LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with the No. 1 seed in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship for the sixth-straight season and 11th time in league history, No. 10/10 Kansas head coach Bill Self answered questions about the health of Joel Embiid, the possibility of facing Oklahoma State a third time and the impending NCAA Tournament in his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
Q. Do you see any scenario that Joel (Embiid) wouldn't play at some point in the postseason?
COACH SELF: No, I don't see a scenario where he wouldn't play in the (NCAA) `postseason. I see a scenario where he possibly couldn't play this weekend, but we'll know more today. We've done exactly what we said all along we were going to do except the reevaluation took place on Monday as opposed to Sunday. He'll see the doctor today, and we anticipate getting the exact same report that we got before, maybe a little bit different as far as therapy or something like that, but it's basically one of those things that he can go as his symptoms allow him to go. He's a lot better symptomatically than what he was last week, obviously. He's run in the pool and he's done those types of things.
But we said before that we were going to hold him out this week, that's what we've done, and certainly we want him healthy when we get to the NCAA Tournament. As bad as we'd like to play him this weekend, I'm not going to risk that by playing him this weekend if the doctor says don't risk it. If they say, ‘Hey, let him go, he's fine, he's going to get hit no matter what and he'll tweak it and he'll be uncomfortable but it's not going to hurt it worse’, (then we’ll) let him go. But if they don't tell us that, we'll probably hold him another week.
Q. Back to back to back, as well as you've played, three games in three days, does that factor in?
COACH SELF: Well, I think it does. He could possibly play in the first game and if he's sore the next day, then you rest him and try to play him on Saturday? I don't know. To me the Big 12 Tournament is very important, but it's not important enough to put him out there where we've got to manage minutes or manage things like that. I'd rather him be ready for the NCAA Tournament. And if he can't go a couple of times in a week, which I'm not saying he can't, I'm saying we just don't know yet, but if he can't go in a couple of times during the course of a weekend or whatnot, then I think it would probably behoove us to go ahead and rest him until next week to make sure he can go two games in three days if we're fortunate enough to win the first game.
Q. You said this morning that you'd lean on the doctors on how you bring him back and how you manage minutes, that kind of stuff, but have you been in similar scenarios with guys at the end of the season?
COACH SELF: Yeah, a lot.
Q. How do you do that?
COACH SELF: Our first year here, Keith (Langford) hurt his knee. He had a microfracture and needed surgery, and so he never practiced, he just played in the games the last two to three weeks of the season. And then Wayne's (Simien) second year, I don't remember if Wayne ever practiced more than 30 minutes a day before a game, and then played in the games. So we've done things like that in the past.
I do think that Joel has had enough time off. He needs to get out there multiple days in a row to get rhythm and get his conditioning back and that kind of stuff, but sure, we've done that. If the doctor says, yeah, bring him along slowly, we'll bring him along slowly. I don't think anybody in our camp is an expert more so than what they would be in educating us on how to bring him along. There may be different theories for therapy or rehab or whatnot, but he seems to be responding really well to what we're doing. I mean, really well. He's pain‑free now, but pain‑free does not mean (he will be) the first time he gets hit under the basket posting up or going for a rebound, so we don't know how he'll react to that.
Q. What is the daily rehabilitation?
COACH SELF: He just gets treatment every day. That's been basically told to us what he should be doing, and he does it. He's been in the pool, he's done some different things that are positive. But you know, it's one of those things that he wants to be out there so bad. He about threw a fit last time we told him he couldn't play against TCU because I asked him the day before the game, I said, ‘Are you 100 percent pain‑free?’ He said, ‘No, it still hurts a little bit.’ I said, ‘You're not playing yet.’ He said, ‘I'm ready to play’, but he just wasn't ready to practice.
Certainly if he's feeling anything, we're going to hold him out. But we’re hopeful that he won't, but we'll let the doctors tell us a little bit more.
Q. You've coached in a lot of deep leagues in the last 14 years. Can you ever remember a No. 8 seed in a conference tournament as talented?
COACH SELF: No, I had a national radio guy call me this morning. He said, ‘Oklahoma State, just think if you're a No. 1 seed and you're playing Oklahoma State and they're on the 8 or 9 line, just think what a tough draw that would be.’ I said, ‘Just think if that happens in your conference tournament.’ He was talking about nationally.
Obviously that's a tough draw because they are talented, very talented, and capable of beating anybody at any time if they play well. But that's good for us. We need to go ‑‑ we need to go. We didn't play very well the last game, obviously, and haven't played well two out of the last three games. I'd like to see us go play well against a real quality opponent.
