Montana-Kansas Preview

(AP) - The biggest problem facing Kansas' Bill Self these days may be precisely the opposite problem faced by every other coach in the country.

He has too much depth.

OK, so it's not really a problem. More like a challenge. Self acknowledges he always prefers to have an abundance of talented players at his disposal. It sure beats looking down an empty bench in the late minutes of a crucial game and throwing his hands up in exasperation.

But as the second-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) grind toward the start of Big 12 play with a visit from Montana (4-5) on Saturday, Self is also reaching a point where he must decide which of his dozen-plus guys give him the best chance of winning.

''What I'm as excited about as anything is for me to figure out how to play and how to sub, because to be candid with you, it varies game to game,'' Self explained. ''Because guys can get in better rhythm and I can help them to do that going forward.''

But at the same time, Self said, ''it's kind of frustrating not knowing what to do.''

There have been games when Kansas has spread minutes evenly among 10 or more guys, each one producing. Then there have been games like last Saturday, when the starters were playing so well that Self left them in almost the entire second half of an 82-67 victory over Oregon State.

Frank Mason III wound up playing 38 minutes. Wayne Selden Jr. played 36. Devonte Graham logged 35. Perry Ellis played 31. And the fifth spot was shared by Hunter Mickelson and Carlton Bragg, with nobody else on that uber-deep roster playing more than seven minutes.

Not even Cheick Diallo, a potential NBA lottery pick.

Yes, the starters played great, and that's a big reason why Self insisted that he left the same group in during the comeback win. But just as importantly, the second-team guys played poorly.

''I think he was just happy with how we played the second half, especially us three,'' said Graham, flanked by Mason and Selden. ''We just kept the same energy from start to finish. We were happy the way we pressured the ball and still had energy to make plays on offense.''

In doing so, they proved that depth sometimes may be overrated.

''I don't care how it happens as long as we win,'' said Selden, the team's leading scorer who poured in 22 points. ''If we're out there a whole half, so be it.''

But playing an entire half in December is one thing. Doing it every night during the brutal, round-robin schedule of the Big 12 is another entirely. And that's why Self may have been fine playing his starters big minutes against Oregon State, but acknowledged in the next breath that he needs to settle on a rotation before conference play begins with No. 16 Baylor on Jan. 2.

''Right now I'd like to see some separation between our bigs, and who gets in,'' Self said, ''because it's hard if you want to give guys some minutes and they're all equal.''

If nobody separates themselves? Well, Self sounds quite content to go with a much shorter bench than even he anticipated, even if it means leaving some high-profile prospects sitting there.

''We went to the national championship game (in 2012) and played seven guys at the most, and the only time we played an eighth was if there was serious foul trouble,'' Self said.

Regardless, time is slipping by for Self to figure it out. The Jayhawks visit San Diego State on Tuesday and play UC-Irvine on Dec. 29 in their final nonconference game.

Then, they begin pursuit of their 12th consecutive Big 12 championship.

''The reality is,'' Self said, ''we've got to get better when given an opportunity.''

Montana avoided a third straight loss with a 79-59 win over NAIA program Great Falls on Tuesday, improving to 4-0 at home. The Grizzlies almost pulled off an upset in the first of those back-to-back defeats, falling 61-58 at then-No. 20 Gonzaga on Dec. 8 before losing by 30 at Washington last Saturday.

They shot 49.1 percent Tuesday and went a season-best 10 of 22 from 3-point range.

''We needed to get a win,'' coach Tommy DeCuire said. ''Our goal was to win as many games at home as possible. So It's another win at home, and now we get through finals ... and go see what we've got (at Kansas).''

The Jayhawks beat Montana 68-56 at Allen Fieldhouse in 1962 in the only meeting between these schools.

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