Kansas heads into another offseason frustrated, disappointed
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The way Kansas coach Bill Self rates a season is simple: Winning the conference title makes it good, advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament makes it great.
The Jayhawks haven’t had a great season in a while.
Despite rolling to its 11th consecutive Big 12 championship, the Jayhawks will be spending another summer trying to figure out what went wrong. Injuries and off-the-court issues conspired to derail a once-promising March, culminating with a 78-65 loss to Wichita State on Sunday night that sent the Shockers onto the Sweet 16 and the Jayhawks back to campus.
“Perspective-wise,” Self said, “there’s no way I’ll say it was a great year.”
The Jayhawks still finished 27-8, a win total that nine out of every 10 schools playing Division I hoops would happily accept. Without a senior who plays regular minutes, they navigated one of the toughest schedules in college basketball with more success than failure.
But they also blew a big lead in a loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament title game, then squandered an eight-point advantage in the first half against the Shockers.
“I mean, we’re not happy with it,” forward Landen Lucas said. “We don’t come here to lose in the tournament early. There’s not much else to say about it.”
So how do the Jayhawks characterize their season?
“We won the league, but as far as everything in general, I mean, we had high hopes, and I’m definitely disappointed right now,” forward Jamari Traylor said. “We just, we laid an egg I guess. We didn’t play how we should have played.”
To be fair, the Jayhawks have not been whole the last two NCAA Tournaments.
A year ago, star shot-blocker Joel Embiid was hobbled by an injury that ultimately required surgery, keeping him out for what should have been his rookie season in the NBA. Without him in the lineup, the Jayhawks labored in a loss to Stanford in the round of 32.
This year, leading scorer Perry Ellis was slowed by a sprained knee, forcing him to wear a bulky brace. And freshman forward Cliff Alexander was left at home while the NCAA investigates allegations that his family received impermissible benefits from an agent.
Wayne Selden Jr., once a top recruit, went missing in the tournament — he was scoreless on five shot attempts against the Shockers — and freshman forward Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t look like an NBA prospect in scoring three points. So it was not too surprising that the Jayhawks were run right out of Omaha by a gritty team from Wichita State.
“We certainly tried to the very end,” Self said, “but whatever we tried, they had a counter. They were a very well-coached, solid, talented basketball team.”
Self acknowledged that his own team went through “a lot of crap” this season, but he refused to make any excuses for his team’s poor performance on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Our team didn’t play very well,” he said, “and that starts with me.”
Part of the problem Kansas had Sunday was their lack of experience, especially considering the Shockers have it in spades. In theory, that shouldn’t be a problem next season: Leading scorer Perry Ellis was only a junior, Selden and point guard Frank Mason III sophomores, and Oubre and Devonte’ Graham a pair of freshmen with promising futures.
But there is a good chance that Oubre could declare for the NBA draft, and Ellis might take a long look after a breakout season.
“Losing the way we did is something that definitely doesn’t sit right with me,” Oubre said, when asked about his intentions. “It’s definitely not something I’m thinking about, the future, right now. I’m just trying to be with my brothers and let this loss sink in.”
Even if the Jayhawks lose a couple of players to the NBA, reinforcements appear to be on the way. They already have a commitment from 6-foot-9 forward Carlton Bragg, a five-star prospect from Cleveland, and are finalists with several of the other top uncommitted prospects in the class.
Adding them to a veteran nucleus could be enough to finally push Kansas into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years — and make for a great season.