Kansas Basketball: Time for Bill Self to Play Small Ball


“Small ball” is a phrase that Bill Self has often spoke about but rarely used during his time at Kansas. This year Self has a perfect roster to finally pull the trigger and play small.

“Small ball” is the newest craze that has taken over the NBA. The league’s two best teams — The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors — both relied heavily on this strategy last season.

The emergence of the Warriors with Draymond Green at power forward (and often times center) has also helped this strategy trickle down major college basketball programs.

Playing small allows a team to have more ball handling and shooting on the floor which makes them tougher to guard. Presumably, whoever is playing power forward in a small lineup is a better shooter and playmaker than the “normal” power forward.

Who is the Jayhawks’ “small ball” power forward?

In order for small ball to truly be a plus it has to work defensively if the other team stays big. This year, Self has that guy in Josh Jackson who can do everything you need offensively from a stretch four and still guard other teams’ power forward.

"“Jackson impresses the most guarding true big men, though. He is scrappy enough to front them in the post, strong enough to hold ground when he can’t prevent a post entry and tough enough to box them out on the glass. The United States Junior National Team often played him as a power forward at the 2015 FIBA World Championships U19 and Prolific Prep had no issue playing him at center at times. And Jackson has proven his skills as a big man defender against high profile competition too; successfully fronting seven-footers Thon Maker in a game Prolific Prep visited the Athlete Institute in Canada and DeAndre Ayton at the Nike Hoop Summit, boxing out 6-10, 225-pounder Konstantinos Mitoglou in the semifinal of the Worlds U19 against Greece and holding ground in the post against Marko Arapovic in the title game of that tournament.” via upsidemotor"

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Jackson proved on the AAU circuit that he can more than hold his own on defense against bigger power forwards. If he can prove it again at Kansas it seems to make all of the sense in the world to try him at power forward. Especially if he spends most of his time playing next to Landen Lucas, who is an elite defensive rebounder.

He would be an absolute nightmare for opposing power forwards to guard off the dribble. If he’s surrounded by three shooters spacing the floor, that’s either going to be a lot of open three-pointers for the Jayhawks or a lot of open driving lanes for Jackson.

Does it make sense with the roster?

Unless Carlton Bragg makes a huge jump this year (which is possible), the Jayhawks’ three best players will be Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Jackson.

More importantly, their two best bench players are also guards.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk should be one of the best bench players in the country and Self said that LaGerald Vick is “as improved as any player on our team.”

For as many answers as the backcourt has, the front court has just as many questions. Lucas and Bragg absolutely deserve to play 25-30 minutes a game. After those two there’s a lot of uncertainty.

Self has had nothing but praise for Udoka Azubuike this offseason but Azubuike doesn’t turn 17 until September. So it will likely take him some time to adapt to college basketball.

Even if Azubuike earns a lot of minutes, he will play exclusively at center meaning there are still a lot of minutes available behind Bragg at power forward.

Mitch Lightfoot is a nice player, but he seems more like a three or four year guy that will have to wait his turn. That leaves Dwight Coleby.

It’s relatively unknown how good the junior transfer will be. But we do know is he still isn’t completely healthy after tearing his ACL last fall.

"“We’re hoping when he comes back he’s full-go,” Self said. “We still haven’t seen Dwight at full speed. He has to continue to work at it in rehab but also has to get some confidence to go on it (knee). He’s not behind, but if he doesn’t start out full speed he could get behind. I am hopeful that’s not the case.” via Kansas City Star"


Since Jackson is well equipped to play power forward in college, the decision of whether or not to small ball boils down to one question. When Bragg is off the court, would you rather see Mykhailiuk and Vick get playing time or take your chances with one of Coleby or Lightfoot?

I know my preference, and I think this may be the year we finally see Self play a lot of “small ball” with perhaps the best set of guards in the nation.