Bill Self’s One-And-Done Experience: Success Or Failure?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 26th, 2015

For the second straight season, Kansas was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Third Round. The early exits have begun to wear on one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases as the Jayhawks have been eliminated prior to the Sweet Sixteen in five of Self’s 12 seasons in Lawrence. The most recent, vocal criticism of Self relates to his recruitment of potential one-and-done players. Self’s two best teams did not feature the standard-bearers for the elite in college basketball these days. The 2008 Jayhawks won the national championship with only one freshman, Cole Aldrich, playing in more than 20 percent of the team’s minutes. The 2012 team that lost to Kentucky in the championship game had only one freshman, Naadir Tharpe, who played in more than 10 percent of the team’s available minutes. That narrative, though, paints an incomplete picture of Self’s experience with one-and-done talent.

Bill Self is being questioned after another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self is Wondering What Went Wrong After Another Early Exit (AP)

Talent is indispensable in college basketball and one-and-done players are the epitome of talent. They have program-changing potential and their inclusion in a rotation certainly doesn’t hurt teams seeking deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s Sweet Sixteen provides great support to that notion. Most notably, Arizona (Stanley Johnson), Duke (Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow), Kentucky (Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Trey Lyles) and Utah (Jakob Poeltl) all have at least one freshman likely to be in June’s NBA Draft playing a significant role for their team.

The flip side is that talent doesn’t always pan out. One-and-done players have become an easy scapegoat for Kansas’ problems of the last two years. Andrew Wiggins was nearly invisible in the Jayhawks’ round of 32 loss to Stanford last season, scoring just four points on 1-of-6 shooting. Kelly Oubre didn’t play well against Wichita State and was the victim of perhaps the most defining play of the game when unheralded Shocker Zach Brown outhustled him to a loose ball before slamming it home on the other end. Noticeably absent from those two losses were Joel Embiid a year ago and Cliff Alexander this season. Embiid suffered through multiple unexpected injuries and nobody could have predicted that Alexander’s mother would allegedly take out a loan leveraged against her son’s future earnings.

We all suffer from cognitive bias, a tendency to focus on the most recent events when evaluating success or failure and to highlight the failures more often than the successes. Sure, the Jayhawks have played poorly in elimination games over the past two seasons, but Kansas was a Trey Burke prayer away from the Elite Eight in 2013, got all the way to the national title game in 2012, lost to an incredibly hot shooting VCU team in 2011, and fell to an ill-advised Ali Farokhmanesh shot in 2010. The Jayhawks also won the Big 12 regular season title in each of those seasons. In three of them, Self had a one-and-done player on his roster.

To say that Self has failed with one-and-dones is to accept those biases. Remember that the Jayhawks have played in the NCAA Tournament the last two trips without potential game-changing players. Embiid was arguably the best big man in college basketball last season when healthy. Alexander, despite his slower development, was still scoring 16.2 points and grabbing 12.0 rebounds per 40 minutes this year. In those two seasons, Kansas also faced a pair of tough matchups. Stanford sported a blistering zone defense and the Jayhawks couldn’t shoot straight. This year, Wichita State was underseeded and played the Jayhawks with a chip on their shoulder.

In sum, you shouldn’t let two recent failures color your perceptions of Bill Self’s program. He has still won 11 straight conference titles. He has gotten to as many Elite Eights during his time at Kansas as he does early exits. He’s played in the national championship game twice, and brought home the championship once. One-and-done players like Xavier Henry and Andrew Wiggins have thrived in his system. When it comes to Kansas, don’t let those cognitive biases overcome rational thinking.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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