Kansas basketball's Bill Self reiterates sky isn’t falling for Jayhawks as Kentucky matchup nears

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles and waves to fans as he exits the court to Allen Fieldhouse after beating Indiana earlier this season in December.
Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles and waves to fans as he exits the court to Allen Fieldhouse after beating Indiana earlier this season in December.

LAWRENCE — Bill Self reiterated Thursday that the sky isn’t falling for Kansas men’s basketball, as the Jayhawks continued to prepare for a Saturday matchup on the road against Kentucky.

Yes, No. 9 Kansas is heading into the game on a three-game slide. Self, the Jayhawks’ head coach, hasn’t often experienced a losing streak like that since he took over the program ahead of the 2003-04 season. But Self once again pointed to how talented the teams are that they’re going up against, and noted he doesn’t think the Big 12 Conference has ever — during his time in Lawrence — had so many teams that could beat any team in the country on any given night.

“We’ve got six teams that’s been proven, over time, that are all capable of doing that,” Self said. “… You don’t like it when you’re going through it, but it’s something that — the majority of the people in our position will probably have to deal with something like this.”

Kansas (16-4, 5-3 in Big 12) had Tuesday off before a short practice Wednesday, when redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson said they went over some defensive coverages and got some shots up. Practices Thursday and Friday, Self said, would follow.

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Here are five things to think about ahead of tip-off against Kentucky (14-6, 5-3 in Southeastern Conference):

Kansas gets another chance at stopping Oscar Tshiebwe

Last season, when Kentucky and Kansas matched up, Oscar Tshiebwe was a key reason why the Wildcats were able to rout the Jayhawks in Lawrence. Tshiebwe finished with a 17-point and 14-rebound double-double. Now a senior forward, Tshiebwe is every bit of a threat now as he was then and Self referred to him as the best big-man in the nation.

Self wants to slow Tshiebwe down and limit his quality touches, while not doing so at the risk of allowing his teammates to have big games. Wilson said something they learned from last season was they have to bring the physicality to Tshiebwe, so Tshiebwe doesn’t get too comfortable. And if Kansas succeeds, it’ll do so with less size and experience among its bigs than it had available last season.

Outside of Oscar Tshiebwe, here’s what Bill Self is thinking about with Kentucky

Self’s mind first goes to Tshiebwe, but it doesn’t stop there. Self considers the Wildcats to be a much different team than they were even a month ago. He noted Kentucky can shoot the ball much better now, and will likely have at least three guys on the floor who are capable of hitting 3s at all times.

Self considers Wildcats head coach John Calipari’s teams to be ones that always make you beat them. Self doesn’t think Kentucky is ever going to help an opponent win the game. And he doesn’t see that changing.

Bill Self doesn’t think the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is coming at the best time

Self likes the SEC/Big 12 Challenge because of what it can do for those conferences. The day of the game, he thinks they have the attention of the nation. But considering the spot on the calendar it occupies, from a playing and coaching standpoint, he doesn’t think it could come at a worse time.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to win. Of course, Self mentioned, they do. But Self guaranteed that both his side and Kentucky feel that they don’t want anything to happen Saturday that would negatively affect what happens when they return to conference play in their respective leagues.

Kevin McCullar Jr. is on a watch list for a national honor

For the second-straight season, Jayhawks redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. is on the watch list for the Naismith defensive player of the year award. McCullar, who transferred in from Texas Tech ahead of this season, has been a valuable addition for Kansas as it attempts to make another run at a national title. Alongside redshirt junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr., McCullar gives the Jayhawks one of the better defensive duos in the Big 12.

Kansas saw one of its players, Marcus Garrett, win the award in 2020. Garrett, who’s since embarked on his professional career, is often praised by Self for his ability on that end of the floor. And, in time, McCullar could be one of those former players Self routinely refers back to.

Bill Self addresses how healthy Kyle Cuffe Jr., Cam Martin and MJ Rice are

Redshirt freshman guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. and super-senior forward Cam Martin have each missed significant time this season due to injury, and it’s still unclear when either will return. However, Self did say Cuffe has been practicing in a limited capacity and Martin practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday. With Martin, though, Self doesn’t foresee the big-man being full-speed again for a while.

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Self also said there was nothing that happened Wednesday that would lead him to believe freshman guard MJ Rice wouldn’t be able to participate. Rice has played the past two games, after not appearing in most of the previous contests this month while dealing with an injury himself. And when it comes to the team’s rotation, he’d be higher up on it than both Cuffe and Martin.

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. He is the National Sports Media Association’s sportswriter of the year for the state of Kansas for 2022. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Bill Self says sky isn’t falling for Kansas as Kentucky matchup nears