In American sports, and as a fan, few things are more exciting than your school making a glorious three-week run through the NCAA Tournament.
Here's my opinion of each round's most epic Jayhawk wins since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Round of 64
2000 - 8-seed Kansas 81, 9-seed DePaul 77 in OT
The 1999-2000 Jayhawks were Roy Williams' lowest-seeded tournament team during his 15 years at Kansas. They were led by a trio of freshmen starters in Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, and Kirk Hinrich, and sophomore Jeff Boschee.
The Jayhawk's first-round tournament opponent was the DePaul Blue Demons. Chicago's favorite college team had four Chicago-born stars and big-time recruits who all went on to play in the NBA - Quentin Richardson, Paul McPherson, Lance Williams, and Bobby Simmons. In this game, all that NBA talent seemed to overwhelm the young Jayhawks. The Jayhawks' unheralded upper classman had to save the day - Kenny Gregory, Eric Chenowith, and Nick Bradford off the bench.
In overtime, the Jayhawks found themselves down 7-1 with 1:55 left to go, but they rallied and went on a soul-crushing 10-0 run to close out the game.
Honorable Mention Round of 64 Game:
2002 1-seed Kansas 70, 16-seed Holy Cross 59
Roy Williams' 2002 Jayhawks were an absolute offensive juggernaut, scoring 100+ points in 12 of their games and 90+ points in seven others. Virginia did every other school a favor by becoming the first 1-seed to fall to a 16. It looked like Holy Cross was going to slap KU with that dubious honor. This eventual KU Final Four team rallied down the stretch, though, and then dismantled Stanford in the second round to show they were fine.
Round of 32
2012 - 2-seed Kansas 63, 10-seed Purdue 60
You had to feel for Purdue's senior star forward, Robbie Hummel, in this game. The kid had his career hampered by so many injuries. The loss of Hummel at the end of the season deeply impacted a loaded Purdue team that had Final Four aspirations in 2010. By 2012, it was Hummel's last ride, and man, did he go down swinging. There were moments when seemed like he was going to have 50 points for the game.
There is nothing you can really do when someone goes wild like that. So, Kansas had to keep playing and hope he slows down. Kansas was behind the entire game - with Purdue even holding an 11 point lead at one point - until Elijah Johnson hit a three-pointer that put the Jayhawks up 57-56.
However, Purdue was back up by three with just a minute left when Elijah Johnson grabbed a Hummel missed three-pointer and delivered a sick, near half-court alley-oop pass to Tyshawn Taylor, who dunked it. That play seemed to demoralize Purdue. The Boilermakers would never score again as a steal on the very next possession led to an Elijah Johnson layup that put the Jayhawks on top for good. Kansas survived.
Honorable Mention Round of 32 Game
1988 6-seed Kansas 61, 14-seed Murray State 58
Kansas' glorious run to the 1988 National Championship almost ended in the second round. Kansas clung to a 59-58 lead in the dying seconds of this second-round game. Murray State guard Don Mann wound the clock down for the last shot, drove the lane, lifted a layup that hit the backboard, and then gut-wrenchingly crawled across the open rim before falling into the arms of Danny Manning. Manning was promptly fouled and then iced the game at the free-throw line.
2003 - 2-seed Kansas 69, 3-seed Duke 65
The narrative going into this game was that Roy Williams was a tournament choker and Duke's Coach K was not. Kansas only dispatched 15-seed Utah State by three points in the opener. Duke had looked solid in both of their games. J.J. Reddick was a three-point draining machine for the Devils. The Jayhawks, due to the injury loss of Wayne Simien, were short on depth.
What we got that night was a back and forth 40-minute slugfest between college basketball blue bloods. Knotted 35 all at halftime, the Devils started the second half by taking a 9 point lead. From that point, though, the teams traded the lead six times before KU pulled away late.
Nick Collison was an absolute beast. His 33 points and 19 rebounds, were the most by a Jayhawk in the tournament since the Manning days.
Honorable Mention Sweet 16 Game
2002 1-seed Kansas 73, 4-seed Illinois 69
In the 2001 tournament, these two schools met in the same round, but with the seeding reversed. That year Bills Self's Illini roughed up a Jayhawks squad coming into its own as a powerhouse unit. In 2002, Self's Illinois team was Kansas' toughest roadblock on the way to the Final Four. It was a hard-fought back and forth affair. This game stands as the only time a Bill Self coached team has lost to a Roy Williams-coached team in five head-to-head matchups.
