It certainly isn’t the worst sports cliche, bur the phrase “I could see them losing in the second round or making the Final Four” we hear this time of year is cringe-worthy. In the age of parity, of Butlers and George Masons, VCUs and Norfolk States, a lot of teams can lose in the second round or make the Final Four.
With that in mind, I’ve been trying to stay away from that cliche regarding these Kansas Jayhawks. They are 19-2 and have won 18 of their last 19 games. They’re first in the Big 12 and, with wins this weekend at Oklahoma and at home against Kansas State (assuming TCU isn’t a roadblock tonight), they should cruise to their ninth straight Big 12 championship. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey are two of the best defenders in the country, and Ben McLemore will be a top five NBA draft pick in June. Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country. So why is everyone asking what’s the matter with Kansas? Well, for teams like Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina, wins are nitpicked, losses are sensationalized, and seasons are judged by Final Fours and National Championships. A loss isn’t just a loss, it’s a reason to be concerned about possible NCAA Tournament struggles. Most of the time, those concerns are overblown. Over a five-month season, players are bound to lose focus or catch a hot team or suffer a cold shooting night at least a few times. It happens.
Kansas’ 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday wasn’t one of those games, but more of a justification of the concerns people have had for most of January. In December, Kansas won all five games by an average of 27.4 PPG, and that included a 12-point road win at then-#7 Ohio State on December 22. But Ohio State wasn’t the only solid team they faced in that stretch. They also beat up on Colorado and Belmont by 36 and 29 points, respectively, two projected NCAA Tournament teams. But then came January and five close wins in spite of sloppy play. They were doing enough to win and keep most of the chatter in the background, but the loss to Oklahoma State was enough to bring the talk to the light. “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”