Self hoping for defensive improvement as Jayhawks host Red Raiders

Bill Self is looking for better defense from his Kansas team as they face Texas Tech on Saturday.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Every attempt has been made in and out of practice and in games for Kansas to adhere to the defensive mindset Bill Self wants from his players.

Yet the Jayhawks coach has not been able to state his demands successfully. At least not to the point that Kansas is denying opponents with the kind of intensity Self typically extracts from his defenders.

“It’s frustrating,” Self said. “You do it through film, you do it through talking, you do it through challenging, you do it through demanding. You do it a lot of different ways. The guys care, certainly, about it, but I don’t think their actions show that they care as much as maybe they think.”

That could be because the Jayhawks sit 13-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big 12 and are ranked No. 3. They have not lost since their season opener in Honolulu against Indiana. On Saturday, Texas Tech (12-2, 1-1) visits Allen Fieldhouse.

Although the Jayhawks won their first two conference games, the matchups were tougher than expected against opponents picked 10th and ninth, respectively, in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll.

Kansas trailed early at TCU before winning 86-80. It then played at home and nipped in-state rival Kansas State 90-88 on a buzzer-beating layup by Svi Mykhailiuk, who clearly traveled on the play, a no-call even Self conceded.

If anything, the Kansas defense was worse than usual in the Kansas State win. The Wildcats became the first opponent this season to shoot better than 50 percent and did so with their top inside threat, D.J. Johnson, limited because of foul trouble.

“We don’t have any excuses. We’re just not doing it (on defense),” Self said. “But we’re going to get there. I say that with supreme confidence. We’re going to get to where we want to go, but that doesn’t guarantee success either.”

After the narrow win against Kansas State, Self said his team lacked defensive pride, though he thought this year’s collection of talent, because of length and athleticism, could grow stout defensively.

He pointed to his two veteran small guards, senior Frank Mason and junior Devonte’ Graham, as regulars who can key a defensive surge. They are the only Jayhawks to average 30-plus minutes, however, contributing to potential fatigue, both physically and mentally.

“It starts with us on the defensive end,” said Mason, who also leads Kansas in scoring (19.5 ppg.). “We’ve got to cut the head off every game and that starts with picking (opponents) up full-court, making them feel us and making them uncomfortable.”

Texas Tech was another team picked for the lower division in the Big 12 race, yet the Red Raiders have surprised under first-year coach Chris Beard. They are coming off a 77-76 overtime upset over No. 7 West Virginia after losing just one nonconference game, against Auburn.

The Red Raiders, who weathered 14 ties and 21 lead changes against West Virginia, rely on offensive balance. Four scorers average in double figures, led by junior guard Keenan Evans (13.4).

“We’ve got a process that we believe in,” said Beard, who served as a longtime Tech assistant under Bob and Pat Knight before guiding Arkansas-Little Rock to the Sun Belt title last year and a first-round upset of Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.

“We don’t think we’re any better than anybody else, but we believe in what we do. We work hard every day. In the first year you have to have some validation to your process. I thought (the West Virginia win) was a validation win for us internally to show that we can compete against some of the best teams in the country.”

Kansas has won 14 straight in the series and is 16-0 all-time at home against Texas Tech. The Jayhawks are 24-4 against the Red Raiders since the inception of the Big 12.