LAWRENCE — In the immediate aftermath of his team’s first defeat of the season, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said the poor performance was one he could see on the horizon.
Two days later, Self theorized it won’t be the last slip-up for the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks.
“It’s a long season and we were not going to run the table, I can guarantee you that. And it won’t be the last time it happens this year,” Self said Friday. “If we can learn from it and be better from it, then it’ll be OK. But certainly we need to learn from it.”
The Jayhawks (7-1) get their first crack at showing what they’ve learned in a Top 25 showdown against No. 16 Arizona State (7-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse.
While Self said he’s been “really proud” of his team seven times this year — including in grind-it-out victories against Kentucky and Syracuse — this year’s squad still lacks two elements featured prominently on each of his other 14 teams: an extra-possession mentality and flat-out toughness.
“I mean, let’s just call it like it is,” Self said. “You’re replacing Frank (Mason) with somebody that’s not near as competitive as Frank, you’re replacing Josh (Jackson) with somebody that’s not near as competitive as Josh and you’re replacing Landen (Lucas) with somebody that doesn’t know how to be competitive yet. And those aren’t negatives — those are facts.”
Losing a consensus national player of the year (Mason) and the No. 4-overall pick in the NBA Draft (Jackson) was always going to be a blow from a pure talent standpoint, but Self indicated he is disappointed with the dropoff in toughness from the duo to Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick, and the same for Lucas’ replacement, 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike.
“We had two-and-a-half dogs last year, and Landen was close to being a full one,” Self said. “Bad play wasn’t as big a deal because the goal every night was to make the other teams play bad. This team, right now, the mindset is a little different. We don’t approach it as we need to make somebody else play bad. We approach it as we need to play better than them. Well, you’re not always going to play well.
“I think our mindset can improve there. I think it will.”
Asked which players could develop into “dogs” come season’s end, Self said he is optimistic Vick could “without question,” Graham is “close, but not quite there yet” and Svi Mykhailiuk, while not a dog, is “a lot tougher than he was last year.” Self also put freshman guard Marcus Garrett in this group.
Still, this year’s team has a long way to go to fill the shoes left behind by the likes of Mason and Jackson.
“You look at the personalities or whatnot, we’ve got some really nice young men,” Self said. “I don’t know that anybody ever, first thing they (said) after playing Frank or Josh was, ‘Hey, those were some nice young men.’ I don’t think that was what they said normally. But that’s probably how people look at us now.”
As good as Mason was, Self said he “wasn’t exactly all that” when he first arrived on campus. Just as with all elements of the game, there is a learning curve when it comes to toughness, a trait that seems to be rooted in both nature and nurture.
“Sure you can (develop toughness),” Self said. “You can do it through practice, through competitive things. You can do it through disappointments. To me, it’s not that hard to figure out. We have an expression we say all the time: ‘Faces change, expectations don’t.’ Well, in order for expectations not to change, there’s got to be some guys to get outside their comfort zone.”
That, Self said, isn’t a basketball-exclusive concept.
“Don’t you want a reliever that can come in with runners on second and third and that’s when he’s at his best,” Self asked, “or a quarterback that’s thrown three picks like Matt Ryan did (Thursday) but still take ’em down the field at game point and score? Isn’t that what competing is? We’ve got to learn to do that also.”
NO UPDATES ON PRESTON, DE SOUSA — Still down to just two rotation frontcourt players, Self said there has been no update to the statuses of Billy Preston or Silvio De Sousa.
Preston, the freshman forward indefinitely withheld as the compliance department seeks a “clearer financial picture” of a vehicle he was driving at the time of a single-car accident Nov. 11 on campus, will likely miss his ninth straight contest and eighth stemming from the program-imposed withholding.
De Sousa, a 6-9 forward and five-star prospect in the Class of 2018, is attempting to reclassify and join the Jayhawks for the upcoming second semester, but Self said grades and the results of a standardized test taken last Saturday have not come in.
“I haven’t heard, and I know that he hasn’t gotten his test results back,” Self said. “And even with that, the test results, we need to wait for the grades to come in too. I’d like to be able to say definitely, but we’re not going to be able to say definitely one way or another until more time passes.”
ALLEN FIELDHOUSE FLOODS — A water main break Friday night on a valve on the third floor of Allen Fieldhouse caused significant flooding on the first- and second-floor concourses on the south side of the arena but was cut off before reaching the court, a KU athletics representative told The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The break caused huge pools of water to gather both outside a south entrance and on the flooring inside the facility, where team managers and building crew worked to clean the mess up. The incident was under control as of 6 p.m. and is not expected to have an effect on Sunday’s game.