If there is a list of posts I don't want to write, this is probably at the top of the list. Still, perhaps by taking a quick look through the four major upsets (Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU) we have suffered, maybe we can find a common thread and find a better way to avoid it the next time.
First, I want to make the point that we are not cursed because of these upsets. But because we are so good in the regular season and a high seed almost every year, pretty much every loss in the NCAA tournament (and every loss period to be honest) is going to be an upset. Basically the way to avoid this is to win the national championship every year, which I wouldn't have a problem with.
Let's start with Bucknell. The 2005 team had a couple problems. First, it was a group of players recruited to play Roy Williams's system who had to play in Coach Self's offense. The team played at the 23rd fastest pace in Williams's final year, and were 163rd in 2005. Secondly, the team unfortunately had to put up with Keith Langford taking a ton of shots even though he wasn't very good, and the offense revolved entirely around Wayne Simien, although Aaron Miles had a good year as well.
Oddly enough, Bucknell won the game despite shooting 25% from three, and despite Kansas's 58% FT rate. Basically, the Jayhawks didn't shoot very well, and Bucknell did, but neither shot entirely that much better or worse than during the regular season. Given that Bucknell ended up getting an 8 seed the year after (as a Patriot League team!) perhaps they were a bit underseeded.
The Bradley game, for me, is the simplest one to explain. First off, Kansas was very young. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright all saw big minutes and were all Freshmen. Russell Robinson, a Sophomore, also saw big minutes. That that team was a 4 seed is a pretty good accomplishment in itself. It would have been nice for them to get to the next weekend and get that bit of tournament experience, but based on what they did the next two years they didn't need it.
But this game came down to three point shooting. Bradley, as a team, shot 33.6% from beyond the arc, or 222nd nationally. In that game they shot 52.4% from beyond the arc. Forget the youth, forget anything Patrick O'Bryant did. Kansas didn't play great, but they played well enough to win, sans that three point shooting effort. Also of note is that Bradley ended up 26th in KenPom, hardly accurate for a 13 seed, though Kansas was 6th as a 4 seed.
Next, Northern Iowa. The most perplexing one to me. Sure, some fluky stuff happened, like when Jordan Eglseder made more threes in the first half of that game (2) than he had made all season long up to that point (1). But mostly it was that Coach Self for whatever reason refused to speed up the game, and refused to press Northern Iowa. There also was the matter of Sherron Collins trying to play the hero and instead laying a gigantic egg, but mostly it was the whole lack of a press thing. In fact, Kansas almost won the game by pressing for around four minutes. Of all the upsets that naysayers use to point to Coach Self having a lack of coaching ability, this is one game that gets me to nod in agreement a bit. Again, I am not saying I would be a better basketball coach. I am sure if I were in charge of Kansas we would have zero national titles and maybe 2 of the 7 conference titles we have won in a row. But at the same time, I saw right away that we needed to be pressing, and that the coaching staff either missed it or was too stubborn to react to what an opponent was doing troubled me.
Lastly, VCU. I don't think I need to go into it too much given that it just happened on Sunday. And hey, three pointers were again key. So does that mean that to avoid upsets all we need to do is avoid fluky shooting? Is it all our fault or is it the universe conspiring against us? I think it's a little in the middle to be honest. On the one hand, avoiding shooting 5% from three is pretty key to avoiding the upset, as is avoiding a team shooting 50% from three when they shoot in the low 30s for the year. But when you have a huge edge inside against a team, how about we dump the ball inside. Or if a team is shooting well from three perhaps pressure the ball a bit more and not let them get clean looks. Our two point defense wasn't great this year, so on some level we needed the three point "defense" to be stout, but I'll take our front line's chances against a mid major anytime.
The good thing is that the second half adjustments in the VCU game obviously worked. We got it down to a 2 point game at one point. Now the key seems to be not taking a team lightly and falling into a hole in the first place. I don't know if it's his scouting or his halftime speeches, but Coach Self is one of the better second half coaches out there. If he can elevate his first half coaching, we'll really be in business.