Bill Self continued a tradition this offseason.
Though he’s seen a few clips on television replays — including guard Devonté Graham’s controversial fifth foul — the Kansas men’s basketball coach has not viewed his team’s final NCAA Tournament game: a 64-59 loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight.
“I don’t have to watch it again,” Self said. “I saw what happened. I know what happened.”
Self, who is blessed with a sharp memory, says he has not gone back to look at film of the Stanford loss in 2014. Same for Bucknell in 2005, Bradley in 2006 and Michigan in 2013.
“I can still replay the Michigan game in my head,” Self said, “but nah, I never watched it.”
There was only one time when the coach forced himself to relive a season-ending loss at KU. Back in 2004, Self gathered video of his team’s Elite Eight defeat against Georgia Tech to prepare for a regular-season matchup on New Year’s Day in 2005.
For Self at least, the final tape isn’t needed when reflecting on each season.
So what were his main takeaways following the Jayhawks’ 33-5 campaign last year?
“I think some good things we learned: We’re much better playing two little guards. Last year’s team, to me, wasn’t the most talented team we’ve had by any stretch, but I thought those guys maximized their abilities pretty good,” Self said. “Last game, it’s always seemed like to me, if you look at our NCAA Tournament over the years, there’s no question which game has been hardest for us to win. It’s the Elite Eight games.”
Self, in particular, has struggled with this round. He’s 2-4 in regional finals at KU and 2-6 overall.
“I think about it all the time,” said Self, in his 14th year at KU.
He wonders if there was anything his team did differently before those defeats. In other years, the theories were easier to come by.
“For the most part this year, very little distractions. Guys were, for the most part, loose,” Self said. “I think we didn’t play our best that day, but defensively, we could not have played any tougher or rebounded it better.”
Though Self hasn’t rewatched the video, he’s plenty familiar with the stats.
“Hell, they’re eight of 32 the second half, miss 24 shots and get one back, and the one they get back is the one where he shoots it to himself. It was a messed up, lucky play,” Self said. “We couldn’t have done better defensively.
“It’s just offensively, we just made some bad mistakes.”
KU turned the ball over on 25 percent of its possessions against Villanova’s pressuring defense. The Jayhawks also made 6 of 22 three-pointers (27 percent), which was much lower than their 42-percent season average.
“It’s such a fine line,” Self said. “Usually when you don’t win those games, from my experience, it’s usually because you just don’t shoot the ball well. More times than not, you just don’t shoot it well.
“We shot it miserably. Wayne (Selden) didn’t make a three. We shot two or three air balls.”
There’s also this: Villanova was performing as well as any team late. Sports Illustrated writer Luke Winn crunched the numbers and found that, based on offensive and defensive efficiency, the Wildcats had the most dominant NCAA championship run in the last 15 seasons. For the tournament, Villanova made 63 percent of its twos and 50 percent of its threes.
Against KU, those numbers dipped to 50 percent on twos and 22 percent on threes.
“They were tough. They were good. It was a (bad) draw,” Self said. “You know this: That if you’re the 1 (overall seed), you hope you play the 8 (overall seed). You know that. That’s what you hope. That was obviously not the case.”
Self has a lot to look forward to with a talented 2016-17 roster. It includes returners Graham, Frank Mason, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg and Svi Mykhailiuk along with highly ranked freshmen Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike.
The group should give Self another chance at a deep tournament run — and perhaps an opportunity to get the program past the Elite Eight barrier he thinks about often.
“Those are tough ones to lose,” Self said, “but I’d still rather be in the game than not be in the game.”