It’s now down to this … we’ve been here before. KU has a #1 seed and a reasonable path to the Final Four. But the last four times we’ve been in this position, our season has ended with painful losses. Logic says it will happen again. Champions, many times, defy logic.
1. Defense Wins Championships: The old adage is generally true. Rarely does a top defensive team win the title when it is poor defensively. We posted about this yesterday … even UNC in 2005 and 2009 were in the top 40 in defensive efficiency. Roy’s teams that won the title played pretty good defense. I do think an overwhelming offense can overcome, but we’re talking six games, no margin of error, against top teams with great coaches. It’s why Self loves to have some character tests during the season, some games where we persevere and win when the ball doesn’t go in the hole. We have joked about how Self actually prefers low scoring games – this is surely part of the reason.
2. Our Weakness: Defense has been our bugaboo all season. Someone aptly described the KU defense parting like the Red Sea when TCU attacked at times. We are lacking in that department. We have good perimeter defenders, but when the dike starts to leak, we have nothing to plug it with. We have zero rim protection from the post positions. JJ is an athletic guy, but nothing comparable to our ideal – Aldrich, Embiid, Withey. Erasers that cover leakage.
3. Udoka: This was a huge loss. Udoka provided us a true rim protector. Coach Self inserted Udoka in the starting lineup, quite obviously, to prep him for this moment. To permit him to arc upward and gain experience. The wrist injury ended all that. And it sent our chances to play good team defense down the drain.
4. Defensive Efficiency: If there is a big negative for KU’s chances of an NCAA title, it’s defensive efficiency. Kansas sits at 99th in defensive efficiency. Since Self has been the coach at KU, no team that has won the NCAA title has been worse than 74th. So we’re 25 spots away from that bottom-dweller position. Here is are the numbers for NCAA title winners for defensive efficiency, with Kansas shown for 2017.
-2004: UConn 6
-2005: UNC 19
-2006: Florida 19 (KU was 1)
-2007: Florida 16 (KU was 1)
-2008: Kansas 4
-2009: UNC 39
-2010: Duke 9
-2011: UConn 75
-2012: Kentucky 9
-2013: Louisville 3
-2014: UConn 19
-2015: Duke 63
-2016: Villanova 14
-2017: Kansas 99
5. KenPom Defensive Efficiency: Using a different metric, KenPom’s efficiency ratings, the news doesn’t get any better. No NCAA title winner since 2004 has been worse than 21 in at the KenPom ratings regarding defensive efficiency. KU is now at 30.
-2004: UConn 5
-2005: UNC 7
-2006: Florida 7
-2007: Florida 15
-2008: Kansas 1
-2009: UNC 21
-2010: Duke 5
-2011: UConn 15
-2012: Kentucky 8
-2013: Louisville 1
-2014: UConn 10
-2015: Duke 12
-2016: Villanova 5
-2017: Kansas 30
So what does this all mean? I think quite simply it seems to mean that we are living on borrowed time. It seems like harsh reality. It’s why when you have a team constructed for March, like we have many times before, you have to cash it. It’s why the possible titles in 2010, 2011, and 2015, where we could argue that we should have won, are so precious. We needed one of those. And a team like this just can’t win a national title, can it? Well, it shouldn’t.
We all know we should not win the title this season. We look like Duke in 2015 I heard someone say, comparing Winslow and Jackson at the four, but ignoring the guy named Okafer. This season and its success is a result of Bill Self, and taking a team, and its warts, and constructing a scheme and plan to put our guys in the best position to win. The best example I have seen from coach Self in this regard. But we are have weaknesses that tend to get exposed in March. That inability to stop other teams from scoring.
I have been content this season. A good word – content. We look at 2008-09 many times as Self’s best coaching job. This season, in my mind, is clearly the best. Landen Lucas and fumes in the post. Carlton Bragg, who’s played like the bong was his brother. And Dwight Coleby, whose game has had more holes than a block of Swiss most of the season. The leader, Lucas, continually plays to his ceiling. An amazing story. But he has been it.
And the lack of inside presence has led to an inability to cover perimeter mistakes. It has led to perimeter issues, too, when our defenders have had to shade and protect against the drive, leaving open threes (ISU a great example). For those that shrug at the idea of rim protection, you might consider how valuable a Hunter Mickelson would be right now to this porous perimeter.
Can we remain optimistic? Sure. This season may be decided by something other than defense. But don’t bet on it. And don’t bet on KU this March. That’s the ugly negative. The “we can’t” stuff that is easy to spew.
This is Kansas, if I recall correctly. We can.
The good news is that there are no lock down defensive teams in our bracket, aside from possibly Louisville. Here are the teams we may face, with defensive efficiency/KenPom defensive efficiency - Louisville 22/6, Oregon 19/22, Purdue 23/16, ISU 96/43, Creighton 91/27. Our possible second round opponents come in as follows - Michigan St. 92/34 and Miami 92/20.
