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Did Bill Self Fix Cliff Alexander?

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Just two days after receiving harsh criticism and limited minutes from Bill Self, Cliff Alexander turned in a huge performance against Oklahoma

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It's not often Kansas fans criticize Bill Self, and with good reason. Self, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the country, has brought Kansas ten straight Big 12 titles and a National Championship. He's generally regarded as a hero in Lawrence. Though Kansas sits at 15-3 this season (4-1 in Big 12 play), there have been some stressful games and frustrating trends to stomach. Perhaps none more frustrating than the case of Cliff Alexander.

Complaints about the heralded freshman's playing time came to a peak after KU's loss to Iowa State Saturday, in which the high-profile big man sat most of the second half and played just 14 minutes total (about four minutes under his season average). How could Self sit Alexander while giving so many minutes to Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor? Lucas and Traylor combined for 34 minutes, 0 points, 0-5 shooting, 0 free throw attempts, 2 rebounds, 1 block and 3 turnovers. In 14 minutes, Alexander was able to score 6 off 3-3 shooting, with 6 rebounds and only 1 turnover. After the game, Bill Self made some comments about Cliff Alexander's "motor" not being where it needed to be to get onto the court. What?

Fast forward to Big Monday. Cliff Alexander was able to log 23 minutes, scoring 13 points on 4-7 shooting with 7 attempted free throws. He grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds, a block, and was credited with 3 assists and 2 turnovers. The general feeling from fans seems to be that Bill Self has worked his magic once again, inspiring the freshman to finally start playing to his full potential. However, there's definitely a feeling that what Alexander did Monday is what he's been doing all year - he just hasn't been given the minutes to shine. This has lead to continued criticism of Bill Self's handling of his post rotation.

With that in mind, I decided to look at Monday's numbers vs the rest of the season. Too many times "per game" numbers are thought of as the go-to stats when evaluating players, but those would be useless for this exercise. Because Cliff played about 5 minutes more than his season average, evaluating his performance based on per game production would tell us nothing. To evaluate how Alexander plays on a per minute basis while he's in the game, I pulled his "per 40" numbers, which are his season averages per 40 minutes played, and expanded his numbers from Monday to reflect what he would do if he were to play 40 minutes at that same level of production. I also pulled some minutes-neutral numbers like offensive rating and FG%. Here's what I came up with:

Stats Season per 40 Monday per 40
Points 18 23
Off. Rebounds 5 12
Def. Rebounds 8 10
Total Rebounds 13 22
FGM/FGA 6/11 7/12
FTM/FTA 6/8 9/12
FG% 57.3% 57.1%
Blocks 3 2
Steals 0 0
Assists 1 5
oRtg 118.9 133
TOs 2 3

Now, there's no way to say through one game that Cliff Alexander has now realized his potential, and will continue to do what he did Monday from here on out (he won't). There's also certainly no way to say why he exploded the way he did against Oklahoma. Bill Self's motivation likely had something to do with it, but Oklahoma's lack of size (144th in effective height) and medicore rebounding likely did too. One thing we can say for certain though, is that Monday's numbers are not what he's been doing all along, putting to rest the idea that Bill Self failed to notice that Alexander has offered this kind of production all year. Should he have been playing more over Traylor and Lucas? That's a different question (and my answer is yes, though that's a different post).