It's the week before the Sweet 16, and like last year, KU fans all across the nation are avoiding ESPN, CBS and social media so that they can feel less of the strange emptiness one feels at the end of things.
Because for the second year in an row, with a high seed and a bench full of talented players, Bill Self's team is exactly where it shouldn't be during March.
Bill Self and his Jayhawks are at home in Kansas.
And just as Generals are always fighting the last war, so too do Kansas fans push through the sadness and into angry practicality, where recrimination and assignment of blame begins, so that we never have to feel like this again. So that college basketball can be fun again.
You've probably heard and read the same conclusions that I have in the last week, but just in case you haven't I'll sample some of the top ones here.
- Bill Self can't coach in the NCAA tournament.
- Bill Self doesn't know how to handle one-and-dones (hereafter OADs).
- The committee screwed us.
- Our players don't have heart.
- We need to stop recruiting OADs.
- We need to start recruiting players with heart.
- Wichita State wanted it more than we did.
- We need to start playing Wichita State like the TV guys say we should, even though it would cost us $500k to do so.
All of this is nonsense.
We lost for two reasons.
1. Jump Shots:
We played a very solid Wichita State team that shot very well from the three point line.
We were a pretty good team with a battered post presence which shot just ok from the three point line. At one point during the second half, WSU had outscored KU by something like 20 points behind the arc. Unless you are dominant in the post (without Cliff and with ¾ of a Perry we were not), you are not going to compensate for that sort of gap.
Two days earlier WSU shot 2/13 from deep against Indiana, one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament. They made 10/20 against KU and were closer to 60% when it mattered.
Evan Wessel, who shot 12% from the three point line last year, who when no one is guarding him, manages to shoot a blistering 52% from the free throw line, made nearly 70% of his threes against KU. Despite or perhaps because of his haircut.
Forget Sam Brownback, Evan Wessel is the real King of Kansas.
2. The Magic of Allen Fieldhouse
What does Allen Fieldhouse have to do with Wichita State?
Well first, Bill Self would be happy for WSU to come and play at AFH all day long, but is too much of a gentleman, unlike some people, to play that card in public.
The answer which you had to wait a whole paragraph for, is seeding.
Ask yourself a question. If KU had a 4 seed this year and WSU a 5 seed, would you uttered as many profanities and curses as you did with KU as a 2 and WSU as a 7? I doubt you would. And since you aren't here to dispute it, I'm going to say no, you would not.
So why does Allen matter?
Because we owe our high seeds to the Phog. Particularly for the last two years, despite the weaknesses that the teams obviously had, we got top two seeds. We were probably a 4 this year and a 2-3 last year.
The combination of Self and AFH means that KU will (almost?) always be a high seed, even when the team has significant holes, key injuries and/or little-to-no experience. Other coaches or programs with less of a home court advantage typically see enough regular season losses that those teams (assuming they even make the tournament) have much lower seeds, thus much lower post-season expectations.
In other words, Bill's incredible regular season success, even after losing 5 starters, suffering injuries or being heavily dependent on Freshmen, sometimes gets KU higher seeds than the actual team we have available going into the post-season really deserves, so it shouldn't be too surprising when those specific teams get beaten the first weekend.
So we aren't like the Generals fighting the last war, let's look at the teams individually.
The Experienced and The Healthy
Self has had 7 teams ('04, '07, '08, '10, '11, '12, '13) which were reasonably experienced, mostly healthy and playing at or above their season average going into the NCAA tournament.
6 of those 7 reached the Sweet 16, though the '04 team clearly benefitted from playing #13 and #12 seeds in Kansas City.
The lone exception was 2010 and though Northern Iowa played out of their minds, that was unquestionably a bad loss.
The Young and the Battered
Self has also had five teams which counted on multiple inexperienced players ('06, '09, '14, '15), had at least one starter out or significantly limited by injury ('05, '14, '15) or entered the post-season playing well below their season average ('05, '15).
These teams lost the first weekend 4 times. The only one to make it to the Sweet 16 ('09) had a strong veteran leader (Sherron) to somewhat counterbalance their inexperience and had the good fortune to play #14 and #11 seeds to get into the second weekend.
Why should this make me feel better?
Because if you look at the makeup of the teams that have "disappointed," you'll see that their performance was relatively unsurprising. You (and most of the rest of us) just expected too much of them because of the number next to their name on Selection Sunday.
The concern then should be much less about how the latter group of teams, including the last two, have done, but rather how to get back to regularly having experienced teams (ideally with enough depth to better survive an injury), so that we can reasonably expect to see the type of tournament results which the first group has produced.
So no more OADs right?
It's easy to look at he OAD era of college basketball and to dislike, even hate it. I think the one and done rule is bad for college basketball, and more importantly, mostly bad for the kids as well. But would we have won the last two Big 12 championships without Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre? No way.
The issues that have really hurt us in the last two years are depth and inexperience.
Where did that come from? It wasn't OADs, it was underwhelming recruiting and bad luck.
Here are KU's 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes:
- Braeden Anderson - A 6-8 forward, the Canadian Anderson was said to be gifted, but was deemed ineligible by the Big 12 due to partial qualification status. He had a decent year at Fresno State, but got into a car accident and has since left the game while focusing on getting into law school.
- Merv Lindsay - Played one year at UNM after leaving KU, averaging 0.6 ppg.
- Ben McLemore - Redshirted due to NCAA eligibility issues and had a breakout season before heading to the NBA.
- Naadir Tharpe - Left before this year after a turnover-filled season and embarrassing off-season.
- Jamari Traylor - Incredible hustler and solid, if inconsistent and undersized forward for KU.
- Milton Doyle - Has had a solid couple of years at Loyola Chicago.
- Perry Ellis - Our best player this year and likely next. A fantastic ambassador for the Jayhawks who was at no more than 70% for the last 7-10 games of the season.
- Landen Lucas - A late bloomer who contributed a lot once Cliff was injured, but who was never expected to dominate. Will be a solid four year player for us.
- Zach Peters - A promising prospect (and incredibly early commit) who is no longer playing basketball due to concussion issues.
- Andrew White - A big guard / small forward who was stuck in a log jam at the wing.
- Anrio Adams - Gave up basketball for eating pretend cereal on the sidelines.
Out of those eleven players, just three of them are still on the roster. You can add Joel Embiid to the list as well, since we had every expectation that he would be here at least this year when we recruited him. He just blew up and started hitting on Rihanna. And that was that.
Where do we go now?
First, we should be thankful. We managed to win two conference championships in years which we had no business doing so. We got to see some guys grow and play tough and go undefeated in conference at Allen Fieldhouse. Sure we didn't end the last two seasons how we would have liked, but we probably expected more from those teams than they were able to give, especially with the injury luck that both had.
As fans we always remember the things that might have been when things don't go our way, but we rarely stop to remember that we've gotten our share of good bounces as well. Without Allen Fieldhouse, we would have probably won a few less games this year and last, and had lower seeds as a result. Maybe we would have lost as a 3 or a 4 seed.
Would that have been better than hanging two banners?
No way brother.