The Jayhawks departed Manhattan three weeks ago with a 59-55 victory, solidifying their first-place spot atop the Big 12, but a three-game losing streak has left them seeking another rivalry victory in order to regain first place.
Following some historically interesting comments after the loss to dramatic underdog TCU last week, Self appeared adequately optimistic as they head towards March.
“I’m not leaving out of here disgusted with my team at all,” Self said. “We actually played better today. We played a good team today.”
Those good teams line KU's remaining schedule, starting with Monday's matchup with the advantageous Wildcats. While a host of issues have been exposed following a near-perfect non-conference schedule, the Jayhawks must focus on five keys in order to remain in contention in the Big 12.
Releford has attempted only 13 shots during their losing streak.
Suggesting the Jayhawks, losers of three straight for the first time in eight years, are lacking confidence is an enormous understatement.
Despite four seniors playing prominent roles, the Kansas roster still lacks experience with the current expectations.
They saw a 3-for-22 first half shooting performance lead to only a nine-point deficit last Wednesday at TCU before the energy-charged Horned Frogs scored a season-high 40 points in the second half.
That was followed by an adequate all-around game in Norman, a performance typically sufficient for a victory, only to see the Sooners shoot lights-out for the first 25-plus minutes.
Beleaguered KU must get off to a quick start against a motivated K-State team suddenly on top of the Big 12 standings.
The Jayhawks' offensive woes are clear and while better offensive decision-making and efficiency lead the charge, the Kansas point guards must improve their shooting.
Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe have combined to shoot a hideous 35.9 percent from the floor this season. Poor shooting from the point is not uncommon or disastrous in Bill Self's system but they are taking nearly 26 percent of the team's shots, a number much too high with the likes of Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, and Travis Releford on the floor.
Johnson and Tharpe shot poorly three weeks ago in Manhattan, hitting a combined 5 shots on 17 attempts.
Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, and the other Kansas bigs' perimeter defense was hideously exposed in their loss to Oklahoma as Romero Osby and Amath M'Baye combined to shoot 3-for-6 from three-point range.
While this is the first episode of exploitation, the last half-dozen opponents have successfully moved the KU frontcourt outside of the paint. They were clearly uncomfortable, routinely allowing open looks while combining for nine fouls.
Luckily for the Jayhawks, no Kansas State big man has hit a three-point bucket all season, but Bruce Weber has not been snoozing during Kansas' losing streak.
Ball screens, backdoor cuts, and movement from Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gipson, and Nino Williams are likely. KU must contain the Wildcats' versatility and creativity, allowing Withey and company to stay in their comfort zone.
Jeff Withey has scored in double figures seven straight contests and all but four games this season, with his offensive efficiency greatly improved from a season ago.
Unfortunately, his 13 points per game are not enough for an offensively-challenged team and fair or not, Withey must deliver more.
He only took six shots in their last meeting, while earning six trips to the free-throw line, but must further exhibit his clear dominance over the slower, smaller and undisciplined Kansas State forwards this time around.
In Self's pass-heavy scheme, it is imperative to create good matchups, anticipate the next few passes, and understand when to break it off.
Too many shots are being launched early in the shot clock, against double-teams or while failing to use proper court vision while penetrating the lane.
Jeff Withey and Travis Releford lead the team in field-goal percentage but have taken the third and fourth-most shots, respectively. Granted, opposing defenses have adjusted impressively to each of their improved offensive repertoires but the team cannot shy away from opportunities to two of their most efficient players.
One look inside to a well-covered Withey before heaving up a 22-footer is not what produced eight-straight conference titles.