The Kansas Jayhawks took a tumble on Friday night. As amazing as the comeback was in 2008 that ultimately led to a Kansas championship, this one was amazing for the other team. Kansas did everything wrong down the stretch and Michigan did everything right. Trey Burke was amazing and played like the best point guard in the country, Kansas played like a team without a viable point guard which has been a concern all year.
Sometimes the chips don't fall the right way. The ONLY thing that made this one tough is that Kansas only needed one play to go differently and they move on to the Elite Eight. As it stands Michigan is headed to the Final Four as a very deserving team after dismantling the Florida Gators in front of a lackluster crowd in a near empty Jerry dome in Arlington.
Bill Self has once again been called into question as a March coach in some circles. Self has to be considered one of the best coaches in the country from November through the beginning of March with a special emphasis place on that January to March timeframe. He wins at a higher clip than anyone, the Jayhawks are at the top of the Big 12 year after year and one way or the other the 'next guy up' mentality continues to work for him. That's a theory that is going to be tested in a big way next season, but moving back to the point, what about the tournament?
In March Kansas has been to two Final Fours under Bill Self. Two national title game appearances and of course the one championship in 2008. Bill Self has taken Kansas to the Elite Eight and the Sweet Sixteen multiple times during that run as well and honestly his tournament record matches up with just about anyone. The difference is that Kansas has come up a little short during what has been one of the best 10 year runs in basketball.
This isn't a situation where Kansas has been up and down as a team like North Carolina has or like Syracuse has. Kansas has been a no. 1 seed several times and they've looked like a top team on more than one occasion when they have come up short. That seems to be where most of the angst comes into play. Kansas does so well in the regular season that they are consistently in the discussion as a contender, but the overall success rate is at or above par for the course when compared to other major programs. Kansas has just walked into higher expectations on a more consistent basis.
That makes the journey in March a tough one. This year was expected to be a wild ride. Kansas has been vulnerable all year and if the college basketball product was better as a whole this probably isn't a top seeded team in the tournament. Given the landscape of college basketball you have four great seniors and one talented freshman pulling off a Big 12 title, winning the Big 12 tournament and putting themselves in a position to carry those same expectations over to yet another year. Then you run into a situation where you crumble a bit under late game pressure.
The thing with college basketball is that what makes it so great also makes it so easy to hate. The best team isn't always going to win and this is never easy. So on the one hand you can look at Syracuse who hasn't been since 2003 or Michigan who hasn't been since 1993 and say to yourself as a Kansas fan that we've had such a good run. On the other hand you can look at that and say, did we squander another opportunity to put a stamp on the program and could we be headed for a dip?
Bill Self's incoming recruiting class is a very good one. It's filled with guards who can handle the basketball, a project big man who is oozing with potential and a pair of wings/combo guards that can score. Kansas has some young talent on the roster coming back as well. This will be the biggest turnover since the early Bill Self years. It will be interesting to see what transpires during the regular season, but come tournament time this is a team where Bill Self is going to be forced to play the youth on his roster and perhaps we'll be watching our freshman pull a little rabbit out of the hat next March.
So many second guesses, so many nitpicking things that can be pointed to. At the end of the day it's easy to say what could have been done differently. All you can hope as a fan is that this trajectory continues, and Bill Self puts Kansas back in the position to make a run again. College basketball is a coaches game, we've got one of the best and he's done it into March and April before. This one will stick with him the same way that other opportunities that have slipped away will do and hopefully it will impact Self and the program in a way that helps us down the line.