Bill Self’s Backup: We’re a 7 seed

By: Chris O’Brien

I don’t have kids, but I imagine when I do I’ll have high expectations for them.

I feel like I won’t care if it’s writing, or basketball, or hey, maybe they get into the luge, whatever it is, I’ll want them to care about it and try really hard.

And of course, you want to see your kids do well. I don’t know what gets into parents; if it’s a bragging rights thing, a sense of pride, or if being a parent is really just like being a super fan and you simply want to win–sorry, want to see your kids win–whatever the motivation, that expectations bar can keep getting higher and higher.

As Bill Self’s self-declared back-up, I often blend those two parental outlooks together with KU teams. Are they trying hard AND are they succeeding? What I think can help us accept this team, and find a little more joy in watching them play, is one simple hypothesis:

We’re a 7 seed. 

I know the Selection Committee seems to think this team can do no wrong, they still have us as a high No. 2 seed, but really, let’s look at the tape. We’re not an elite team.

At Baylor, we put together one terrible half offensively (held to 20 points) followed by a terrible half defensively (gave up 50 points). Svi had a swollen eye that clearly affected his shot (he went 1-8) and it revealed a simple truth: if Svi is held under 10, there’s not enough scoring to keep up.

And the lineup is a mess. Vick was dropped to 7th man, Newman also came off the bench. Yet both ended up playing 32 minutes and we’re our second and third highest scorers. What is going on? Are we sticking with the 4-guard lineup or not?

But something that stood out to me during that game, the announcers mentioned Kansas is 7-1 on the season in games determined by five points or less. The only time we lost was at Oklahoma and that was a game where the Sooners resorted to the Poke-A-Doke Dark Arts strategy. Self later said he kept Udoka out there to teach a painful lesson (which has been effective long-term, Doke’s form looks much better at the line. He clearly is putting in the work). It’s very possible we would have won that with Lightfoot on the court at the end, but Self wasn’t going for the short-term gain.

You don’t get to 7-1, almost 8-0, in tight games without caring and trying really hard. I think it’s easy to say, “These guys just don’t want it as bad as previous teams,” I’ve certainly said it, but then I go person by person and realize, that’s not really true.

Devonte Graham hasn’t sat out in like eight games. I’m not sure he even takes a Gatorade break since Thanksgiving. He’s played in something ridiculous like 93 percent of the possible Big 12 minutes.

Lightfoot works his butt off. Garrett has a Releford like attention to defense. Newman clearly cares based on how much he has improved from the beginning of the season to now.

Doke is in great shape, runs the floor, and he’s spending extra hours on the free throw flaw. And it’d be hard to argue Svi doesn’t care enough, he’s always locked in at the end of games.

The only guy you might be able to make a case for would be Vick. And first off, this whole argument is flawed to begin with because you don’t get to be on a Kansas, you don’t get to even be in Division 1 without caring a helluva lot, but let’s for the sake of this blog post ride the “doesn’t care enough” argument.

IF effort and caring is the problem, Self had to send a message, try to teach Vick out of it. But because this team has so little depth, it was hard to actually punish any of his starting five. Until finally he said, you know what, Vick, Lightfoot’s got your starting spot.

It’s a risky move, a benching can hurt psychologically. I remember my junior year of high school slowly drifting from starter to further and further down the bench and it does mess with you. When you get in you don’t want to mess up. And you feel awkward. You catch the ball and travel or fumble it out of bounds. There’s not enough time to get into a flow.

But it did cause me to work a 100x harder in the offseason before my senior year. If you care about getting back to the starting lineup, the benching is a wake-up call. If you don’t, well, then it’s probably a good thing to have that player slide down the bench.

Vick responded well, he played a hard 32 minutes against Baylor and then at Iowa State he was back in the starting lineup, put together a 16 point, 4 rebound game.

And the win at Iowa State was an important win. It’s always hard to win at Hilton. We needed it to keep up with Texas Tech, especially given the three games ahead.

But let’s be real here, it was a hard-fought win, one we almost gave away at the end, against a 13-12 team sitting in last place of the conference.

This team is trying really hard, they don’t want to be the one that ends the Big 12 streak, but they’re simply not a No. 2 seed. A No. 2 seed wins that game last night by 15.

What’s weird about this season, though, is so many teams that might be No. 7 – 10 seeds in other years are still in the conversation for higher spots.

Like look at Oklahoma, lost six out of eight (now seven out of nine) the Selection Committee had them as a No. 4 seed. Or sure, Iowa State 13-12, but they did beat Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. Kansas is not alone out there as a No. 7 seed masquerading as something much higher.

So, is there still hope?

Of course. And the way to get there was on display (granted, for only 22 minutes) against Iowa State.

Kansas needs to imitate Purdue. Doke needs to be our Haas. Because, like Haas, no team has a center big enough to guard him, or do so without getting into foul trouble.

We need to keep dumping it into the big guy and get him between 20 – 25 pts a night. From there the entire dynamic of the offense changes. He’s surrounded by shooters he can kick out to if they start clogging the paint, sending another guy in for help.

In a normal year, I think this team would be on a path to a No. 7 seed. But this is no normal year. There’s still plenty of hope for a deep run in March, and crazy to say this, but there’s still an outside shot at getting a No. 1 seed. Seems like a pretty good shot still at a No. 2.

Being a No. 7 seed is not so bad. I mean even the No. 7 seed South Carolina got to the Final Four last year…

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