LAWRENCE — In year seven at Kansas, Bill Self probably thought he was done having to explain his defensive philosophy.
But, hey, the Jayhawks haven't been able to stop anybody during the last three games , and they have had some success in their brief attempts at a full-court press against Tennessee and Nebraska, so it was time once again Friday for Self to be asked whether he will press more often with this year's team.
"Our game plan every game — let me make sure I say this correctly — on dead-ball situations, is to full-court pressure," Self said. "That's our game plan. There's a difference between pressuring and pressing. We gambled two possessions against Nebraska, we got one steal, and everyone is giddy about our press. We're not a pressing team. We're a pressure team."
For the last three games, the Jayhawks have been a pressure team that hasn't pressured enough. Cornell, Tennessee and Nebraska all flirted with becoming the first team to shoot 50 percent or better against KU since the season opener in 2007-08, now 90 games ago. Self said that he didn't think the Cornhuskers were getting that many open looks, but over a three-game span, there is enough evidence to suggest a disturbing trend could be developing.
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"We were more turned up against Nebraska, but still yet we turn them over eight times," Self said. "Tennessee, we turned them over eight times. That's an area of concern."
After the loss at Tennessee, Self talked about his vision for this team, and it sounded a lot like his vision for every team he's coached: He wants the Jayhawks to be a great first-shot defensive team. For the season, they have been, allowing opponents to shoot 35.3 percent — good for second nationally. In Self's KU career, the lowest the Jayhawks have finished is eighth in the country.
"I feel like I'm defending probably the best defensive team in the country over the last seven years," Self said. "Our deal is to pressure and not give up easy baskets, and there's certainly ways to do both: trap in the half-court, trap the post, trap ball-screens, and we need to be more turned up to do what I want to do."
It's not that anyone is questioning Self's philosophy. It is beyond proven that Kansas can win big with consistent pressure and an occasional sprinkling of press. But with this current group struggling to get stops, it's possible that the Jayhawks could benefit from a new edge. At least, the players seemed to think so.
"We play it in practice a lot," KU guard Sherron Collins said. "We try to get after the red (second) team. In the game, it worked to our advantage. Marcus (Morris) made a great play (a steal for a dunk). We're trying to (press) more, and that's a good thing for us. I think we'll see more of it."
As the Jayhawks enter their Big 12 home opener against Texas Tech today, they are a team searching for an identity. One thing they have going for them that can't be disputed is high-quality depth. KU's players, especially ones hoping to earn more playing time like freshman Thomas Robinson, see a press as a way to help the team.
"We're an athletic team," Robinson said. "There's no point in being athletic if you're not gonna pressure."
Robinson was asked to clarify if he meant the full-court variety.
"Full-court," he said. "Hopefully, with this team and the bodies we have, we should."
Of course, that will be up to Self, and it is highly unlikely he would alter his vision for the Jayhawks this early in the season.
"You can't rely on making shots," Self said. "The identity we would hope we'd have is we make other teams play bad. If we're able to do that, you don't have to worry about making shots. I don't think we've made other teams play bad as consistently as some of our teams in the past have done."