Q. What would you like to see from your team this week, especially coming off of that tough game at West Virginia?
COACH SELF: I want to see us play tougher. I want to see us make somebody play poorly as opposed to everybody operating within their comfort zone against us. You should never, ever talk about what you don't have when things don't go well, so we have to make some adjustments. We can't let opponents get to the rim because obviously the rim protector is not there as much as we've had in the past. So we need to do a lot better job of having pride and guarding the ball and keeping the ball in front of us.
Q. Can you talk about all the point guards that you're using, all your point guards this week and through the tournament?
COACH SELF: We've got two. You've got Frank (Mason) and Naadir (Tharpe) obviously, and then Conner (Frankamp) might play some emergency point if we need to. He's capable of playing the point, even though we practiced him the majority of the year being off the ball. I guess you could say we've got three that we could throw out there.
But the big key is Naadir. Let's just be real. He needs to play well, but playing well doesn't necessarily equate to scoring points or making shots. He needs to make sure the other four guys play well, and he needs to be good defensively, and it's hard to be great defensively when you're guarding (Juwan) Staten because he can do a great job on him and he can still get 20.
But we didn't do a good job on him the other day, and I don't think that Na' (Naadir Tharpe) plugged himself into the game and then, of course, I didn't give him much of a chance to play late. But we just need our guard play to be sound and make sure we get a shot every possession and be a little bit more aggressive on both ends. I think we were a little passive the other day.
Q. Do you think the Big 12 awards kind of shook out like you thought they would?
COACH SELF: Yeah, they shook out the way I thought it would. I would be critical of this, and of course I'm not in you guys' shoes, so I don't know how it's done with you guys, but to me, I never understood why you allowed voting to take place for a postseason award before the postseason got here. I've never understood that. I've never understood how you could vote for an MVP candidate two weeks before the regular season is over in any sport. The thing about it is, I think that the writers had to have their ballots in before the weekend was up.
Q. Due in yesterday.
COACH SELF: But could you turn them in early?
Q. You could.
COACH SELF: Yeah, so you could turn them in early. Like with the Big 12 awards, I don't know, I think there may have been only one other coach that turned his stuff in after the full regular season was over. But it went exactly as I thought. I thought (Melvin) Ejim (of Iowa State) deserved Player of the Year. I think you could make a case for Andrew (Wiggins), but certainly if you don't include a 41‑point performance it probably didn't help his chances much.
I thought Melvin deserved Player of the Year, but I think Andrew obviously could and should have been right there. But basically the postseason individual awards went exactly as I thought they would.
For the Big 12 Coach of the Year, I think Rick (Barnes of Texas) deserves it, but it would be hard for me not to make it a co‑Coach of the Year because Lon (Kruger of Oklahoma) did an unbelievable job with his team, too. So, to me, both of those guys deserve Coach of the Year. But it played out pretty much the way I thought it would.
Q. Can you remember the Big 12 tournament being this stacked where you've conceivably got eight teams that could win it?
COACH SELF: No, no. I think we've always had very competitive Big 12 tournaments, but I don't know if I can ever remember where if there's a final between whatever seeds there are, it would be absolutely not a major surprise to anybody. When you look at our side, you've got a No. 1 (Kansas) playing No. 8 (Oklahoma State), and No. 8 (Oklahoma State) was picked to win the league. No. 4 (Iowa State) and No. 5 (Kansas State), obviously, are right there, have been ranked the majority of the year, and the No. 4 seed has been ranked in the top 10 a good portion of it. K‑State has been ranked the majority of the year. I don't think there's very many leagues in the country that could say that you have a team that's ranked in the top 10 and a team that is ranked in the top 10 six weeks ago or seven weeks ago could play in the first round of a conference tournament. So that means it's pretty strong. It's going to be a pretty special weekend.
Q. Does part of you want to coach against Marcus Smart one more time?
COACH SELF: Well, I'd want to coach against whoever we're playing against. I never look at it coaching against an individual; I look at it coaching against a team. Certainly, the last time they (Oklahoma State) got us, so I think our guys will be excited to have a chance to go against a team that obviously played better than us, especially the last 10 minutes. They whipped us pretty good the last 10 minutes the last time we played.
Q. How much does it concern you going forward that your team is just 8‑7 away from Allen Fieldhouse this year?
COACH SELF: I would say that's a concern, but look at our competition. I mean, how many people would like to have a winning record against those teams? A lot of times they'd like to have a winning record against those teams playing at home, but certainly that's obviously a concern. I think we're 5‑6 for the year on the road --if I'm not mistaken -- so our neutral-site wins would be Wake Forest and UTEP and Duke, and then our one neutral site loss would be a team that would probably be a No. 1 seed in Villanova.
