As a newly minted member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Bill Self should be expected to treat his fellow Big 12 coaches whenever they gather to sample adult beverages.
That question/scenario was put to West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, who will eventually join Self in Springfield enshrinement. Huggins smirked at the thought of Bill Self buying a round or two.
“You know, it’s funny,” Huggs said, “but Self and (Kentucky coach John) Calipari always say they’re buying but at the end of the night they’ve disappeared.”
Of this you can be sure of: Bill Self is liked by his peers, especially in the Big 12. Which is surprising considering that during the end-of-game handshakes, Self is almost always the one being congratulated for a victory. He wins – a lot – and the other coaches still like him.
This will be Bill Self’s 15th season at Kansas. The Jayhawks have won the last 13 Big 12 regular-season championships, matching a league title streak set by UCLA and John Wooden. While comparing eras is impossible, consider that when the Bruins and The Wizard were winning 13 consecutive Pac-Eight crowns, they were not only the dominant program in the country, they played a 14-game schedule. Self’s teams have slogged through 16- and 18-game slates.
Kansas is favored to surpass UCLA this season by winning its 14th consecutive Big 12 title. The Jayhawks again have a talented roster that should make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But being picked to finish on top of the league standings is somewhat absurd considering KU must replace the consensus national player of the year (point guard Frank Mason) and the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft (Josh Jackson).
“That’s a lot to replace, but somehow people are so optimistic always that we should always be better,” he said during Big 12 media day last month.
Self likes to call it “Kansas Math.” In his first season in Lawrence replacing Roy Williams, he toured the state and heard the Rock Chalk fans bubbling with excitement about how good Self’s first team would be. In Williams’ final season, Kansas lost in the national championship game with two senior All-Americans (Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich).
The Jayhawks reached the regional final that season which was the last season they didn’t finish on top of the Big 12 standings. Self removed his name from the “Best Coach To Have Never Won A National Title” list in 2008 and Kansas lost to Kentucky in the 2012 title game. There has been some grousing about early NCAA exits and regional final losses (three of those in the last seven seasons) but his credentials as a hall of famer are not in dispute.
Kansas Math? How about Self Stats?
- At Kansas, Self has won more regular-season league titles (13) than has home losses (10) in Allen Fieldhouse.
- In his last 19 seasons as a coach (Tulsa and Illinois prior to Kansas), Self’s teams have won 17 conference titles. The other two seasons, his team finished second.
- Self’s record in 14 Big 12 seasons is 195-41, a winning percentage of .826. Over those 14 seasons, the other Big 12 teams (including schools that have departed and joined the league) have employed 41 coaches. They’ve compiled a .466 winning percentage in the league.
Those and other impressive statistics have been compiled by Kansas teams that have been diverse in their makeup. Self has proven to be a master manipulator when it comes to lineups and styles of play.
The national championship team had a perfect mix of a three-guard backcourt, a potent wing scorer and a rotation of big men. The team that lost to Kentucky was built on defense and grit and lacked offensive firepower. Self has long been a proponent of a double post offense but of late he has had to adjust to more of a four-out, one-in look.
Bill Self also has had to manage thin rosters. Last season when freshman center Udoka Azubuike was lost for the season in late December, Kansas was left with just Landen Lucas as a reliable post player. Juggling playing time and managing foul trouble was a constant during the 18-game league schedule but the Jayhawks finished 16-2, matching their best record in the round-robin format.
Your Veteran Scribe was on hand for Kansas’ Big 12 opener last season in Fort Worth. The Jayhawks avoided an upset by TCU, winning 86-80. With the thin roster and the depth of the Big 12, YVS was convinced last year would be the year the streak would end and wrote that thesis on at least two occasions. You can Google it.
Five times in the last eight seasons the Big 12 has finished first or second in the RPI. Last season the average margin of victory in league games was eight points. It’s Big Boy Basketball.
“That’s the hard part about this league: There is no bottom,” Huggins said. “There really isn’t a bottom. I tell everybody this: It’s the hardest league I’ve ever coached in. Everybody says, ‘Well, what about the Big East?’ And the Big East was really, really good one through, whatever it was, nine or 10. The other six [teams] weren’t very good.”
Kansas has proven itself as the best in the Big 12 for the last 13 seasons. This year’s team has nine scholarship players and Azubuike is the only post player with size. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham moves from being second fiddle to Mason’s replacement. Billy Preston, a 6-foot-10 forward, is the prize freshman in the recruiting class. Malik Newman, who sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi State, is a high-volume scorer who should team well with Graham.
Jayhawks fans and their Kansas Math believe their team is overdue for a Final Four trip. With this season’s Ultimate Weekend in San Antonio, site of the ’08 national championship, the nostalgia adds to the pressure. But there’s no need to mention the expectation of No. 14.
“I won’t need to mention it because everybody else does,” Self says. “Everybody who has played here since (2005) doesn’t know anything but winning the league. These guys don’t want to be the ones to end it.”