A lot of people have "best teams" rankings, but today we are going to do things a bit differently. Instead of straight up ranking the best teams in Kansas basketball history (or in our case, this century) we are going to take a look at the teams since 2000 ranked by the likelihood they should have won the title. Obviously this includes team quality, but also includes circumstance. For example, the 2012 team certainly wasn't KU's most talented of the century, but they made the title game so they will be ranked much higher as they had just one more game to win. Similarly, the 2011 team might not have been as good as the 2010 team, but they lost in the Elite 8 to the luckiest team in NCAA tournament history and had one of the easier Final Four fields of the decade to get through had they won.
2003 (2 seed, lost in national championship game to Syracuse)
The 2003 team was one of Roy Williams' best ever, featuring two elite senior starters in Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, as well as a group of young role players and future stars like Keith Langford and Wayne Simien. The 2003 Jayhawks finished 3rd in KenPom, fueled by the 4th ranked defense in the country.
The Jayhawks were elite both in twos (16th) and preventing twos (6th), but struggled at shooting threes and preventing threes (223rd and 255th). The latter number proved to be their downfall as Gerry McNamara rained threes from the heavens in the national title game, and obviously the Jayhawks missed two threes in the final seconds as their comeback fell short. It's worth noting the team was 284th in free throws. Damnit.
2002 (1 seed, lost in Final Four to Maryland)
The 2002 team was maybe the best non championship team of this century, ranking 5th in offense and 8th in defense. The 2002 Jayhawks ranked third nationally in three point shooting at 41.1 percent, but ranked a maddeningly low 319th in threes attempted (sounds familiar).
The Jayhawks had three elite Junior starters who would all be first round picks, and were led by senior guard Jeff Boschee, who led the nation in offensive rating that season.
After leaping out to an early lead against Maryland, the Terps stormed back and even Boschee's late heroics weren't quite enough to pull the Jayhawks back and into an inevitable championship game victory.
2012 (2 seed, lost in national championship game to Kentucky)
I debated 2012 and my next team a few times, but settled on the 2012 team because they were in the title game and a lot closer to winning it than people give them credit for. Bill Self drew up a masterful defensive gameplan, holding the best offense that season to 67 points in 66 possessions. Thanks to Jeff Withey, Anthony Davis made just one field goal. Bill Self limited Kentucky's attempts at the rim thanks to Withey, and And had Kentucky, which shot just 35.2 percent on 2-point jumpers for the season, shot its season average on 2-point jumpers in the game, the Jayhawks would be your national champs.
2011 (1 seed, lost in Elite 8 to VCU)
The 2011 team finished 2nd in KenPom, but probably wasn't as good as the 2010 team thanks to the 11th ranked defense in the nation. The Jayhawks shot 38.2 percent from three and led the nation from two at 56.8 percent, and they owned the glass on both ends of the floor.
Of course, they were only undone by bad 3-point luck against VCU: The Jayhawks shot 2-21 on threes and were almost 30 percent under their season average, while VCU was 10 percent over its season average. Barf.
The Jayhawks would then have had to defeat Butler, which was a good but not great team, and then defeat maybe the worst title team of the decade.
2010 (1 seed, lost in second round to Northern Iowa)
The 2010 team still finished 2nd in KenPom even with the second round loss, but this was the one tournament loss where the blame lies more with Bill Self and the way Kansas played rather than luck, matchups, or injury. Kansas dominated in their comeback with a press, but didn't go to it earlier. And, with a wealth of offensive talent on the roster, Sherron Collins was 4-15 from the field, including 0-6 from three.
The 2010 team was maybe Kansas's third best team of the century, but had too long of a road to the title to put them any higher in this ranking, although it's not hard to see them in the title game against Duke the way the bracket shook out.
2007 (1 seed, lost in Elite 8 to UCLA)
Had Kansas not had to play against 2 seed UCLA in California, the Jayhawks likely would have made the final four. As it is, there's no shame in losing to the Bruins with the kind of talent they had, and even though they defeated eventual national champion Florida earlier in the season, it is tough to see them getting past both Florida and Ohio State in the final four. It's also worth noting that although Kansas finished the season ranked 1st defensively, they were just 26th in offense, so it's hard to see them scoring enough to win the title.
2004 (4 seed, lost in Elite 8 to Georgia Tech)
The 2004 team wasn't any good but got to the Elite 8 thanks to Kentucky losing to UAB in the second round. Still, they took the national runners up to overtime, though I don't think they would have defeated either Oklahoma State or UConn in the Final Four.
2013 (1 seed, lost in Sweet 16 to Michigan)
The 2013 team would have beaten Michigan had the refs called either an illegal screen on Mitch McGary or a foul on Kevin Young when Trey Burke made his deep three to tie the game. Damnit. But still, Kansas, like the 2007 team, didn't have enough offense to win the title. They would have lost to Florida in the Elite 8 I think, though had they managed to get by them they could have potentially beaten both Syracuse and Louisville, so maybe they should be ranked higher.
In any event, there have been at least four or five years where Kansas was legitimately a bounce or two away from having a great chance to win the title, which goes to show how much luck is involved in the NCAA tournament.