Bill Self Flexes His Coaching Muscle in Decisive Win over Baylor

Jason FranchukCollege Basketball Featured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2016

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts to play against Baylor in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Waco, Texas. Kansas won 66-60. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. looked like he was in a lot of pain. The next thing you know, he's throwing down an alley-oop dunk Tuesday night that clinched another Big 12 road win.

Bill Self had the guts to call a play for him, under those circumstances, in crunch time of what wound up becoming a 66-60 victory over the Baylor Bears.

That Self knew the right thing to do at the right time comes as no surprise. That he did it with this group…well, that's pretty special considering the jump they've made from January to February.

What could've been a rocky boat and the end of conference dominance a month ago has instead turned into Self's finest work at Kansas.

He's had more talented starting lineups and more capable depth. But in one of the toughest league races ever—in depth, experience and especially coaching—Self has nonetheless molded a group into one of his own. Tough, suddenly consistent, winners.

The latest win at Baylor puts the Jayhawks in perfect position to win at least a share of their 12th consecutive Big 12 Championship Saturday.

That's at home, in vaunted Allen Fieldhouse, with Texas Tech visiting Lawrence.

You like Kansas' odds, right? Probably as much as KU winning a title in general.

But go back to late January, and that wasn't the case.

At the time, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newellhe has since moved over to the Kansas City Starworked with Ken Pomeroy to figure out Kansas' odds to stay on top.

Kansas had lost at Oklahoma State on Jan. 19 and at Iowa State six days later. Those two setbacks came after a one-sided defeat at West Virginia on Jan. 12. Following those three consecutive road losses—when Kansas fizzled and hardly showed the toughness Self commands, Pomeroy's math said the Jayhawks were doomed.

As in, 90 percent doomed.

Kansas received 10 percent odds to either win or share the Big 12 title, while Iowa State was at 12 percent. (This was based on 10,000 simulations.)

West Virginia came in second place (30 percent) and Oklahoma, as expected, ruled at 70 percent.

The numbers are staggering. But maybe not as much as the personnel.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Perry Ellis ranks ninth in's latest national player of the year rankings. Not exactly a talkative type, Ellis has been fierce for most of the season, taking on more of an alpha-dog role that Self craves on his best teams.

Selden could've continued to be a mercurial player, especially as his college days went on. Had the NBA draft passed him by for good?

But he's found himself, shooting nearly 15 percentage points better inside the arc compared to last year and five percentage points better from the three-point line. A pair of Selden basketsthe dunk and a fancy scoopin the final 90 seconds won it in Waco, Texas, after he'd been just 1-of-5 from the field. He dripped toughness.

Yes, Self knows what makes this group tick. He's figured it out. It is players growing up, sure, but it is also Self molding them.

It's taken time. There was reason, once upon a time, to wonder if it would ever happen.

Cheick Diallo hasn't been as advertised. (How many freshmen really are?)

As Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore pointed out during the game, Svi Mykhailiuk has taken a leap recently. The 18-year-old Ukrainian, in his second year, could've been another player on the bench who rotted or sulked.

Instead, he's found his spot. It's maybe not quite what we expected at the beginning of the season, but he's finally getting somewhere.

The Landen Lucas discovery has been perhaps Self's greatest, at least since Jeff Withey in the 2012 Final Four run.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Heading into Tuesday's contest, the seldom-used junior was averaging 5.1 points. But since the Jayhawks started their eight-game win streak on Jan. 30, he's averaging nearly eight points and has racked up 10 or more rebounds on four occasions.

Lucas has been an inside force of sorts. He isn't a shot-blocker like Withey and isn't nearly an alpha dog like the Morris twins or Thomas Robinson (or other recent Kansas first-round draft picks). But he's valuable in his own way—in ways KU needs him.

And we haven't even begun discussing Brannen Greene—a maddening and talented outside shooter no one, including Self, can figure out.

Self is the one component, like any great coach, analytics can't properly measure.

"How many coaches have the guts to throw a lob with less than two minutes to go?" ESPN broadcaster Miles Simon asked aloud upon Selden's game-clinching dunk.

Kansas controlled the defensive glass in the second half against the nation's third-best offensive-rebounding team, as noted by stats. The Bears have been beaten at home this year, but not quite like this.

Players make plays. But sometimes a coach deserves his due.

Self may not get National Coach of the Year. Having Selden, Ellis and guard Frank Mason III on the roster may convince voters he has too much talent at his disposal. There are other great candidates out there, and Kansas won't be on any shortlists.

But doing his own best work, even when only compared to his own collection of hits, is a pretty solid runner-up award.