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Self wants Selden, KU to hit the gas on defense

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at 8:11 p.m.

Towson at No. 2 Kansas

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

Records: TU 3-1, KU 3-0

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: Cox 22

PTowsonHt.Yr.Pt.Rb.
FT. Parker-Rivera6-7So.3.54.5
FJerelle Benimon6-8Sr.17.511.8
FMarcus Damas6-7Sr.10.84.5
GMike Burwell6-5Sr.9.06.3
G Jerome Hairston6-3So.6.31.0
Kansas
FTarik Black6-9Sr.3.03.0
FPerry Ellis6-8 So.19.08.0
GAndrew Wiggins6-8 Fr.17.06.0
GWayne Selden6-5Fr.10.03.0
GNaadir Tharpe5-11Jr.6.0x-7.5

x-assists

TOWSON: Two years ago, Towson finished 1-31 in the first season under coach Pat Skerry. Last season, Skerry guided the Tigers to an 18-13 finish, setting a Division I record for the best one-season turnaround. Towson is 3-1 this season with a victory over Temple and a loss at Villanova. Benimon, a Georgetown transfer, averaged 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds last season. Kansas coach Bill Self likened Benimon to former Iowa State star Royce White. Towson hasn’t faced an opponent ranked No. 1 or No. 2 since losing 77-68 to No. 1 Oklahoma in the 1990 NCAA Tournament.

KANSAS: Freshman guard Frank Mason, a native of Petersburg, Va., committed to Towson out of high school before electing to attend a prep school for a year. He is averaging 9.0 points off the bench in three games. (“He was definitely overlooked at times,” Selden said.) Tarik Black has just nine points and nine fouls in three games, but Self said Black would be back in the starting lineup against Towson. The other option would have been freshman Joel Embiid, who is coming off a double-double, but Self would like to get Black going.

— For weeks, Kansas freshman Wayne Selden has been something like the Jayhawks’ version of a minivan. Reliable, strong, consistent … and he’ll definitely get you from Point A to Point B.

“You need a guy like that,” KU sophomore Andrew White III said, “that can kind of be the rock.”

But while Kansas coach Bill Self lauds the 6-foot-5 Selden for his consistency, he’d prefer that he would let his natural horsepower come out. Minivans can provide some comfort, but there’s nothing quite like letting a muscle car loose on the open road. The same goes, Self says, for the rest of the Jayhawks.

“The one thing I wish we were a little bit better at right now is playing to our athletic ability,” Self said. “And I think we can all do a better job of that.”

So Selden is not the only player whom Self has in mind. Freshman swingman Andrew Wiggins will be the most athletic player in every building he steps in this season, and No. 2 Kansas features a handful of players who can guard harder, attack more, and generally operate in a higher gear.

“When you do those things and you beat people off the bounce and you’re forcing help, everything just looks better,” Self said.

It certainly hasn’t been a slow start for Selden, a Boston native who earned McDonald’s All-American honors at Tilton (N.H.) Prep last season. Selden, a bullish 230-pound combo guard, is averaging 10.0 points and 4.3 assists per game entering Friday’s matchup with Towson at Allen Fieldhouse. He had 15 points in 37 minutes in a victory against Duke, and despite his age, he has no issues taking on a leadership role.

“I feel like I should be a vocal leader,” Selden said. “It just comes natural.”

But as the season progresses, Self would like to see Selden be a little less selective on offense, a little more aggressive on defense. Some of that, Self says, will come with time.

“You get in a game, it’s a little bit different,” Self said. “The pressure’s a little different. And it doesn’t go quite as scripted. And these guys are just trying to figure out how to play out of things … when it doesn’t go exactly the way it’s scripted.”

During the last week, Self’s checklist for Selden and KU has been pretty simple:

“Being more active,” Selden said. “Playing higher on the floor. And basically just playing with reckless abandon.”

In three games, Kansas has recorded just 21 steals while allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the floor. The Jayhawks are shooting a scorching 55.7 percent from the field, which has covered up for some of the defensive issues. But that’s not quite how Self would like to play.

“Our shooting percentages are better than they’ve ever been so far,” Self said. “Haven’t we shot about 50 percent every game? And we don’t do that. We just make sure other teams can’t score, and since we can’t do that anymore, I guess we’ve got to make sure we score.”

The last part of that, of course, was a little bit of dry wit. The KU staff, Self says, has been working for weeks to shore up the defensive lapses and force more turnovers. Self would like to see Selden and Wiggins be more active in opponents’ passing lanes, forcing turnovers and generating more chances to score in transition. The emphasis will continue as Kansas prepares for its trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas next week.

“It’s something we just thought of,” Self joked. “We’ve been trying to get (more steals) going for two months now. And we’re trying to do a few things differently to try to promote that atmosphere. But it’s almost like we play defensive when we’re on defense.

“Basketball is a game of comfort zones, and we need to operate in ours and get our opponent out of theirs.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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