Bill Self hasn’t faced many traits like this in his 20 seasons at Kansas. Yet the manager didn’t seem angry or even despondent during a rare three-game losing streak.
Self knows this isn’t the same Jayhawks team that won the national championship last season.
Kansas (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) has gone from having one of the most experienced rosters in the nation to a much younger group with no proven presence in the seat in an incumbent Big 12 Conference that could be better than ever.
“We don’t have as much margin for error as we’ve had in years past and that’s okay,” Self said. “But (when) you don’t have the same margin of error and the other teams in the league are much better, it becomes difficult.”
The ninth-ranked Jayhawks have lost three straight for only the fourth time under Self. Each loss was to a ranked conference opponent, two on the road. The latter was 75-69 at Baylor on Monday night in a matchup of the past two national champions, the fifth straight win for the 17th-ranked Bears.
“I’ll be honest with you, I have to take a different approach and understand that it’s a marathon,” Self said. “It’s not an immediate reaction, because you can react immediately in this league and at some point nine other teams will face exactly the same thing.”
Kansas is still full of talent.
Junior forward Jalen Wilson leads the Big 12 with 21.4 points per game and is second in rebounds with 8.6. While freshman Gradey Dick (14.9 ppg) is the league’s leading 3-point shooter with 43.7%, and Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr. is averaging 7.3 rebounds. Dajuan Harris Jr. is a top assist man with 6.5 per game despite his long shooting struggles.
But these Jayhawks are different than most of Self’s top teams in the past who have played through the post with big boys like David McCormack, Jeff Withy, Thomas Robinson or Udoka Azubuike.
McCormack was part of last year’s title team, along with first-round NBA draft picks Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. The Jayhawks also lost ballhandler Remy Martin and veteran sharpshooter Jalen Coleman-Lands.
Kansas plays its SEC/Big 12 Challenge game on Saturday at Kentucky (14-6), who won 80-62 at Allen Fieldhouse last season. The Jayhawks will be looking to avoid a first four-game losing streak since 1988-89, their first season under head coach Roy Williams.
After heading to Rupp Arena to face Coach John Calipari’s struggling Wildcats, the Jayhawks are back in conference play against fifth-ranked Kansas State. They then open the second half of their Big 12 schedule at No. 12 Iowa State before hosting No. 10 Texas.
Their current slide began with an 83-82 overtime loss last week at K-State, who had a 14-point lead midway through the first half. TCU, now in 11th place, hit 13 of its first 15 shots and went on a 19-0 run in an 83-60 win on Saturday, the second-worst home loss in the Self era.
“Our league is so good,” Self said. “It will be hard work.”
The Jayhawks trailed by as many as 13 midway through the first half in Baylor. They took their only lead when Wilson hit a 3-pointer with 15½ minutes left, but the Bears responded with a 12-3 run.
“The way K-State played the first 10 minutes, the way TCU played the first 10 minutes and the way Baylor played the first 10 minutes, if we played really well, we would have fallen behind.” Self said, before using a wrestling analogy prompted by seeing two former Oklahoma State classmates in the postgame talk room at Baylor.
Brad Livingstone was a senior at Oklahoma State during the 1981-82 season when Self was a freshman for the Cowboys. Livingstone’s wife, Baylor president Linda Livingstone, also played basketball for the school in Stillwater, where wrestling is big.
“When you’re on top and can buy time in the saddle, it takes twice as much energy as you’re the short man in wrestling. … Basketball is exactly like that too,” Self said. “When you’re back, it takes more energy, everything is amplified, it takes more effort. or death.
AP college basketball: ee