KANSAS CITY — The Kansas men’s basketball season opener isn’t that far off.
The Jayhawks have an exhibition Nov. 3 at home against Pittsburg State. Soon after is the Nov. 7 season opener at home against Omaha. And considering there’s Duke on Nov. 15 in the Champions Classic, not to mention the Battle 4 Atlantis later that month, Kansas will face tests early and often this season.
So, on Wednesday, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self took some time to preview the upcoming campaign at the Big 12 Conference’s media days for basketball. He discussed both his team and his conference, not to mention the state of the sport as a whole. Here are five takeaways from what he had to say.
What Bill Self thinks Kansas’ and Baylor’s national championships mean
Self understands that in recent years the Big 12 has been viewed as one of the top conferences in the country, if not the top. But he noted it’s hard to take the title of the best if the teams don’t deliver when it counts the most. So, he thinks it matters a great deal that Kansas is the reigning national champion and Baylor won it back in 2021.
Self thinks the Jayhawks owed it not just to their school, but their conference, to deliver earlier this year when they topped the North Carolina Tar Heels for the championship. Kansas was able to follow in Baylor’s footsteps, and nearly Texas Tech’s as well — the Red Raiders lost to the Virginia Cavaliers — back in 2019. This most recent Jayhawks squad was able to get it done in a way other promising units just fell short of.
“I think those type of finishes are what elevates a league to being thought of to be really, really good regular season, but can be thought of to being the best overall,” Self said.
What a 2nd national title means, compared to just having one
It does feel different for Self, having two compared to just having one. He said he talks all the time about how it’s easier to have a great team than have a great program. Things could just fall into place on a given year, so in a way earning that second championship validates earning the first.
Maybe that means he has to capture a third to validate the second, Self allowed. But for now, he does think this validates the success of past seasons that didn’t end with a national championship at Kansas. He thinks the Jayhawks have had more postseason success in the NCAA tournament than people may give the program credit for, but he understands why people focus on titles.
“I don’t think I felt the pressure, but I certainly felt relief of not feeling the pressure,” Self said. “Because I’d never admit to feeling pressure, but it certainly felt like a burden was lifted after we won another one.”
Where Bill Self views his program, Kansas as a whole, in the NIL space
Self allowed that even four months ago, he didn’t feel good about how his program and the athletic department as a whole matched up in the name, image and likeness (NIL) space that allows for athletes to benefit monetarily from their NIL. But Self noted, too, that he feels a lot better about where things stand now. He said he’s started to see improvements.
In the past, Self has felt as if Kansas could highlight itself in recruiting as a blue-blood school. The history the Jayhawks have is still important, in his mind, but NIL is now as well. He thinks there are many potential blue-blood programs out there because of what athletes have the potential to benefit from in the NIL space by being associated with those teams.
Bill Self comments on NCAA infractions case that still hasn’t been completed
Self acknowledged he wanted the case concerning his program to be over sooner than later. He thinks it’s hurt the Jayhawks in recruiting, especially when it comes to potential one-and-done talent that may not want to spend that single season in college dealing with the potential attention the case might create. But Self did express confidence in where Kansas currently stands with the case, and noted as well that he and his staff have still been able to bring in quality players.
Self volunteered they may still have taken guys like Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, both NBA draft picks earlier this year who helped the Jayhawks to a national championship, and current redshirt junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr. But Self isn’t sure they would have. So, some of the guys Kansas didn’t get led to the team bringing in valuable guys like those three.
Which Big 12 teams Bill Self thinks may surprise people nationally
To start off with, as Self answered this question, he mentioned TCU. The Horned Frogs were picked in the Big 12’s preseason coaches poll to finish fourth, and should safely be a top 25 team in the eyes of those who follow the sport. So, Self acknowledged TCU isn’t necessarily a surprise candidate and instead just a team that is loaded with talent that he decided to highlight.
The second team Self mentioned, one that seems to fit here more clearly, is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys tied for fifth in the conference’s preseason poll and are coming off a season in which they finished 15-15 overall and 8-10 in Big 12 play. If Oklahoma State sees senior guard Avery Anderson III score like Anderson’s capable, junior guard Bryce Thompson play like Thompson’s capable and junior forward Moussa Cisse improve substantially, Self thinks that could mean a lot for the Cowboys.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.