LAWRENCE — It is early December, and already the Kansas Jayhawks can't help but compare themselves to the other top teams from around the country.
Of course, there's the eye test — watching games and imagining how they might measure up if they were matched up in a bracket come March.
And then there's the practical examination — KU leads the nation in field goal percentage at 57 percent and assists per game at 20.9.
"We talk about that a lot," KU guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "We've got so many different guys that can score or just make shots. It's hard to stop us, you know."
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The Jayhawks are 8-0 and ranked No. 4 entering today's Kansas City showcase against Colorado State at the Sprint Center, and with suspended freshman guard Josh Selby making his debut a week from today, a lot of people are talking about just how good this team can be. Most of that chatter, however, revolves around scoring and shooting and things that generally make KU coach Bill Self nervous.
"I'm not happy with everything," Self said. "Everyone sees strengths in how you do things offensively. Defensively, we're behind. We gotta get better. Our guys understand that. We just gotta commit to do that. We're in the vast majority of teams across America that haven't quite found themselves just yet."
Self's KU teams have prided themselves on being far apart from the vast majority defensively, but right now, the Jayhawks are in the middle of the pack of their own conference. Kansas is sixth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 37.5 percent — a number that could be higher had opponents not shot an abominable 24.4 percent from three-point range.
"I don't think that defensively we play to our strengths," Self said. "We don't play to our speed, we don't play to our quickness in some areas."
Self suspects that, because this group is scoring so easily on the other end, the Jayhawks are allowing themselves to relax defensively. What if today against Colorado State — which also shoots a high percentage of 53 percent — is the day that KU can't throw it in the ocean offensively? Self knows that day will come.
"That's one of the main things Coach is worried about right now," Taylor said. "Because we're scoring so good and making so many shots that, when we're not, are we gonna be able to tune in defensively? I don't know, man. We're just gonna have to see. I think we'll be able to. When we're on the same page defensively, it's hard to break us down."
Self has been especially critical of the defense of his post players, saying that if he was an opposing coach he'd force them to guard every trip down the floor. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise with the Jayhawks learning how to play without Cole Aldrich, who finished his career five blocks shy of Greg Ostertag's KU record (258) in just three seasons.
KU forward Marcus Morris seems to have gotten the message.
"Just making it harder for our guy to catch the ball and catch it further out than in the paint," Morris said. "Any guy that catches the ball in the paint, he's gonna score."
The Jayhawks will be more focused on their defense in the coming weeks, but they still expect to find easy offense. One quality of this year's team is that all five starters have the ability to connect from long range.
"Spacing is so important in being able to spread and stretch the defense," Self said. "I think that is one of the biggest advantages we have when you have to guard all five guys."