Bill Self’s Backup: Yeah, We’ve Been Spoiled

 By: Chris O’Brien

I should have known that my post, “I’m starting to believe in this team” would be a kiss of death. It’s like when an announcer talks about how good a free throw shooter a guy is right before he shoots a free throw; it almost always serves as a jinx.

Since that post, the Jayhawks lost at home to Oklahoma State (the Cowboys are second to last in the conference) and had another one of these “almost lost again” games against TCU at home in the Phog. Our homecourt, normally the best in college basketball, is proving not to be any sort of advantage this year.

Couple weeks ago, I’m thinking, alright, we’ve got this figured out. We may be a No. 1 seed!

Now here we are making major starting lineup adjustments. That’s scary to me. Self’s still figuring out the rotation and there are only seven games left in the regular season. Should we sound the alarm??

I know I’ve referenced the movie It’s a Wonderful Life a couple of times this year on various blogs, but I’m not sure if it’s made an appearance yet here. What this season feels like to me, is one long nightmare similar to when Clarence shows George Bailey what the world is like without him. In this KU basketball version of It’s a Wonderful Life, I think some fan out there said, “I’m tired of winning Big 12 titles and not getting to the Final Four in March. I’m tired of just having great regular seasons.”

And Clarence said, ok, let’s show you what it’s like to struggle for a Big 12 title.

I now find myself feeling a deep level of guilt for everything in the Bill Self era I’ve taken for granted.

I want to apologize for how I acted after the Bucknell, Bradley, VCU, Northern Iowa, Stanford, Wichita State (holy cow, this is a long list) disappointments. Or how I nod my head in agreement when people talk about Bill Self not being able to get past the Elite Eight. I used to think these things were so bad, Self kept getting our hopes up, winning the Big 12, being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and ending in disappointment.

I now realize, a season like 2017-18 is far worse. Every single game of Big 12 play has been a battle. In Big 12 play, we’ve won by double digits just one time. At home, this is what’s truly remarkable, our biggest win was that game against TCU by seven points. And we were tied with only a few minutes left.

And that was our BEST game!

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. Can we please have the regular Jayhawks again?? Where are Zuzu’s petals?!

And yet, this season, one that has been noticeably worse than any of the last 13 still has the Jayhawks in the Top 10. We still have a First Team All America type of talent running the offense in Devonte Graham. And how many teams out there would kill to have Doke on their roster? Or to even land a talent like Doke once in a decade even.

We have first-world problems. This “nightmare” season could still end in a Big 12 Title and a top two seed. And we’re not alone in our suffering. This has been a truly bizarre year in college basketball. A lot of teams are struggling on their homecourts.

Less than an hour after we lost to Oklahoma State, Duke went down to St. John’s who was under .500 and a shocking 0-11 in Big East play. It wasn’t in Cameron Indoor, but Madison Square Garden is essentially Duke’s New York City homecourt.

A few days later, St. John’s won AT Villanova!

Purdue just lost a home game against Ohio State. Auburn was taken down at home by Texas A&M.

Rewind the tape further and you’ve got Wofford winning in Chapel Hill, Loyola Chicago winning at Florida.

Look at the Blue Bloods, for all of Duke’s talent, they’re about the same record as us and have non-Duke type losses; the biggest being St. John’s but also Boston College and NC State, both who are out of the Top 50 in KenPom.

UCLA and Kentucky are outside of the Top 25. North Carolina already has seven losses.

Or how about our in-state pseudo-rival Wichita State. This was supposed to be their year. There was a legitimate fear that the Shockers would get to the Final Four giving them two more recent trips than the Jayhawks. That can’t happen! Thankfully, they’ve got the same record as us in conference play in a far less intense conference.

I’m a fairly rational fan. Well, maybe by KU standards. I know what I see on the court and I know when I look at a graphic like this one…

Scoring margin

That doesn’t scream “National Champion” or even “Top Two seed.” In all reality, I don’t understand how we are doing as well as we are. Give our guys credit, they know how to close out games, but man +1.6, we could easily be swapped with TCU and sitting there at a 4-7 Big 12 mark.

But why I still feel a sense of urgency, still believe in this team is because of how messy this season is all around college basketball.

What other season will we have Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville all as fringe Top 25 teams?

What other year will an 0-11 team like St. John’s be able to knock off two Top Five teams in back-to-back games? A neutral and an away game!

What other year will forty teams (it’s a stretch but look for this post on Saturday or Sunday where I make the case) have a shot at the Final Four?

And so if teams like Texas Tech, Auburn, Purdue, Xavier, Cinci are legit title contenders, well then why not us? We have more NBA players on this roster, more McDonald’s All-Americans than any of those squads.

Sure, this isn’t one of Bill Self’s best teams, but we have enough talent to win in this bizarro year.

Apologies that I didn’t get more into the Ok State and TCU games. Next post will return to the traditional format of a coach breaking down film. I want to increase the sample size of Lightfoot starting, see what effect this has. In the one game against TCU, I really liked the adjustment. Lightfoot’s a great energy guy and gives us more strength inside. 

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