I love Bill Self. I would not trade him for any coach in the country. Brad Stevens is making a pretty hard push, but even so, I like our chances with Bill. He's the perfect fit for our program and he took us to the promised land. But he has two things to figure out.1. How to prepare for a team playing with house money. The Bucknell loss stung, but that year had come to a pretty ugly close. It was only a matter of time. Bradley hurt, but at the same time, those freshman had never played a tournament game and they had never been the hunted. It made sense. Even last year, Northern Iowa, made some sense. Sherron had been struggling lately and we knew he had a bit of a hero complex. It was sad, it was angering, but it wasn't that surprising. Maybe I let my guard down with this group, but this was was simply stunning.
I'm not saying that we came out tight, or weren't up, or even ready for the game. I don't know and I don't care. What I do know is that this is becoming a huge problem. We have these four tough losses as pretty concrete evidence. What we also have is a struggle over Lehigh. A struggle over Boston U. And even a struggle over Davidson. Nothing comes easy this time of year, but at this point, shouldn't we (read: Bill) be a little more seasoned to these type of games. Every game during the regular season, Bill comes out, shakes hands and settles in on the bench. Yesterday, cameras caught him standing at the bench, swinging his arms back and forth. I about went through the ceiling seeing how nervous he was, particularly in front of the team.
I have no suggestions. I wish that I did. All I know is that it needs to get figured out, because when I watch Butler stay calm and collected as they're getting dominated by Florida, and then I watch us immediately panic when VCU hits a couple shots, I see a reflection of our coach. Last week, I told anybody that would listen that I would have rather played Louisville and Notre Dame/Purdue rather than go up against VCU, because I knew Self would have trouble getting our minds ready. Never have I wanted to be so wrong. Certainly I still thought we could beat these teams even if we weren't clicking, but that fact that I almost knew we wouldn't, is a problem. And it's one he needs to fix.
2. Conference or Tournament?
Given the choice to win one or the other, I don't think there's anyone out there that wouldn't choose the latter. Bill Self included. But for two years now, I feel like he's going against his own mantra of, "go out there and take it!" and it's leaning him in the wrong direction.
A year ago, Thomas Robinson wasn't ready to be a big time college basketball player. He was good for at least one bad turnover every game. Though fine on ball, he often lost his man and was slow with his rotations. He was also a huge boost of energy and physically overwhelming, particularly against mid-major type competition. But Self did not trust him and he did not need him (after all, he had Cole and the twins), and that's why he played 7 minutes a game. We won the conference easily and coasted into the #1 overall seed. All was well.
But I felt like we had not developed someone we were going to need. Maybe he doesn't make a difference against UNI (in all likelihood he wouldn't have), but who is to say he wouldn't have down the line. Other than Sherron, probably no one on the team better embodied, "go out and take it!" than Robinson, but we didn't trust him, so we didn't play him. Our biggest advantage in that game was physical, and aside from us waiting way too long to use that athletic advantage, we also left our best athlete in warmups. We were playing not to lose, instead of to win.
Fast forward to this year. Josh Selby comes to town. He shows flashes of his brilliance, but he clearly hasn't adapted to the college game. Unfortunately, he just wasn't quite ready to be the player we hoped he could be. That was evident from the beginning. He had the talent, but he didn't have the experience. We needed to get him as much run as possible, because reps were the only thing going to cure his ail. Unfortunately, we fell behind in the league race and we had games to win. Fortunately, Brady Morningstar stepped up and became not only the ball-mover we needed him to be, but a scorer too. All of a sudden, we didn't need Josh Selby.
On January 25th, in Boulder, Selby played perhaps his best league game of the year. He scored 17 points, dished five assists, grabbed 5 boards, added a steal and a turnover. But when push came to shove, he was nowhere to be found. Right then and there, I thought, if Bill doesn't trust him to help us against Colorado as we head intro February, when is he going to trust him? Unfortunately, we may not have needed Selby to win the league, but we were going to need him down the line. Some day, the shots weren't going to fall, and we were going to need a guy that could force the issue and create offense. I knew this. Bill knew this. We all knew this. And that's what makes it so strange. He kept running him out there for about 10 minutes a game, because he knew he was going to need him. But as you, me and Bill know, token reps don't get a player (and freshman) like Selby ready. He needed to go through growing pains with the ball in his hands (see: Chalmers 2006), not floating in and out of games around the 3 point line.
This was a pretty special season and a 7th consecutive Big XII title is ridiculously impressive. So I ask you, would you give up that title to have gone 12-4 in the league, if it meant we were giving Selby 25 minutes a night? I think I would have. Because he was the missing piece. Even without him, we could beat anybody. We were that good. But he could have made us better, and I think we sacrificed his development in order to win a league title. We had the best front line in the country, but it's a guard's game, and yesterday that caught up to us.
Rock Chalk. Thoughts welcomed.