Kansas has had rough losses in the NCAA Tournament before, of course. This is how March Madness works. There is no joy without pain, so, basically, with the exceptions of the national championship in 2008 and a run to the final in 2012, every season ends in disappointment. KU is not different from other programs with higher standards in this way.
The particular taste of this year’s disappointment will linger, as it should, with what for KU is a new twist: what if Joel Embiid was healthy?
All along, the idea was simple and obvious. Make it through the first weekend with Embiid parked on the bench as a very tall assistant coach, and then get to the Final Four at full strength.
Embiid’s injury provides an out for KU fans who want to take the sting off the loss, but the fact remains the Jayhawks should’ve won. Clear minds agree on this.
The Jayhawks still had the best player on the floor, by far, still had more depth and still had the future Hall of Fame coach. They were still a six-point betting favorite in Las Vegas (a bigger favorite than, for instance, Florida against Pittsburgh). The algorithms at Nate Silver’sFiveThirtyEight gave them a 79 percent chance of beating Stanford. Ken Pomeroy
put it at 69 percent.
You can never assume, but it’s reasonable to believe that the way the game played out KU would’ve won with Embiid healthy. Stanford’s size was the biggest difference, and Embiid would’ve been the tallest player on the floor. But they still should’ve won. When Kansas has a player as good as Wiggins there should be no excuses against a 10-seed.
The potential of two inexperienced but wildly talented top-three NBA picks and one of the game’s best coaches was a riveting story all season. TV executives are no doubt bummed to have the rest of the tournament without them. Self has never coached two players that talented, and who knows if he will again?
The raw truth is that he almost certainly would’ve this weekend in Memphis if Kansas got by Stanford.