clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It's been hit or miss in the NCAA Tournament for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks

Despite tournament appearances in each of his 12 years at Kansas, including a 2008 National Championship, Bill Self and the Jayhawks have at times been labeled choke artists. Are they?

Bill Self has lost to five mid-majors in 12 NCAA Tournament appearances with Kansas.
Bill Self has lost to five mid-majors in 12 NCAA Tournament appearances with Kansas.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The latest NCAA Tournament loss for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks, a 78-65 embarrassment Sunday to in-state competitor Wichita State, only helps feed the narrative that the team with the second-most wins in college basketball history is also a group that chokes in March.

But is it true?

The Jayhawks, while winning the 2008 National Championship, have now lost to five mid-majors in Self's 12 tournament appearances as the favorite in each one.

Those losses are to: Bucknell (2005, 14 seed); Bradley (2006, 13); Northern Iowa (2010, 9); VCU (2011, 11); Wichita State (2015, 7).

Some will argue that the talent gap is closing, and that losing to a mid-major is not what it once was. However, only 25 percent of this year's Sweet 16 is of the mid-major variety. To find the last non-Power Six national champion, you have to go all the way back to the 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels.*

So, while fans of teams jealous of Kansas' success always point to those losses, what about Self's seven Sweet 16s, five Elite Eights, two final fours, two national title appearances, and one championship?

Somehow those are conveniently forgotten.

But instead of just thinking about those instances, how about comparing Self's dozen years in Lawrence to the yearly success of the other six schools to win at least one championship during that time?

I came up with a super-scientific system** to see how well Self and Kansas stack up to the sport's best.

In the chart below you will see the seven schools to win at least one title since Self's first year as Jayhawk head coach -- 2003-04. Listed are their championships, the number of times they lost in each round, number of tournament appearances, mid-major losses, and a point-ranking system.

The rankings consist of one point per round advanced in the tournament, as well as a bonus point for each appearance. In doing so, qualifying for the tournament and losing in the first round is worth more than heading to the NIT. It's simple, but easily measures how successful each coach/school is each year in terms of advancing in the NCAA Tournament -- exactly how Self and KU are measured by most critics, fair or not.

I seriously considered subtracting a point for mid-major losses, but a loss is a loss, no matter which team. Mid-major squads also are not created equal -- except in the eyes of biased fans. That being said, they are worth noting because teams like Kansas are not supposed to lose to teams like Wichita State.

Take a look at how Self compares.

Note, some teams are still playing in the tournament. They are italicized, and two points were added to their total for advancing to the Sweet 16.

Team Championships Title Game Losses Final Four Losses Elite 8 Losses Sweet 16 Losses Round of 32 Losses First Round Losses Mid-Major Losses Appearances Total Points
UNC 2 0 1 3 0 4 0 1 11 40
Kansas 1 1 0 3 2 3 2 5 12 39
Kentucky 1 1 1 2 0 3 1 1 10 36
Duke 1 0 1 1 4 1 3 3 12 36
Louisville 1 0 2 2 1 1 3 1 11 36
Florida 2 0 1 3 0 1 2 3 9 35
UCONN 3 0 1 1 0 1 2 2 8 34

A few takeaways:

  • Kansas finds itself in a solid second place.
  • The only way the Jayhawks are passed by any team is if one of the four still playing win it all this year -- leaving KU and Self in a third-place tie at worst by season's end.
  • Each school has lost to a mid-major at least once.
  • Kentucky and UCONN are the only schools with multiple had coaches during this time. The Huskies have had two, and the Wildcats are on their third.
  • While Kansas has the most mid-major losses (helping the narrative), it also is tied for the most appearances, and is second for the most Sweet 16 or further tournament runs with seven (Duke and Coach K are on their eighth this year).
  • Kansas also has the most first- or second-round exits during the time with five.
  • The Jayhawks have knocked Kentucky and North Carolina (X3) out of the tournament during this time, but have been knocked out by Kentucky as well.
  • Three schools (Kentucky, UCONN, and Florida) have missed the tournament completely in multiple years.
If, as a Jayhawk fan, you measure success by championships, then Self still finds himself in the upper 1 percent of college basketball -- despite the fact Kansas' fans want more titles.

If it's by Sweet 16 or deeper runs, then seven of 12 years isn't too bad. But the five loses to non-power six schools, have to sting a little -- and will certainly stand out in the minds of not only haters, but casual observers as well.

No (sane) Jayhawk fans are calling for Self to be fired, but you can bet they would certainly prefer to have their season ended by a team the caliber of a Michigan State or Kentucky if it didn't end with a national championship.

There are determining factors every year (injuries, suspensions, teams seeded lower than they should have been), that play a role in wins and looses, but the fact remains more than half the time Self has been in Lawrence his teams have been one of the 16 best in all the land, while nearly half of the time they bowed out earlier than expected.

The nightmares of Ali Farokhmanesh, the Killer B-Teams, and Fred VanVleet will never fade entirely, but neither should the national title he brought to Lawrence after a 20-year drought -- or the 11 straight (and counting) Big 12 Conference regular season championships.

It truly seems to be hit or miss for Self and the Jayhawks in the Big Dance. Since it is time for a hit after a few recent misses, coupled with the fact Kelly Oubre, Jr. (and possibly Cliff Alexander) might be the only departures, the future could be bright for Kansas.

It will mostly likely take another championship or two to fully push the underachievements to the side, but that's asking for a lot after what Self already has accomplished.

If what he and the Jayhawks do in the tournament each year is considered choking, then we need a new definition for the term.

*Yes UCONN is, and Louisville was, in the AAC, but they are not mid-majors.
**Actually it's not super-scientific at all