This fall, Kansas coach Bill Self tried to stick to his guns. Sure, his team had talent, maybe more than any other team in the country from top to bottom. But he wasn't going to mess with his philosophy. Self teams play eight or nine guys in the regular rotation, four inside and four outside, give or take one.
Now, a month into the season, Self is starting to see things develop differently at the guard position. Go ahead and put Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry down for around 30 minutes per game. That leaves 60 minutes for the rest of KU's guards (20 for spelling Collins and Henry and 40 for whoever is playing the third guard slot).
Through eight games, nobody competing for the third guard role has separated himself from the pack. Sophomore Tyshawn Taylor has struggled, losing his starting job to freshman Elijah Johnson, who is still a very unknown commodity. Redshirt freshman C.J. Henry has been nursing a sore knee but is beginning to perk up and grab Self's attention. Junior Tyrel Reed knows his role but it's unclear where he fits in. And redshirt junior Brady Morningstar will be returning from his first-semester suspension next Saturday against Michigan.
"You know," Self said, "I never thought we would play six perimeter players. But the way it could potentially play out, I think we could. We might as well get those other guys playing shorter minutes and maybe try to create more pace defensively and play to our athletic ability. We are a deep team. We haven't really played to our depth yet."
Self may not have realized he would have this much talent, especially after redshirting guards Mario Little and Travis Releford. But Johnson has emerged more quickly than Self imagined he would, and C.J. Henry dazzled Self by scoring 11 points in 10 minutes on Wednesday night against Radford.
"We haven't seen anything close to what C.J. did the other night (in the game) in practice," Self said. "He was really good, and since the game, he's been really good in practice, too. He deserves an opportunity to see what he can do."
Self knows what to expect from Taylor, Morningstar and Reed, who all played significant minutes last season when KU didn't have as much depth.
Can four or five players splitting up 60 minutes actually work?
"The only way you can keep a team happy is if everybody sacrifices and says 'I wanna play my tail off,' " Self said, "and you can only play three or four minutes, and everybody's happy. We've had that happen with teams I've coached. That could be the case here."
Self said the main reason to go this route would be to apply pressure defense at all times. The players in the supporting guard role would have to be able to take pressure off Collins in that way and others.
"Just somebody that the other team has to respect and guard," C.J. Henry said. "You need to be a pretty good defender, if not the best defender on the floor, because you don't want Sherron chasing the other team's best player. Somebody to take care of the ball, too."
Collins appreciates all the help he can get. But he's more interested in having a guy alongside him that has a presence about him.
"Bring the energy," Collins said. "I think that's the whole thing with that spot, coming in and being able to change the game."
Self didn't want to pigeonhole the role of the third guard.
"Just be a player," Self said. "It's not like we want our three-hole hitter to do this, our clean-up man to do this. We want to get the best guys out there that give us the best chance to play well, and I do think Tyshawn is that guy."