I wish it (the team’s road record) was better, but I think the competition had a lot to do with that.
Q. Andrew Wiggins’ 41 points at West Virginia stand out, but do you see areas where he's still getting better?
COACH SELF: Oh, yeah, he's getting a lot better. We've said it all along, he's getting better since the season started; he's plugging himself in more. He was good offensively, but he was also very good defensively. I thought he was terrific the other day and not just by 41, by energy level and the things that he did with his hands that we probably haven't seen consistently throughout the year.
You know he's got it in him. He's proved that. That's like I told him yesterday when he was running sprints at the end of practice, ‘On the last one, don't win it because you've proven to the coach that you can actually run and do it, because now whenever you don't do it moving forward, you know you're obviously loafing’. That's kind of what I told Andrew. He's shown us he can do it; regardless of the point production, of the energy level and things like that, so anything less than that would be unsatisfactory for him moving forward.
Q. Do you think being down so many points kind of gave him freedom?
COACH SELF: Sure, you can say that, but he also had 15 or 13 in the first half, too, so that's true. When you're playing from behind, and you look at Okie State coming back against us in our building or you look at us coming back against Villanova late game when they're up 12 or whatnot or you look at the situation of us coming back against K‑State, it's a 10‑point game or whatever with a couple minutes left or the situation of the day. Playing from behind, there's no margin for error but the basket does get bigger because there's no pressure. You've got nothing to lose, and a lot of times the home team or the team that's ahead plays not to lose, and that's happened with us, obviously.
So I don't think we can make too much of it being an unbelievable comeback. It was a great comeback to come back that far, that fast, but still, there's some advantages in being the team from behind, too.
Q. How comfortable are you defending a junk defense like you had the other day?
COACH SELF: Well, we've got different things in our arsenal, but situations, personnel and the other team will dictate when we do it. Obviously, you guys don't know, but we ran it against West Virginia one or two possessions was all, and they immediately subbed and put three shooters in the game and then we got out of it. Did you notice that?
So we have done it, yeah. That's exactly right. But we haven't done it nearly as much this year. Plus I don't think the personnel really has lined up for us to do it as much as maybe what it has in years past.
Q. Was that without Joel (Embiid), without a rim protector in a zone or something like that?
COACH SELF: Yeah. You know, you don't have as much of a rim protector when Joel is in the game, but I'm not going to say we don't have a rim protector. I'm not saying that we can't stop people. That's not the case at all. We can all be a little bit better defensively.
Q. I'm sure you saw Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament yesterday. Would you welcome being in the same region with them in the NCAA Tournament?
COACH SELF: To be honest with you, I'd welcome being wherever we're at in the tournament. That's a question that obviously I'm going to answer politically correct; it doesn't make any difference who we're playing. We will look forward to that and line up and go play whoever it is. I'd rather play against four teams to get to the Final Four that may all have losing records, but that doesn't happen in the NCAA Tournament. You're going to play against good teams regardless of where they place you. Whoever the No. 1, the No. 2 or the No. 3 seed that is in our bracket, we'll look forward to playing them, no question.
Q. If you play well this week at the Big 12 Championship, do you think you can get back on the No. 1 seed-line?
COACH SELF: I think we'd have to win the tournament. I think you can play well and not win in Kansas City. But for us to get back on the No. 1 line, I would say that we'd probably have to win the tournament and Villanova would probably have to not win their tournament. But that's really not our focus. I just want us to go play well this weekend. If we play well this weekend and get some momentum going into next weekend, that would be the biggest thing.
Q. Speaking to that, would you rather be a No. 1 seed and have to go out East or down South or would you rather be a No. 2 seed and play in St. Louis or Indianapolis?
COACH SELF: I would say it really doesn't matter because the things you hope for in the NCAA Tournament never pan out that way. I was hoping VCU would beat Florida State. I was really hoping North Carolina would beat Tennessee back when we were at Tulsa. There are a lot of things you hope for, and then you get a hot player the next game and you end up going home. I've learned my lesson on that. You don't hope for anything, you just line up and play the next team in front of you, whoever it is.
The other thing about it is (that) I think our KU faithful will travel no matter where we go.
Q. What do you think about Perry Ellis' defense of late?
SELF: You know, he's getting a little bit better. I still think that there's a big step that some of our guys, individually, can take defensively for us to become more of a more sound unit. But Perry has been fine. Certainly, he's got a big challenge on Thursday going against whoever it be, whether it’s Le'Bryan (Nash of Oklahoma State) or whether it be Crockett (Jaye of Texas Tech). There are some good 4-men in our league, and certainly Perry needs to play well defensively for us to have the best chance.
But he's capable.