NORMAN, Okla. — This time, there was no anger. No apocalyptic talk. No comparisons to Naismiths teams or the Topeka YMCA. This time, Bill Self did not talk about not having a point guard or wishing he could only start three players or what its like to coach his softest team ever.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Nope. This time, Self didnt even raise his voice. No talk about silly turnovers or giving up too many open jump shots or the continued struggles of Elijah Johnson. This time, Self just talked of getting beat.
Im not leaving out of here disgusted with my team at all, Self said. We actually played better today. We played a good team today.
That last point is debatable, actually. Kansas, No. 5 and falling like an anvil, lost 72-66 here on Saturday to an Oklahoma team that improved to 15-7 overall, 6-4 in the Big 12 and the good side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
But that last point is also the most important point about the Jayhawks right now. Theyre just not that good. Not like their fans have become accustomed to, anyway.
This is the program of an unprecedented eight straight power conference titles and a push to the national championship game in what most figured to be a down year. This is the program that created what Self has called Kansas math, where a team loses more than it returns but is expected to win more anyway.
Except, none of that is reality. Not for the rest of college basketball, at least. The rest of college basketball does not go eight years between three-game losing streaks, or fumble around for the panic button when they dont go wire-to-wire on winning the league.
This Kansas team is good (especially defensively, and Ben McLemore is a star), its just not Kansas good (weak guard play, cant score).
Theres a lot of teams in the country that lose two or three in a row, Self said. Theres a lot of teams in the country that struggle to win away from home.
Not that this KU team isnt worthy of criticism. This is an eight-figure entity coached by a man with a $52 million contract. Hearing that you stink is life in the big city.
Its just that much of the criticism last week was misplaced. This isnt Johnsons fault. He is playing out of position because thats what the team needs, and hes probably losing money on a potential pro career in the process. The two biggest problems are that the group lacks toughness and a point guard. And if youre going to criticize them for it, you should probably start with the coach who put the roster together.
Self values toughness above nearly everything else. To him, soft is the worst four-letter word in the English language. He can watch missed jump shots and bad passes and lost dribbles but will cuss like his leg is broken if his team gives up an easy put-back. This is college basketball, so its up to the coach to either recruit or mold his roster however he sees fit.
Self got credit for perhaps his best coaching job last season, so its a bit hypocritical to now push blame to the players earning a scholarship check.
But if you go too far down that path, understand that you are proving the point about panic being an overreaction. Self is one of the best three or so coaches in the country. He has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Kansas absurd run of success the last two decades makes each wart as obvious as if it was on a supermodels upper lip. But this is how nearly everyone else in college basketball exists. Kentucky and North Carolina are on the tournament bubble. UCLA might fire a coach who once went to three straight Final Fours.
Locally, KUs consistency has clouded the understanding that this is the exception. Kansas has won or shared every league title since McLemore was 12 years old. Thats eight consecutive championships, so its a bit silly to crush a group that might not win a ninth.
If thats how this plays out K-State is alone in first place right now, and Oklahoma State has more talent than KU it wont be some epic choke or a lack of character from KU.
Itll be because they werent good enough. Itll be because they are the type of team that can lose three games in a row, that struggles to score and isnt always sure of itself, especially away from home. Itll be because they dont have a dominant point guard or an All-America power forward or the kind of determined and stubborn swagger that pushes through all the tough times.
In other words, itll be because they are a lot like most of the rest of college basketball again, after eight long years.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.