LAWRENCE (AP) — The biggest problem facing Kansas coach Bill Self these days may be precisely the opposite problem faced by every other college basketball coach in the country.
He has too much depth.
OK, so it’s not really a problem. More like a challenge. Self acknowledges he always prefers to have an abundance of talented players at his disposal. It sure beats looking down an empty bench in the late minutes of a crucial game and throwing his hands up in exasperation.
But as the second-ranked Jayhawks grind toward the start of Big 12 play, Self is also reaching a point where he must decide which of his dozen-plus guys give him the best chance of winning.
“What I’m as excited about as anything is for me to figure out how to play and how to sub, because to be candid with you, it varies game to game,” Self explained. “Because guys can get in better rhythm and I can help them to do that going forward.”
But at the same time, Self said, “it’s kind of frustrating not knowing what to do.”
There have been games this season when Kansas (8-1) has spread minutes evenly among 10 or more guys, each one producing. Then there have been games like Saturday night, when the starters were playing so well that Self left them in almost the entire second half of an 82-67 victory over Oregon State.
Frank Mason III wound up playing 38 minutes. Wayne Selden played 36. Devonte Graham logged 35. Perry Ellis played 31. And the fifth spot was shared by Hunter Mickelson and Carlton Bragg, with nobody else on that uber-deep roster playing more than seven minutes.
Not even Cheick Diallo, a potential NBA lottery pick.
Yes, the starters played great, and that’s a big reason why Self insisted that he left the same group in during the comeback win. But just as importantly, the second-team guys played poorly.
“I think he was just happy with how we played the second half, especially us three,” said Graham, flanked by Mason and Selden. “We just kept the same energy from start to finish. We were happy the way we pressure the ball and still had energy to make plays on offense.”
In doing so, they proved that depth sometimes may be overrated.
“I don’t care how it happens as long as we win,” said Selden, the team’s leading scorer, who poured in 22 points against the Beavers. “If we’re out there a whole half, so be it.”
But playing an entire half in December is one thing. Doing it every night during the brutal, round-robin schedule of the Big 12 is another entirely. And that’s why Self may have been fine playing his starters big minutes against Oregon State, but acknowledged in the next breath that he needs to settle on a rotation before conference play begins with No. 16 Baylor on Jan. 2.
That job is becoming more difficult by the day.
Self didn’t have Diallo at his disposal to start the season because the 6-foot-9 forward from Mali was having his eligibility questioned by the NCAA. Then, 3-point specialist Brannen Greene was suspended five games for violating team rules. And when both finally got onto the court, forwards Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor came down with minor injuries that kept them out.
Soon, everybody could be eligible and healthy. And that presents a quandary.
“Right now I’d like to see some separation between our bigs, and who gets in,” Self said, “because it’s hard if you want to give guys some minutes and they’re all equal.”
If nobody separates themselves? Well, Self sounds quite content to go with a much shorter bench than even he anticipated, even if it means leaving some high-profile prospects sitting there.
“We went to the national championship game (in 2012) and played seven guys at the most, and the only time we played an eighth was if there was serious foul trouble,” Self said, before adding the 2008 title team consisted of seven main guys with Cole Aldrich playing only occasionally.
Regardless, time is slipping by for Self to figure it out.
The Jayhawks are off this week for finals before facing Montana on Saturday. They visit San Diego State next week and play UC-Irvine on Dec. 29 in their final non-conference game.
Then, they begin pursuit of their 12th consecutive Big 12 championship.
“The reality is,” Self said, “we’ve got to get better when given an opportunity.”