Saturday I had a feeling I can’t ever remember having during a KU loss, especially a season-ending loss. Peace.
Oh, I had my moments of yelling, cursing the TV, and throwing things, no doubt about that.
But as Oregon’s cold-blooded assassins dropped in ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot, as Jordan Bell kept rejecting every shot KU took near the rim, and as KU could never find anything on offense beyond BIFM, it was obvious this was not KU’s night.
I switched beers and seats at halftime, but as the deficit grew to 18, I mostly just sat and watched. I let out a little yelp when a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk three cut the lead to six with plenty of time to play. But I had watched KU miss free throws, miss wide-open shots from near and far, and turn the ball over by trying to make the tough play rather than the easy play. I knew they had dug too big of a hole this time. And when Josh Jackson’s fingertips knocked a rebound out of Frank Mason’s hands, I knew the game was over before Tyler Dorsey hit his back-breaking three.
I was bummed when the game was over, no doubt. But a different kind of bummed than I’ve ever felt this time of year. I realized KU just got their asses kicked, plain and simple. And by a really good team. Take away their two early losses when Dillon Brooks was injured and the Ducks entered the game with a better record that KU. A three-seed, sure. But a damn good one. I see no shame in losing to those guys.
In the hypothetical “If these teams played ten times” scenario, I think Oregon would likely get the better of KU overall. They are built to give this KU team problems. But Saturday’s game was the worst possible alignment of hypotheticals for KU: the Ducks were nearly perfect, KU played as poorly as they’ve played all season. Somewhere in those 10 imaginary games there was a reverse of Saturday, a night where KU played like they had on Thursday against Purdue and Oregon was the team that couldn’t hit a shot from behind the arc.
Here’s the other thing, though. In my post-game pout session, while I was so bummed that this team doesn’t get to hang their own banner or play in the Final Four, I also could not stop thinking about how great this season was. This team was the least frustrating KU team I can remember. Sure, there were moments of frustration. But they always got their shit together and left you feeling good about them. Well, until Saturday. To me, this might be the most fun KU team ever.
Frank Mason became BIFM this year, and in the process became one of the most beloved KU players of all time. He’s my favorite player since Paul Pierce and one of my three favorite Jayhawks ever. I’m sad I don’t get to watch him play for KU again.
Josh Jackson was a once-in-a-generation talent that delivered on the hype. As much as anything Oregon did, I think Josh picking up two quick fouls torpedoed KU’s hopes more than anything. He way a joy to watch, especially over the past six weeks when he really got it going. I’m sad we’re in the one-and-done era and I don’t get to watch him really take off next year.
Final Fours aren’t a right for any team, no matter the name on the front of the jersey, the player names on the back, or the coach who calls the plays. I really wanted this team to get one to call their own to solidify their place in KU history. But, as Saturday stretched into Sunday, I realized I can’t let that failure do to this team what I’ve done to others. This team gave me too much joy to let one shitty night in March ruin it.
Back in November my expectations for this year’s team were fairly muted. I never expected Frank Mason to turn into the best player in the country. I never expected that Jackson would finally be the KU freshman who was dominant. I never expected Bill Self to adjust his offense to make sure his best players were always on the court. I never expected Landen Lucas to turn into a defensive and rebounding beast, something made even more important given Udoka Azubuike’s injury, Carlton Bragg’s lack of development, and Dwight Coleby’s slow return from knee surgery. Most of all, I just thought last year’s team had a little more depth and that difference would be what kept this year’s team from being great.
Yet they defied those expectations all year. From that scintillating overtime game with Indiana that kicked off the season, to beating Duke in New York when BIFM introduced himself to the nation, to that stretch in January where they won at Kentucky and then beat Baylor, to the epic comebacks against West Virginia and Oklahoma, to the last minute wins in Waco and Lubbock, and finally to their scorching three-game run to start the NCAA tournament, this team just kept entertaining and satisfying me.
I’m going to remember this team for the 31 amazing nights, not the bad ending.
Next year’s team might be better. Or maybe the year after that. Or some team that isn’t as good as this one will finally get past that Elite 8 block. But I think it’s going to be a long time before I love a team as much as I loved this one.
With the loss comes the obligatory, “Which March KU loss was worse?” discussion.
First off, anyone that doesn’t have the 2011 VCU loss first is an idiot. That was a shitty VCU team against a loaded KU team in a year that produced a really bad Final Four. No other loss can compare to that, as I think it was KU’s best chance for a national championship since 2008.
Second, I don’t think people are giving Oregon enough credit. Like I said, they had a better record that KU when you subtract the losses without Dillon Brooks. Their wins weren’t as good as KU’s, either, but it was clear watching that team that they have at least three NBA players (plus one who is injured now), and were just a nightmare matchup for KU. No matter what happens next week, I would put Oregon right up there with Villanova last year as the least bad loss.
So, sure, KU had the national POY and perhaps the best freshman in the country, the #1 seed, and (near) home court advantage. They lost to a good team, though. Bad loss, sure. Terrible loss? I don’t think so.
I’m going to keep some of those games from January and February that are on our DVR just a little longer, so on nights when I have nothing else to watch I can pull one up and watch these guys do what they did so spectacularly for five months. Sure, I’m going to think about all the guys coming back or coming in next year and eventually start wondering how good that group will be. But I’ll never stop thinking about this team.
Rock Chalk, bitches.
- I guess other than the 2012 team that actually played for the title. But come one, they were playing the Anthony Davises. We were just happy we actually kept it close for 40 minutes. ↩