In case you missed it, here is Part 1 of this article. This is Part 2, in which I count down the top 5 seasons of the Bill Self era, ranked by my personal excitement level heading into the season.
I'll admit, there may be a little revisionist history to this ranking, and I don't know if I can defend it. You would think that an off-season in which KU signed Xavier Henry, and both Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich surprisingly returned to school (don't forget how high Sherron's draft stock was after his junior year) would have me doing backflips. But somehow, I can't put a season where the Jayhawks were the preseason #1 team any higher than this. Some possible mitigating factors: the brawl with the football team and Brady's DUI. There was a little bit of "Thug U" buzz around the program that fall.
Here was my thought process in the summer of 2013, after KU signed Andrew Wiggins:
OK, we just lost almost every contributor from last year's team. We're going to be young and probably not that great. But if we're going to have a bridge year, at least we have the excitement of watching Wiggins to make the growing pains more than bearable. Everyone but Wiggins will probably be back with another year of experience in 2014-15, and then we're gonna be a juggernaut.
Then KU beat Duke in the second game of the year, Embiid turned into EMBIID, the ceiling was removed.... and the season ended in injuries and another disappointing early-round exit, and both Wiggins and Embiid left, along with Andrew White III. In other words, absolutely nothing like how I expected the season to turn out. But I'll always cherish my innocent, unbridled excitement from the summer/fall of 2013.
Now HERE was a preseason #1 team that I could get irrationally fired up about! The day that Wayne Simien announced he was returning for his senior season, I spent hours online pricing tickets to the Final Four. Not because there were that many websites to peruse, but because we had crappy internet that ran through the phone line in our college apartment because it was 2004. Hey, remember when JR Giddens was a mild threat to leave for the NBA after his freshman season?
The #2 and #1 spots are basically interchangeable for me. On one hand, this young-and-upcoming team still had Julian Wright, one of my favorite Jayhawks of all time, whereas the next year obviously didn't. On the other hand....
....I figured this team was going to be really effing good. Advancing to the Elite 8 in '07 gave the team the tournament experience they had lacked thus far. The loss of Julian was more or less offset by the fact that everyone else was a year older, and the rotation was stacked with juniors and seniors to go with youngsters Darrell Arthur, Sherron, and Aldrich. If we need a tiebreaker, we'll make this list even more subjective and factor in that I moved to Lawrence in the summer of 2007.
Which brings us to this year. It sounds weird to say, coming off another Big 12 championship, but KU is in need of some redemption. Another unexpected tournament upset, coupled with double-digit losses, and a defense (not to mention an overall attitude) that wasn't very Bill Self-like, and you could make the case that last year was the "worst" year of the Self era.
I think there is a pretty good chance that KU is better than last year, even without Wiggins and Embiid. That being said, this season feels a little bit like 2010-11, in that I feel like a #5 preseason ranking is a bit too high. But I love that this roster has a little more swagger, I love that this is Wayne Selden's team now, and I'm psyched about the new jerseys. (If you think new jerseys are a weird reason to be excited, you didn't read my thoughts on last year's rags.)
All things considered, as of right now, with a few weeks to go before game action, I'd rank this season at #6, bumping 2008-09 and everyone below it down a spot. Now let's get to opening night already.