After Kansas’ numbing 74-60 Elite Eight loss to Oregon on Saturday, I tried to put the game into some semblance of perspective, taking my emotional ties out of it since I'm a KU alum.
And the natural question was: Did Oregon play that great or did Kansas play that poorly?
And, invariably as it always is, it was a little bit of both.
First off, give Oregon a ton of credit. It shot 60 percent in the first half and held two heads of KU’s three-headed monster, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson, to a grand total of 0 points — that’s right, 0.
Jackson took himself out of the game in a hurry. He picked up two quick fouls and fretted about it the rest of the game. For as fabulous of a freshman as he was, he still is immature at times, as is any glitzy phenom. He never seemed to get over the calls emotionally, one reason he had 5 turnovers. Graham had trouble with the size of the Oregon guards and could never work himself free.
KU got down as many as 18 in the second half, but it did what it always does — played with a lot of pluck and managed to slice the lead down to 6. Had the Jayhawks been able to come up with a rebound with the score at 66-60, who knows what might have happened.
But they didn’t and Oregon buried a 3-pointer later in that possession and that was the ballgame.
While Oregon was great, KU was not. It shot just 21 of 60 from the field, this from a team that had averaged more than 90 points through three games of the NCAA Tournament. Graham never made a shot after scoring 26 points just 48 hours earlier. Jackson finished with a double-double, but didn’t play with his same reckless abandon after those two early fouls. Landen Lucas had only 3 rebounds and was overwhelmed by Oregon’s Jordan Bell, who had an 11-point, 13-rebound, 8-block game.
Frank Mason, the prohibitive National Player of the Year, scored 17 points in the first half to keep KU from getting embarrassed, but collapsed under the weight of carrying this team and finished with 21, but needed 20 shots to do it. Svi Mykhailiuk and Legerald Vick combined for a creditable 17 points, with Vick the only sub to score. KU basically went with six players, as Dwight Coleby played only 4 minutes and Jayhawk coach Bill Self obviously had lost faith in erratic Carlton Bragg as he never got off the bench.
So for the second year in a row, Kansas lost in the Elite Eight, following up last year’s exit against eventual national champion Villanova. And reaction from some KU fans, for me being an alum of the school, was disappointing.
The talk shows and chat lines were chockfull of Self-bashing. Some were calling for his ouster, which is so unrealistic and ridiculous that it almost doesn’t merit a response. He has led KU to 13 straight Big 12 championships, during which time the team has lost only 10 games at home. It won the national championship in 2008 and finished second in 2012. Allen Field House has been sold out for what seems like an eternity and games at The Phog are a happening.
It’s been pointed out on numerous occasions that Dean Smith won only two national championships in his 36 years at North Carolina. John Calipari also lost in the Elite Eight this weekend and do you think Kentucky fans are calling for his head? I seriously doubt it.
When you look closely at this Kansas team, I think it actually overachieved. After losing Udoka Azubuike a third of the way into the season due to torn ligaments in his wrist, Self had to remake his team on the fly. Bragg was supposed to be his replacement, but was in a funk both on and off the court, so Self couldn’t count on him for quality minutes. That necessitated a four-guard lineup and the result was the most explosive offensive team in Self’s tenure.
But it also was a team that had little rim protection and little depth. Mason and Graham were ironmen. Jackson was everything KU wanted in a one-and-done player and Lucas battled his tail off despite his limitations. Svi and Vick did their part most of the time, though neither was consistent.
KU fans need to stop the Self-bashing. I know they live vicariously through the team’s success, but there’s far more important things to be consumed with. I think a lot of fans around the country would give anything to follow a team that has the high success of KU.