Coach Bill Self looks at the Kansas bench after a play in Allen Fieldhouse

Coach Bill Self looks at the bench after a play. Kansas won 75-63 to ETSU Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Before the season started, Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self said he thought this year’s team could be special on the defensive end due to its length and athleticism. But, at Thursday’s media availability, he pointed out some glaring issues holding the team back.

“I think this team has potential to be tough, physical and mentally tough team,” Self said. “It’s hard to be really good if you don’t communicate, and I think we are bad communicators.”

In years past, Kansas’ defense has been anchored by a strong verbal communicator. Self mentioned former Jayhawks Kevin Young and Landon Lucas as two guys who were “unbelievable” at that. He said right now the team is lacking a verbal leader on that side of the floor.

Self said the team’s lack of communication is particularly apparent when defending ball screens.

“This is a problem with a lot of teams, but even when we talk in practice, we may tell someone the screen is coming, but we’re telling too late, so we can’t adjust our feet,” he said.

One thing the team has been working on in practice, Self said, is help defense. He said this stems “helping the helper” and even “helping the helper’s helper.”

“That’s one thing I was always so impressed with good defensive teams. If one guy’s beat and a guy helps, you got to cover for his man, but when you cover for his man, that leaves your man open, and someone’s got to cover for you,” he said. “When you have confidence that you will always have help behind you, I think that allows teams to become good defensively as well.”

Self said another kink in Kansas’ defense has been perimeter defense. While he said the team has done better than years past thus far, it isn’t where he wants it to be yet. The way to improve this starts with off-ball defense.

“[I’m] trying to get our guys to play higher on the floor when their man doesn’t have the ball,” he said. “And, I’m not saying total denial — I’m not saying that, but just [enough] where it forces them to catch [the ball] maybe a couple feet further.”

Against Dayton, Kansas gave up 16 threes and only managed to hit four. Self said if the Jayhawks improve their 3-point shooting, it would help pay dividends. To this point, the team has only surpassed four made threes in three of the its seven games, but Self said he thinks the team should be able to net about seven per game.

“Two of the best games we’ve played we haven’t shot the ball well at all,” he said. “We need to, obviously, become more consistent beyond the arc. We can’t be outscored by 36 points [from three] consistently and have a chance to win.”

Self said one of Kansas’ goals is to get better at running teams off of the 3-point line, forcing them to settle twos. If the team can do effectively, it would help the Jayhawks take advantage of the size advantage they will have against the majority of teams in college basketball.

“I think based on what I’ve seen so far is if we can make teams play inside the arc, and we play inside the arc, then our chances are probably pretty good just because we got a big body, and we got guys who can drive a little bit,” he said.