Yep, when the alarm clock went off this morning it was still real. It really happened and it was still tough to swallow. Kansas is out of the NCAA Tournament. I said it but I still don't believe it.
There will be no net-cutting, no parades in Lawrence, heck there won't
even be a trip to St. Louis.
This one is going to sting a bunch of kids and a coaching staff for a
long time. The tide has turned from NCAA excitement to dealing with
Such is the nature of the beast. When you're supposed to win it all and
you fall short there's not really much that would be considered success
without two wins in Indianapolis. That being said no one outside of the
state of Iowa believed KU would not make the tournament's second
Being the overwhelming number one with everything to lose is a tough
spot to be in but KU head coach Bill Self understood it and even
embraced it. His kids rose to the challenge for 98 percent of the
season. It doesn't matter that 33 wins, a conference regular season
title, and a Big 12 Tournament title are impressive feats. Without
another title march the season would've always failed to meet
expectations. Jayhawk fans would trade the conference titles and a few
more losses for a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.
It was just a slip up on the road against Tennessee and a barrage of
threes in Stillwater that kept KU from a perfect regular season. But
while Kansas was a dominant team, it really failed to dominate the way
a lot of people expected. By that I mean this team won, but rarely by
the margin you might expect. The Hawks always found a way to get it
done in the end. All year they were a spurt team looking unstoppable at
times, and shaky in others.
The Jayhawks barely squeezed past a Memphis team that failed to make
the field of 65, Cornell is good for sure and they've proved it, but KU
needed a big play from Sherron Collins to help them get by the Big Red.
There was a tight win in overtime at Colorado, Nebraska hung around in
Lawrence and so did Iowa State. The margin was just 13 against a
depleted Oklahoma team on James Naismith Court. Texas Tech hung with KU
in the Big 12 tournament. Really no one was flying high about the
performance KU delivered in the first round vs. 16th seeded Lehigh. The
margins of victory weren't impressive but the way this Kansas team
always found ways to win was. I think it was the thing about
this team that Self liked most – they always came up big when the times
got the toughest.
So why wouldn't we think that Self and his Jayhawks would again find a
way against a pesky yet sound Northern Iowa team? I saw the
dangers and tried to convey them in my preview article. If you let this
team operate in its comfort zone it can be extremely tough to beat. KU
got in foul trouble early and lost some aggressiveness for sure. By the
time the Jayhawks got it back it was too late. It was the Panthers
making the big plays late and not Kansas this time.
When I did my own seeding of the NCAA Tournament prior to selection
Sunday I projected Northern Iowa would be a seven seed, and I even
pondered putting them as a six at one point. I couldn't fathom a team
with, at that time, 10 wins against the top 50 in the RPI equaled nine
seed – and by the way they now have 12 wins vs. the top 50. When the
pundits discussed the difficult road the Midwest provided rarely did
the name Northern Iowa pop up. It should have. Do not label Northern
Iowa a Cinderella, Ben Jacobsen's team is NOT George Mason and this is
not Bradley or Bucknell. This team was ranked in the top 25 this season
and other than a head-scratching loss to DePaul it has shown its
pedigree all season long.
So maybe it was the three-pointer Ali Farokhmanesh drained in round one
against UNLV that really should be cursed by KU fans. No disrespect to
Lon Kruger or his Runnin' Rebels but Kansas would've likely decimated
UNLV's pressure for easy scores much like it did to Missouri twice this
season. Second-guessing matchups is not going to help anyone at this
point. Kansas was beaten by a terrific team effort – the kind of team
effort Kansas knows all to well because the Hawks produced 33 wins with
that type of team play this season.
Sure you can pick out some of the plays late like the front end of a
one-and-one freshman Xavier Henry missed with the score 59-56 in favor
of the Panthers. Or the incredibly gutsy three by Farokhmanesh with
about a 6-7 differential in the shot and game clock and the Panthers
just up one. A jaw-dropping play that not too many players in America
would have the guts to try. If you're going to gun down number one and
you've got nothing to lose why not?
You could also rewind to the first half when seven-foot Jordan Eglseder
hit not one, but TWO threes after having just one all season. Who knew
the 280-lb center would be able to make not one, but two jumps shots
turning over the opposite shoulder? If a couple of those clang out
maybe the outcome is different. Or what if Kansas displayed the
patience on offense early that it did in the latter stages of the game?
By the end of the game the Jayhawks proved that ball movement did
create holes in the Panthers stout defense.
There are a plethora of moments that players, coaches, and fans will
lay in bed thinking about for weeks to come. Second-guessing and what
ifs is something anyone in athletics has done at one point or another.
Nothing felt worse then seeing Sherron Collins, and possibly Cole Aldrich, go out like this. Two kids who came back to college after
saying no to the NBA to win another title. It was a joint decision and
they went down together on Saturday. Aldrich spent most of the latter
part of the game on the bench because KU was forced to press and
Collins was struggling from the perimeter (4-15 FG), and turning it
over too much (5 turnovers).
Certainly not the way a winner and a competitor like Collins deserved
to end his collegiate career. The kid from Chicago with a flair for the
dramatic was writing his own Hollywood script that ended with another
trophy in hand and one more speech in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
But this isn't Hollywood, this is the NCAA Tournament and sometimes a
kid like Ali Farokhmanesh gets control of the pen.
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