's just a different feel. A lot of it is just the situation of kids never being there before; they want it so bad and how you react to it. Who knows how we'll react but I think we're prepared to react well, but I don't know how that will actually take shape."
On Danny Manning's development as a coach
"Danny has been an unbelievable influence on us; he's great with the big guys and he gets a lot of credit but Joe (Dooley) and Kurt (Townsend) are great with the guards too. We don't do a ton of individual breakdown but the 10 minutes we spend a day, that's their time to be a head coach. They've all three taken advantage of that and then during the offseason, they spend the majority of their time doing that themselves because that's their time and that's how they develop as coaches. But Danny has been great; he's a great role model, a great teacher and the guys respect him. I can't imagine having anyone better to teach big guys than what we have."
On what he would rank this team's maturity level
"I don't know; you can have a bunch of freshmen and they can be pretty mature in certain ways. One thing about young kids is they don't know they don't know; which is good and bad. One thing about older kids is they've been through it so now they know and that can either create confidence or anxiety; it just depends. I do think that we're a relatively mature group; I don't think we're overly mature. You've see how we blow big leads, you see a lot of the things that we do don't look very good or pleases the coach but you also see when the going gets tough, the guys do hunker down pretty good. I really don't know but I think we're probably above average."
On the challenges of playing either Oklahoma or Texas A&M on Thursday
"Well A&M played us good twice and OU we ended up getting at our place but OU led us at halftime at their place if I'm not mistaken; A&M led us in the second half here if I'm not mistaken. A&M is finally healthy and so that obviously adds to the equation but A&M plays more like us; primarily all man defense. They run some different sets but certainly things that our guys will remember because we just played them a couple of weeks ago. Oklahoma plays through (Andrew) Fitzgerald, (Steven) Pledger and (Romero) Ozby but plays some 2-3 zone so we'll work against zone in the next couple of days. One thing that I haven't even thought about is that the round robin is good in this respect; if we're playing a team that we played in January and we only played them once, guys won't remember. When you play everybody twice - the second time in February - it's an easier scout so I think that will be good when you don't know who you're playing."
On if a complete round robin conference play will affect the quality of play in the conference tournament
"I don't think the offense will be at a premium. It seems like to me the second time you play people in conference play, offense usually isn't as good because people scout you. Usually in postseason, once you get out of your conference tournament, I think you have a better chance to run a good offense but everybody in our league knows all the calls, knows what they want to do, tendencies, and once you get into postseason it's a little harder because you've never seen that team before. It may be a high scoring affair but I predict it will be grinded out games over in the Sprint Center."
On what it would be like to play Missouri in the final
"It'd be great because that means we've won two games so that would be absolutely fantastic. It would be absolutely fantastic to play Texas or Iowa State or anybody else; it doesn't make any difference because it would mean we won two games."
On if the team needs to do a certain thing to get a one seed in the NCAA tournament
"I don't know enough about that; if you were to really break it down - which I have a little bit, but not to the extent that the committee will - to me, obviously Kentucky and Syracuse are number one seeds no matter what. Then you'd almost have to say, if nothing really strange happens, one from the ACC and North Carolina was so good the other night (against Duke) but I don't know if there's two from the ACC.
The Big 10 has gotten a little bit sideways because of the three-way tie for first so maybe the one that wins the league there - Ohio State or Michigan State are certainly still in the running - and then us and Missouri are still in the running. I think some weird things would have to happen for the winner of our league, depending on how Missouri does or how we do, I still think one of us still has a great shot at being a one seed regardless of how the other leagues do because I think our league is good enough that we warrant that."
Junior guard Travis Releford on if the team is ready for the postseason
"We're looking forward to it. We're preparing for it and we just want to capitalize on the season."
On his defensive play over the last few games
"I haven't been defending the way that I was at the beginning of the season. I feel like going into the postseason I need to concentrate on it a lot more."
On if Coach Self is challenging him on the defensive end
"Yes, that's basically what he's doing. He knows that I can be that guy on this team and like I said, I haven't been doing that lately, so I need to step it up."
On if he feels like he needs to step up his offensive game too
"Coach (Self) has just been telling me to stay aggressive and my teammates have been telling me the same thing. I just need to play through the game."
On if it is difficult preparing for the opponent when you don't know who you are playing in the first round
"Yeah, it's difficult to prepare right now, but we'll just go out and practice and continue to do what we do every day."
On wanting to win the conference tournament
"I just think it's another chance for us to get better and to gain some momentum going into the (NCAA) tournament. I think the postseason conference tournament is very important for us because it shows what we can get better at."
Junior center Jeff Withey On winning the Big 12 conference's defensive player of the year award
"It's awesome; it's a great honor and I'm really excited that I got it. I was hoping for it."
On if it was a preseason goal to become defensive player of the year
"Coach Self challenged me to be the top shot-blocker in the league. That was my goal and I am definitely happy to be able to get that award."
On the development of post players at Kansas
"He (Coach Self) lets us do whatever we need to do to score. And working with Coach (Danny) Manning, he gives us a ton of moves; and we practice them every day so it becomes instinctive just when we are out there to do what is open. There are no limits on what we can and can't do. We work on a lot of that stuff over the offseason and it is a lot of foot work; so getting the footwork down is really important. Coach Manning has great footwork; for being a retired basketball player, he has still got it."
On how Kansas has been able to develop a number of post players
"The way Coach Self coaches; he wants to take it inside-out. He definitely wants to get the big guys the ball and let them do their thing. If they get double-teamed they can pass it out for the guards to shoot threes or drive it. The way he coaches is inside-out."
On the team surpassing expectations for the season
"People didn't think that we were going to be number three in the nation by this time of the year. We thought we were this good though. Everybody inside the locker room knew that we had some talent and that we could come out and play. It has been really exciting this year just to see everything develop; it seems like the year has flown by for a lot of us. And we are just excited going into the Big 12 tournament."
On what has led to Kansas' improvement from early in the season
"I think it has been the turnovers. In the beginning of the year I think that we really struggled with turning the ball over and we weren't meshing as a team. I think throughout the year we have cut back on turnovers and I think now we are all playing together and having a lot of fun."
On the use of film study to improve
"We use it a lot. We have a great film guy in Jeff Forbes; he helps us out and gets us film on whatever we need. A lot of time I will get film on NBA guys to watch them and see what they do. Whenever we play a game we will always go over film afterwards and coach will point out what we did and didn't do right. It helps out a ton."
On preparing for the chance to play three games in the Big 12 Championship
"We have to take care of our bodies; playing three games in three days is rough. We definitely need to eat right. Mentally, it is a lot also. We just have to be thinking that we are going in to win it and it is going to be tough. But I think that we can do it."