KU KO'ed

The 2005-2006 season is over for the Kansas Jayhawks. People are still talking about the streak but its no longer about the tear KU went on after losing back-to-back conference games back in January, or the impressive run in Dallas. It's now all about two in a row – as in two first round exits.

No need to send this one to trial. I’m guilty. Guilty as charged. I was guilty of believing that this team would advance deep into the NCAA tournament. Just like several experts around the country, I believed Kansas had a good chance to be in Indianapolis. I took the bait - hook, line, and sinker.

There will be no Final Four in Indy and no more comparing this team to the young 1997 Arizona team that walked away with a title – just another heavy dose of March Sadness.

Last year prior to the start of the tournament I wondered when, not if Kansas would go down. The ’04-’05 Jayhawks limped into the Dance, and though experienced, really struggled down the stretch in February and March. The loss to Bucknell was not shocking. Maybe to some, but if you followed Kansas closely enough the signs were there.

Not this year. Kansas gave the experts and the fans every reason to believe. These Hawks had energy. They showed their toughness against Texas and proved they could perform at a high level on a short turnaround – all important indicators of NCAA tournament success? I thought so. They appeared to be entering the tournament clicking on all cylinders.

The biggest reason I believed in this year’s Jayhawks was because they featured one of the best defenses in the nation -- the type of defense that transforms turnovers into easy baskets, and the kind of “D” that can save a team on an off shooting night. It’s a quality I consider every year when I choose teams to go deep into the tournament. Who’s equipped to survive and advance?

Bill Self’s squad ran into a tough foe in the Bradley Braves. Labeled a 13 seed but the number was in no way representative of how confident and well-coached this team was. They sure didn’t celebrate this win like a 13 seed. BU walked off the court and like it did what it was supposed to and had much more to accomplish.

All that being said this was a game Kansas still should’ve won. So the fans, players, coaches, and fans are frustrated-- to different degrees -- but frustrated nonetheless.

From the opening tip the Bradley had the Jayhawks on their heels. Jim Les’s team was the aggressor, and it led to a 14-point bulge. Kansas scratched and clawed to get back in this one but just didn’t have enough. The Jayhawks still had their chances to pull out a 1st round nail-biter but KU’s penchant for careless turnovers again reared its ugly head. 18 turnovers and a four-point loss (77-73) equaled heartbreak in Auburn Hills.

There were three reasons Kansas lost this game in my opinion – lack of poise, lack of stops, and turnovers. To get more specific, Coach Bill Self will undoubtedly point to a 3:30 stretch of basketball that ended the first half as a big reason why Kansas lost this game. After KU had taken a 27-26 lead, they were outscored the rest of the half 11-0. That included a couple of three point shots and one three-point bank shot at the buzzer when the Jayhawks again failed to effectively handle an end of half situation.

It just wasn’t KU’s night. The Braves who typically shoot less than 34 percent from three, nailed 11. Marcellus Sommerville was a matchup concern heading in and he torched the Jayhawks for 21 points, including 5-9 from three.

Unfortunately the vaunted defense that got Kansas this far failed to show up on time Friday night. Stops were suddenly harder to come by than Sasha Kaun three-pointers. By the conclusion of this one the Jayhawks forced 12 steals and 17 turnovers but it was too little too late.

So here comes the cloud of negativity that people want to cast over the coaches and players.

Most people are upset the last two years have equaled two early round exits. I’m more upset that a team I really enjoyed watching has to put away the uniforms. It hurts of course it does. I really enjoyed watching this team play – and I’ll say it – I enjoyed watching this team much more than last year’s team. The chemistry was there, the effort was there, and watching this team grow up has been fun.

The coaching staff did a wonderful job molding this team into a tourney team and the players have plenty to build on and be proud of…not be satisfied, but certainly this group has reasons to hold their heads up high for. A 25-8 record, and two championships – that’s a great accomplishment for a team most thought wouldn’t make it to the tourney. 

This crop of Jayhawks will remember this feeling and my guess is they won’t wait long to start improving for next season. The Jayhawks will be a top five team once the ball is thrown up in November. They’ll be ready. And next year they will walk off the court like Bradley did – with a win and the prevailing thought that there is much more to accomplish.

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