Ah, the ol' panic button. Fans of every team, in every sport, love to smash it at the first signs of serious trouble, and Kansas Jayhawk fans are no exception. (I include myself, although I'm much more rational in my 30's than I was as a continually drunk college student). The sheer number of message boards and social media outlets available for fans to voice their opinions has ensured that at least a couple of comment sections will deteriorate into a rolling dumpster fire when Kansas hits a rough patch. After the beatdown Oklahoma State put on KU, combined with generally lackluster play since the epic Oklahoma game a few weeks ago, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a classic panic session. The players' heart has been questioned, Bill Self's coaching has been questioned, and now we can even check off the "Players-only meeting" box on the checklist.
With all that in mind, I thought it would be "fun" to review some of my favorite freakouts from the Bill Self era, in no particular order, to remind everyone that (almost) all of the time, things turn out OK.
When did people panic? During the Maui Invitational, when Kansas was embarrassed by Arizona and Arkansas, and continuing through early December, when a loss to St. Joe's in Madison Square Garden left the Jayhawks sitting at 3-4.
What were people saying? Mario Chalmers literally can't even get the ball across halfcourt! Is this recruiting class even that good? I thought once we got Self's guys in here, things were supposed to be better?
Was it warranted? Not really. Somewhere along the way (I blame those damn millenials and their iPhones), college basketball fans lost their appreciation for a good old-fashioned rebuilding year. I used to enjoy seasons like '99, '06, '09-- seasons after a bunch of seniors have left, and a new era is beginning. Now, partly because the Big 12 title streak has spoiled us beyond repair, every Jayhawk team has to be a title contender right out of the gate, or people start getting restless. There are always going to be growing pains with freshmen, no matter how talented they are. And when they put that talent together, like when the '06 team followed the 3-4 start by ripping off 17 wins in 19 games, it's amazingly fun to watch.
When did people panic? After losing to Davidson at the Sprint Center on December 19th.
What were people saying? KU doesn't show up for Sprint Center games, we need to stop scheduling them! Self has hit rock bottom as a recruiter! If Davidson hits that buzzer beater and KU loses in the '08 Elite Eight, would Self even still be here?
Was it warranted? Hell no. Granted, the two previous NCAA tournaments (losses to Northern Iowa and VCU) didn't exactly go as planned, but the 2011-12 season was the height of every uneducated internet commenter's hubris, as far as criticism of Self is concerned. Yes, those two tourney losses were ugly, but every team goes through a stretch like that. This is an imperfect comparison, but in a span of three years, Duke lost to a 15-seed and a 14-seed, and you didn't hear their fans calling for Coach K's head. Yes, Self got his pants pulled down during that recruiting season-- largely due to the fact that the Morris twins impossibly skyrocketed that season, Selby left when he never should have, and McLemore and Jamari were ruled ineligible. It was a perfect storm. They happen from time to time. Really, the only mistake Self made was putting all his eggs in the Kaleb Tarczewski basket. After the previous couple of years, when Kansas was legitimately 11-12 players deep, it was a shock to see Conner Teahen and Justin Wesley get minutes, but it just pointed to how spoiled we all were. It's totally normal to have a down year when the bench is thin, blue blood or not. That's why the run to the championship game that year was so huge; it finally kicked all the Self haters off the bus. If you're going to keep what-if'ing the Davidson game, we'll just pull over and let you out at the next stop.
When did people panic? After the "Topeka YMCA" loss at TCU on February 6th, and then again after the subsequent loss at Oklahoma, which made three in a row for the Jayhawks.
What were people saying? We have no point guard! We can't trust Elijah Johnson! I wish we still had Tyshawn Taylor!
Was it warranted? Wellllll....maybe a little. After the three-game losing streak, Kansas won their next seven, including a conference-streak saving double-OT win in Stillwater, and the infamous game in Ames where Elijah (can't trust him) dropped 39 points, dunked a breakaway at (more or less) the buzzer, and some hillbilly almost threw fisticuffs at Self. However, with a chance to clinch the Big 12 title outright, the Jayhawks got punked by 23 at Baylor, and then a couple weeks later melted down late against Michigan in the Sweet 16....and it was clear that KU really did need a point guard. So despite the fact that Kansas rallied to win a share of the Big 12 and locked up a 1-seed, I'll give at least partial credit to the panic-button pressers on this one.
When did people panic? After losing 61-60 at Oklahoma State on February 23rd-- only their third loss of the season.
What were people saying? This KU team has no heart! They're going to choke again in the tournament because they don't care enough! Self doesn't coach as hard against Oklahoma State, it's his alma mater! T. Boone Pickens is gonna throw enough money at Self after the season that he'll leave!
Was it warranted? Absolutely not. People freaking out about this team was dumb at the time, and looks patently ridiculous in retrospect. Sure, Brandon Rush often looked like he was only vaguely aware of what he was doing most the time, and if you based your opinion of Darrell Arthur's emotional spectrum based solely on his facial expressions, you'd think it only ranged from "Do you smell that? I'm pretty sure somebody farted in here" to "Oh snaps, I totally forgot to DVR Real Housewives of Atlanta, it's the season finale tonight!" But still, just because a basketball team doesn't slap the floor like Steve Wojciechowski every defensive possession, does NOT mean a team has no heart. Fetch mentioned this concept a couple days ago, and I completely agree: Critiquing a team by saying "they don't care" or "they don't want to win" is just lazy, and tantamount to admitting you don't know how to analyze the game of basketball.
Anyway, in 2008, the players got together and ate some wings at Henry T's and talked about how they were spending too much time playing video games, and didn't lose a game the rest the season. Crisis averted. Bing bang boom.
Moral of the story: It's OK to be worked up about the sub-par quality of KU's play the last couple weeks. It's part of what makes it fun to be a fan. But pump the brakes on full-fledged panic mode. We've been here before. Self is still a good coach. This team still has a lot of experience and talent, and a good chance to make the Final Four. It's still only January. Brandon Rush wouldn't panic, and neither should we.