Has the NCAA selection committee done us a favor? A blessed favor? Maybe. Only one number from the two metrics in the top 10. The selection committee clearly gave us a favorable region. Who would have wanted Duke, or UCLA, or UK, or Arizona, over what we have? Would anyone have wanted defensive stalwarts UVA as our 5, or Wisconsin as our 8, or Florida as our 4? Maybe they all stink, but it seems that avoiding top defensive teams might be our best path.
In our region, in top half of the seeds, only Michigan is better than KU on the offensive end of it, under both metrics. The differences aren’t substantial, but they are differences. And who scores better on under the basket in-bounds plays, anyway?
This team also has experience, and it has the biggest (figuratively), baddest (literally – as in how Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from Welcome Back Kotter might say it) player in the tournament – Frank Mason. The single baddest player in CBB.
Guards win titles, and this may be the clash of metrics vs. simplicity. The best guards win. Lots of examples where guard play has propelled teams to the title. If that is really the case, start find room in the trophy case.
When I bet, I’ll bet on the best point guard in Kansas history. I sure as heck am not betting against him.
I’m not betting against KU in the Sprint Center, either. AFH west has been gifted to Kansas, again by that evil NCAA. The gold brick path to the Final Four is there. It used to be Kemper, and Roy remembers UVA, and Jeff Jones. Bill Self has no such memory. This is our town.
This KU team also knows how to win. Bill Parcells said that good teams win close games. Some say that good teams blow out the opponent. True. But good teams know how to win close games. That’s of great value. We’ve done it on the road, we’ve done it at home. We’ve done it. Just win, baby. Yea, I hated the Raiders. All Chiefs fans did. But over time, one respects the mantra and even the despicable QB (Kenny Stabler). This KU team just wins. It is all that matters.
Sometimes, in the most pressure packed moments, a player rises to the moment. Better than he ever was, better than he will ever be. We have candidates, and one that has overcome a devastating knee injury to rise again. We’ve seen glimpses. On that crucial night, we might only need 12 solid minutes. But titles are won on 12 solid minutes. Call it a hunch.
The optimist will say that we can overcome the history of the numbers defensively. Of course we can. We shall overcome. Someone always overcomes the numbers. Always. Standards and numbers change. Good grief, the Royals won the World Series again before I was dumped in a pine box. Would not have believed it possible. So odds have been destroyed before. Recently. Here.
As we know, KU has had the odds in its favor many times in this event, and failed. Again, the last four times we were a number one seed we went down in flames before the Final Four. It would seem apropos for Kansas to win the title when the numbers seemed quite ominous. That’s how the world works. It’s not like we have to win the popular vote, lots of useless votes on the left coast – we just need the rest of the electoral college. Advanced metrics have been mocked by actual results quite recently, I tend to recall. Odds and probabilities be damned. That feeling is still in the air. .
Red state? Deep state? State of denial? No – it’s a belief. A collective belief in what’s right.
We overcame odds before, I think … in 1988. With a POY. We now have the POY again. And the POY shall lead them. The stars, planets, and little black birds on the wire can line up. We aren’t Villanova in '85, or the Wolpack of '83. We don’t have to be either to win it all. We’re above that.
I might also argue that KU deserves this title. That’s right, we are the chosen ones. Given a life of KU basketball. We were born to this earth to don the crimson and blue, and to look down upon the world below us. This is of course a capitalistic system, one where the strong survive. The losers lose. We will not redistribute the wealth. We are aristocracy and we deserve another title – with our wine, and selection of tasty cheeses. The goblet gets passed around amongst the blue bloods. We shall drink. It’s been too long. We must drink.
And Self deserves it. Man, does he deserve it. Hugging his son, grasping the trophy, cementing his place as the greatest coach in KU history. Self deserves this.
This is a national title team until it isn’t. Six games. Three, four team tournaments. Easy, right?
Maybe, just maybe, in a season of unprecedented off the court distractions, when the hits just keep on coming, the team with the supposed fatal flaw locks arms, with the chip squarely on their collective shoulder (see @drgnslayr), and that team drives powerfully to the title. Flipping the bird at that attack force media gathered outside the locker room. Saying screw the traitors, and the naysayers, and the enemies. We are 16,300 strong every freaking night, but that locker room and that coach has seen the knives come out from the treacherous, yet, predictable few. Waiting to pounce on perfection, and on a program and coach that do things the right way.
We’ll pounce on this. There is no reason why this can’t happen. No reason.
The best coach. The best player. And a team that has persevered all season, in dark situations, with an eye on the ultimate prize.
Write KU in as your national title team. Or don’t. There is no ever present karma other than what runs through that locker room. This team has “it.” And I want a ring.
We are Kansas. The greatest basketball school ever. Now on to the most amazing spectacle in sports.