KU coach Bill Self, Jayhawks still answering this question on defense as season nears

Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self felt KU’s 82-75 loss to Illinois in the Maui Relief exhibition game provided an opportunity to learn about his team.

“The Illinois scrimmage did exactly what it was designed to do,” Self said Tuesday. “And what I thought it would do — expose us on some different things. ... There are some things we definitely need to do to be better.”

One of those things is improving KU’s defense, across the board. The Illini shot 44.6% from the floor but were 11 of 27 (40.7%) from 3-point range.

Last season, the Jayhawks ranked No. 30 in the nation in opponent 3-point percentage (31%).

The Jayhawks will have a chance to redeem themselves in another exhibition game, this time against Fort Hays State on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I mean, team defense has obviously got to be better, as coach Self explained after the game,” KU guard Nick Timberlake said. “I feel like that will be a main key, a main focus for us in practice as we go forward.”

Indeed, KU’s defense is still a work in progress, in several ways.

“First of all, we have to decide how we want to play,” Self said. “I don’t think we’ve totally decided how we want to play based on how we think people will attack us and what our strengths are. There’s been times many years that (we) will change how we guard stuff a third through the season or two-thirds through the season.

“We’re not into the season and we know that we’ve eliminated some ways that we think that we would try to guard. So we’ve got to tighten stuff up.”

That scheme may also change depending on the defensive strengths — or weaknesses — of KU’s big man.

Throughout the Illinois exhibition, KU center Hunter Dickinson often seemed either out of position or a step slow rotating. However, as Self explained, those lapses may not have been entirely on the transfer big man.

“A lot of it isn’t Hunter. A lot of it is our guards,” Self said. “Our guards can make big guys look really bad if in fact they don’t do what they can do to eliminate Hunter’s responsibilities or the five-man’s responsibilities on how to guard ball screens and stuff like that. Those are areas we can definitely get better at.”