Kansas fans have gone back and forth since Monday's game trying to determine what it means. One minute it's a meltdown, the next it's "just one game" and the Jayhawks are still winning the national championship. What's interesting is to hear from the inside how Bill Self assesses the game and what he feels like the team and the coaches learned during the mild nightmare in Manhattan.
"I think that winning covers a lot of ills. Certainly a lot of things came to light the other night. I learned that we don't handle prosperity very well. We were not hungry. Our focus was not what it needs to be to win a big game on the road like that. We don't have the margin for error when we play other good teams to not be totally in sync and focused like we were the other night.
Translation, we're good but not great. College basketball is a sport with arguably more top to bottom parity than any other sport. Sure there are 5 teams sitting at the top that on a night in night out basis win and play more consistently. But in the win or go home world of March Madness there could well be as many as 20 teams that could make a run.
Now the challenge for coach Self and all college coaches is finding a way to get 18-20 year old players to focus and stay hungry at a level that 25-30 year old NBA players sometimes struggle to do.
The other challenge is that it can't all fall on the shoulders of coach Self. Something has to come from within and by that I mean from a player on the team and on the court.
It wasn't that we didn't care, it wasn't that we didn't try, it wasn't any of that stuff. I don't think that we gave ourselves the best chance for whatever reasons. Once it started going bad we had very little leadership. We didn't have very good guard play, and we didn't play very smart. Those are facts and hopefully those are correctable facts."
This is the part that showed right there on the television set in front of fans. Minus Tyrel Reed, who did his best "follow me", there just wasn't any leadership. Things turned so quickly it was a "who me" look rolling across the faces of some players.
Next step, find a way to avoid getting that look again. Kansas should plan on running into a team that comes out and kicks off a game in the same fashion that Kansas State did come March. Kansas will have to respond in March or a game quickly turns from "we'll be alright" to "what just happened?" We've seen that movie before and I don't think anyone likes the ending. But as most fans have probably done at this point, it is important to keep it in perspective.
Losing to Kansas State is not in any way, shape, or form a disgrace. They have a good basketball team and on that night they were very good, and they had one player (Jacob Pullen) who was better than anyone in the country that night.
Spot on. Kansas State was #3 in the country to start the year, Michigan State #2. Those are two teams fighting for their tournament lives and if they get in it's going to be in that 9-12 seed range. How many #1 or #2 seeds are excited about having to face one of them as early as the second round? Kansas State knocked off #1 Kansas on Monday night, Michigan State put up a pretty good fight until late in Columbus against Ohio State on Tuesday. That's not to say that the Wildcats or Spartans are suddenly going to become something they aren't and win the whole thing, but there is talent there and they can be a dangerous opponent on a given night.
I thought the way we lost will bring more things to light that we can address that will allow us to be better. So this could definitely be a good thing for us over time."
Very little difference from what the fanbase has said. It wasn't the loss, it was the way we lost and it did expose some concerns. It certainly exposes more than a 3 point win over Nebraska in Lawrence or a 1 point win over UCLA in Lawrence. It's a game that shows how badly things can go if it's not there every night.
"I think we need them accepting who they are. I'm not talking about defining roles, just in general terms. The biggest problem with our team, in my opinion, isn't that we don't try, or don't give effort, or have enough talent. We struggle with focus. We struggle with being able to maintain things. If we have distractions, no matter how minimum they are, if that was a factor on Monday, then what will it be like in the NCAA Tournament when there are a lot more distractions. So I think those are all great teaching points for us. We're 24-2. The sky is not falling. Regardless of what some people may think. The reality is that things have to be addressed and I think that we have the perfect opportunity to address them."
Wrapping it all up it's about focus. The same thing that so often led to Kansas allowing teams back into games early on in the season, finally allowed someone to jump on the Jayhawks and run away before Kansas even knew what happened. I'm not a coach but in almost any profession you'll face a situation where you can tell someone something all day long and it only sinks in so far. Show that person something or give that person the true experience of something and it resonates on a different level.
Bill Self talked about killer instinct earlier in the season and he talked about maintaining focus earlier in the season. In fact, he even went so far as to challenge his team to outscore an opponent by 20 in the second half of a game that he was already winning by 20. Now coach Self has the picture painted and his players have experienced it.
"The reality is that things have to be addressed and I think that we have the perfect opportunity to address them."