I promised one more KU post, so here goes it. Feel free to move along to other/better things if you’re sick of it all.
Well, the hangover remains, although this is an extremely pleasant hangover. I’m down to a relatively normal number of e-mails related to KU again. I was getting about 1000 a day, or so it seemed, most of last week. It’s a little sad, I think, that they don’t constantly replay the game on some easily viewed network. I think America wants to see it over-and-over again.
I said after the championship game that for fans, winning a title was really about having bragging rights and buying t-shirts. I’ve learned over the past two weeks that it is about a lot more. It brings fans together. I’ve reconnected with some friends I haven’t talked to in awhile because of KU’s win. Friends I still talk to quite a bit, I’ve been talking to more. Each time one of us forwards another YouTube video of the scene inside Allen Fieldhouse during the title game, or from some bar in Brooklyn where New York KU fans congregated, or just slide shows of photos from the season, we share and enhance each other’s happiness. I’m sure most of the contact I’ve had would have happened had KU lost, it’s just we would have been mourning together. It is a nice byproduct of the win, though, to share it with so many friends who are scattered across the country. Each message brings a tone of “I still can’t believe this happened,” which makes me relive the closing moments of the game over-and-over again. I think my blood pressure is 20 points better than it was this time two weeks ago!
My step-dad sent me last Sunday’s KC Star section on the KU season. I thought Blair Kerhoff’s story about what KU team is the greatest ever was very interesting. I can’t argue with his methodology or results. In fact, his story saved me a lot of time and mental effort, as I was going to crunch those same numbers. I like his idea of throwing out comparing teams across eras on a position-by-position basis. Too hard, too dependent on memory and emotion, and in many cases, subject to different rules of the game. Had I done it on my own, I may have found different results, but I’m having a hard time coming up with something different now.
But, for those of you who missed it, here’s what I have with quick thoughts:
1) 2008. Champs in best Final Four field ever, great on both ends of the court, deep. Oh, and greatest shot ever.
2) 1952. Outstanding all season, most dominant player in the country manning the low post.
3) 1988. Got hot when it mattered. And a Manning in the low post.
4) 1986. So freaking close and so scarily talented.
5) 1997. Fell apart when it mattered, but brilliant the rest of the season.
6) 1957. Wilt.
7) 2002. 16-0 in the Big 12, national semifinalists.
8) 2003. Undone by horrific coaching in the first 20 minutes and awful free throws in the last 20 minutes vs. Syracuse.
9) 1991. Beat Indiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina before losing to Duke in the title game.
10) 1993. National semifinalists.
My favorite part about the list is thinking about the ’86 team for awhile. For my non-KU readers, you have to understand that to any KU fan who’s been following the team for over 25 years, the ’86 team is the de-facto standard. They were an awesome team that had NBA talent at every position (although only two players spent any significant time in the league). They beat eventual champs Louisville twice during the season. They lost four games by a total of 12 points, one of which came in overtime. As strange as this gap seems now, it was KU’s first conference championship in eight years. They crushed some really good teams along the way. In the Final Four, despite the worst game of Danny Manning’s career, they were ahead late when Archie Marshall went up for an open layup. His knee blew out, he missed the shot, the team lost its most effective player on the day, the rest of the players were crushed, and couldn’t hold off Duke, losing by four. After beating Louisville in New York and Lawrence, surely they would have done it again in Dallas, right?
But I also think about all else that would have changed if KU won it all in ’86. Larry Brown leaves sooner than he ultimately did. Danny Manning probably only stays for three years. 1988 never happens. Larry Brown also probably never gets involved with Vincent Askew and KU doesn’t go on probation. Roy Williams probably never coaches at KU. Of course you can get silly from there, but it is interesting how a seemingly awful moment could have been the catalyst for all that’s happened at KU since.
Looking ahead, Brandon Rush is now gone. Darrell Arthur is being very wise in how he handles his draft declaration, not signing with an agent right away and leaving an open door to return to KU if he doesn’t get good feedback from NBA teams. Given how deep this draft is and the fact he has yet to prove he’s a consistent force down low, I think there’s still a legitimate chance he returns. I’d keep it in the 20-25% range now, dependent on how many more people declare for the draft. Small, but not an insignificant chance.
We’re still waiting to hear what Mario Chalmers does. I would not be surprised if he does the declare/not sign thing. His name is popping up in the late first round on some mock drafts, but I’m not sure he’ll stick there. We’ll see. I still think he’s 50-50, or maybe 51-49 he stays for the purpose of this post.
So a lineup that starts Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, a Juco transfer at the other perimeter spot, then Cole Aldrich and one of the Morris twins down low is what we’re probably looking at next fall. The better of the Morris twins (I’ll figure out which is which in October) is supposed to be more of a perimeter player, so KU could suddenly be rather small, with four guys outside and only one inside. If Darrell returns, that’s a solid team. KU’s incoming class has been rated the best in the country by the only major recruiting “expert” who includes Juco transfers and prep school players in his rankings. It’s certainly deep, with six guys coming in. Bill Self says he will continue to look at players, so a seventh could join the team.
In many ways, I’m really looking forward to next season. Bill Self adjusts his offense to match his talent, so it will be interesting to see what he puts together to maximize the players he will have. I also remember how ugly the team played back when Mario, Brandon, etc. were freshmen trying to learn a system. Even if Mario and Darrell return, there are going to be some ugly nights. There will be nights when the opposing team’s fans take extra special pride in beating KU, since they’ll be the defending national champs and all. But what remains is certainly an NCAA team, and depending on how quickly the incoming players figure out the system and how to play at this level, it could be a team no one wants to play in March.
Whatever happens, I will truly be a zen fan next year. There is no complaining the year after your team won a title, especially the way KU won. Throw in the football team and it’s been the greatest year ever. The football team could go 1-11 next year, the basketball team 12-18 and miss all postseason play, and I’ll just smile and point to my 2008 National Champions shirt. Wait, I take that all back, lest I tempt the sports gods too much!
That’s all for now. Don’t hold me to my promise to stop talking about KU, though.