Self expecting Jayhawks to turn up the heat against Longhorns

Kansas coach Bill Self says he hasn't seen a terrific performance from his team yet during conference play.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The grade Bill Self would issue his Kansas basketball team at this point would be incomplete.

Oh, the second-ranked Jayhawks are off to a 6-0 start as the expected Big 12 leader and are 17-1 overall as a winner of 17 straight entering a home game Saturday against Texas (7-11, 1-5 Big 12).

Yet Kansas has not exactly applied a stranglehold on conference rivals. Not when four of their conference wins in the balanced Big 12 have come by margins of seven points or less.

“So far in league play, we haven’t played poorly, but we haven’t played great either,” Self said. “We were just good enough to get past (some teams). It’s hard for me to know how well we’re playing because I don’t think we’ve played terrific yet.”

High standards, the kind that have led to 12 consecutive Big 12 titles, factor into the appraisal.

In addition, Self has essentially restricted his rotation to seven players, which prevents his regulars from always selling out on the defensive end. The Jayhawks, however, make up for any shortcomings with an offense that can deliver lethal blows in spurts, thanks to 50.4 percent shooting, including 41.2 percent from three-point range.

“I would say the ability to pressure the way you play 35 (minutes), it’s probably not as good as what it would be if you’re playing 28 and subbing more,” Self acknowledged. “So I do think the minutes have taken away some of the pressure.”

In particular, the two small guards at the top of the Jayhawks’ defense, senior Frank Mason and junior Devonte’ Graham, average the most minutes of any Big 12 players.

Mason, who averages 35.1 minutes, leads the conference with a 20.3-point average while shooting better than 50 percent from both two- and three-point range. Graham averages 13.2 points and 33.8 minutes.

Some unknowns still exist, even with the slim rotation.

Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg has been the biggest enigma.

He started the first five games, then was withheld from one game after his arrest and subsequent acquittal for misdemeanor battery. He has just begun to pile on more minutes.

His 10-point performance in a victory Monday at Iowa State was the first time Bragg cracked double figures since a Nov. 18 win over Siena.

“Once I get going,” Bragg predicted, “there ain’t no stopping me.”

Texas is a team that has yet to get going. Several promising newcomers gave the Longhorns the look of an improved team in Shaka Smart’s second season as coach, but their only conference win to date was against Oklahoma State, which is winless in Big 12 play.

Since that win on Jan. 4, Texas has lost four straight. Stringing together a complete effort has been a problem, evidenced again in a 74-64 loss at No. 6 Baylor on Tuesday.

“In the first half, we’re up two, up four, tied, we’re down a few, it’s anybody’s game, keep playing,” Smart said. “I think that requires a level of connectivity as a team and the ability to move on from the last play. That, I thought our guys started the game with, but we obviously did not sustain.”

Freshman forward Jarrett Allen averaged 18 points and 8.7 rebounds in the last three games while shooting 67.7 percent from the field. He has netted double figures in eight of the last nine games. He grabbed at least six rebounds in each game and leads the Longhorns with a 7.8 average.

Sophomore wing Tevin Mack paces Texas with a 14.8-point average.