2018 - 1-seed Kansas 85, 2-seed Duke 81 in OT
2018 marked the third straight tournament that saw Kansas knocking on the door to the Final Four. The injury to Udoka Azubuike very likely kept KU from getting there in 2017. In 18, though, the Jayhawks needed him against the insanely talented four-headed frontcourt monster of near seven-footers - Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Javin DeLaurier, and Marques Bolden.
Pundits were claiming the seeding was wrong in this bracket and that Duke should have been the one. The Jayhawks guard-heavy lineup wasn't supposed to be able to handle Duke's size. Instead, DeVonte Graham, Malik Newman, Legerald Vick, and Svi Mykhailiuk gave Duke headaches all day with their slashing to the basket and draining big threes.
Newman, in particular, took this game over in the second half. His 32 points all seemed to come at crucial times. There were too many big shots from so many Jayhawk players in this game to recount. Just watch it below and get fired up all over again. This one was almost a heartbreaker, though, as Grayson Allen's attempt to end the game in regulation rolled around the basket for an eternity before falling off.
Honorable Mention Elite 8 Game
2003 - 2-seed Kansas 78, 1-seed Arizona 75
This game was an evenly matched title belt fight with these two teams full of NBA talent dropping haymakers on each other throughout. Kansas held on to send Roy Williams to his final Final Four as Jayhawks coach.
2008 - 1-seed Kansas 84, 1-seed North Carolina 66
I privilege closer, more competitive games on my scale of epic wins. So, the win over Ohio State in the 2012 Final Four more appropriately fits that bill. However, I will go with this game just for the delicious catharsis it provided Jayhawk fans.
Continuing the march to the program's first National Title in 20 years meant Kansas would have to go through Roy Williams' top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. That's right, they had to go through the coach who many KU fans felt rejected by, who couldn't win a national title at Kansas, but won one in his second year at Carolina and could win a second by delivering another frustrating loss to Kansas.
Not on this night, though. Bill Self's Jayhawks played like hungry dogs loosed onto an injured goat. Kansas blew Carolina's doors off so fast and so heavy in the first half that former CBS color commentator Billy Packer bluntly stated, "This game is over," at the seven-minute mark.
Any ill will held towards Roy Williams after serving him up this nationally televised flogging, followed up by him cheering on the Jayhawks in the title game two days later, is ridiculous.
In that Final Four game, Bill Self made like Michael Corleone in the Godfather and said, "Today I settled all family business."
Final Four Honorable Mention Game
2012 2-seed Kansas 64, 2-seed Ohio State 62
For the second straight tournament game, Bill Self's toughest squad ever told a high-quality opponent, "if we say you're done scoring, you're done scoring." KU shook off a slow start to turn this game into a brawl. By the time Thomas Robinson threw down a dunk while screaming down the lane, Ohio State knew what was coming. KU took the lead late with a string of dazzling, opponent demoralizing plays. The sight of the KU students throwing their Final Four seat cushions into the air after the final whistle was beautiful.
National Championship Game
2008 - 1-seed Kansas 75, 1-seed Memphis 68 in OT
Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks brought home the trophy from the, as of this writing, only Final Four of all 1-seeds who had a combined win-loss record of 146-12.
Kansas and Memphis didn't disappoint in the title round of this foursome of giants. Both teams went after each other before Memphis had KU on the ropes. With 2:12 on the clock, the Jayhawks were down by nine. And well, you know the rest.
It's the little things that stand out to me in this game and just how close KU was to not winning this trophy.
Derrick Rose's three switched to a two-pointer after being on the scoreboard as a three for about two minutes of game time. It was the right call, but what if the officials hadn't reviewed it? KU probably loses.
The nine-point comeback started after Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins were able to turn it into a four-point deficit in the blink of an eye. If Collins doesn't steal the inbound after Arthur's make and then get the ball back to drain only KU's second three of the night (before Mario's miracle, of course), KU probably loses.
If Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts dribbles out more time after Sherron Collins' missed layup instead of trying to score and getting fouled with 16 seconds left, KU probably loses.
If Derrick Rose makes the first of his two final free throws, KU probably loses.
If Sherron Collins doesn't fall as he passes the ball to Mario Chalmers on KU's final shot attempt in regulation, Calipari's guys were going to foul someone to deny KU the chance to tie the game. By falling, Collins prevented himself from being fouled and pretty much indirectly used his body to shield the defenders from Chalmers just long enough for him to get that legendary shot off.
It was absolutely crazy.