Honestly, I never thought I was going to write this post. I was either going to just sweep the bitter taste of this one under the rug, or I was going to pull a New Mexico Rivals writer. But, like the posts celebrating Jeff Withey being the best defender in the country or celebrating the 9th straight Big 12 title, commiserating after a season loss must be done as well.
The worst part of it all is this post shouldn't even be being written right now. The game was won. With 2:33 left, KU's win probability was 99.4%. 99.4%. A .6% chance of losing. We all know what happened next: Elijah Johnson committed a turnover letting Tim Hardaway score. Then Elijah Johnson committed a 10 second violation. Then with 12 seconds left he missed the front end of a 1 and 1, Trey Burke came down and hit a 35 footer and it was off to overtime. In overtime, Kansas had a shot to tie but got probably the worst look I can imagine: a 33% three point shooter taking a guarded runner.
It wasn't a choke. Michigan had to do a lot right. But there's no doubt that Kansas did a lot to help them. I am neither a media member nor an assistant coach, but if I were I would have two questions for Bill Self. 1 is why, with three timeouts left, he didn't burn one to save Elijah Johnson from committing a ten second violation? After Burke turned him the second time I know everyone in the building was thinking that a ten second violation was possible, and burning the timeout would hurt much much less than giving up possession. Plus, with how review happy refs have gotten late in the game, Kansas had to have at least planned for the idea that they would get a pseudo timeout out of one of those.
Question two is why they didn't foul up three. Granted Burke's three pointer was taken extremely far behind the line so there wasn't a great time to grab him, but they could have had Tharpe pick him up at half court and either foul him there or force him to give the ball up. There is the added caveat that it has to be executed correctly, but I almost always prefer fouling up 3. It was a tough shot that Burke hit and you have to tip your cap to him for it, but if you let someone take a three like that then you're just a spectator and don't have influence on the end of the game.
It wasn't just those things, obviously: Ben McLemore didn't attempt a shot in the final 11 minutes, the ref review of the shot clock violation in the waning moments of overtime gave Kansas an extra timeout, but it robbed them of a transition opportunity in which they could have had a much easier basket to tie or win the game, and the final possession was one that everyone would love to have back. I couldn't tell watching live whether Johnson had a lane to the hoop or whether he was cut off. Maybe they wanted to try a three to win it. Maybe Johnson didn't want to shoot two free throws with the game on the line. Maybe he really was cut off and would have had the shot blocked. I couldn't tell on a live viewing and I haven't searched out a replay to find out. And I never will.
I don't really get why any of those things happened, but I don't need to anymore. The season is over and explanations aren't necessary. Now it's time to figure out how Kansas will replace a starting point guard and a starting power forward, as well as the efficient shooting and perimeter defense of Releford.
Note that I didn't mention Jeff Withey, because his defense won't be replaced. The loss kept him from setting the record for most blocks in a tournament career, but even though Michigan ended up shooting 56% from two in this game that was mostly on jumpers, I will always remember the fear he put into their guards (and forwards) when going to the rim.
Last note on the game, the legacy of Elijah Johnson. I think it's safe to say that he doesn't want it to end like this. It's also safe to say that his punch to the groin of Mitch McGary was stupid and selfish and a lot of other things, and it's probably burying the lede to not mention it until here. But it's also safe to say that it is really unfair that he will be remembered for this game. He was always inconsistent, but he gave Kansas fans a lot of great memories and had a lot of flashes of the incredible talent he has. Of course, they usually were just that: flashes. And perhaps it is fitting that a player who spent most of his time frustrating fans and coaches and leaving them waiting for the next glimpse of his talent will leave us just that: waiting and wanting more.
This post is really disjointed, and probably for a reason. I've sat down and tried to write it every day since Friday night and finally had to just throw my hands up and word vomit all over my keyboard. I know never to look ahead, but I am baffled at how a 14 point lead just vanished like that. I never thought this team would win a national title, especially after seeing the region they were saddled with, but for all of the dumb stuff they did this year I would have taken them over almost anyone late in a close game because of their defense and the way they always have an extra gear to go to. But sometimes teams catch fire at the worst time and there's not much you can do about it. It sucks, and it happens, but hopefully after a few weeks we will be able to marvel at how a team with basically no offense and a team that played 5 guys for most of the year and a team that started a guy that was just pretty good at Loyola Marymount ended up winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles was a #1 seed. I criticize Self (and rightfully so I think) for the non timeout call and not fouling up three, but this loss wouldn't have seemed like a disappointment with most coaches, because most coaches wouldn't have gotten this group to a #1 seed. He really is a victim of his own success sometimes, and it's not fair in this era when people are obsessed with tournament results only. My bet is that we will be having this discussion again next year when Kansas is heading into the tournament. Hopefully the result is different.