Kansas bowed out of the NCAA Tournament on Monday in an embarrassing 34-point loss to Southern California. It was a disappointing ending for the No. 3-seeded Jayhawks, but the game looked more like a formality than an upset against an underrated No. 6 seed from the Pac-12.
Kansas had never lost an NCAA Tournament game by more than 16 points. Coach Bill Self told reporters after the game: “They were obviously more prepared, played better, coached better, and we shot it miserably. … That’s about as poor as we can play.”
KU’s early exit solidifies the 2020-21 season as the worst ever for college basketball’s blue-blood programs. Duke and Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament in the same season for the first time since 1976. The Blue Devils (13-11) had their season end in abrupt fashion when a positive COVID-19 test forced them to withdraw from the ACC Tournament where an an automatic or at-large bid was on the line. The Wildcats (9-16) were nowhere in contention for the postseason, and it was the worst season in Lexington for a John Calipari-coached team.
North Carolina, a No. 8 seed that played its way off the NCAA bubble, was ousted in the first round by 23 points against No. 9 seed Wisconsin, prompting UNC coach Roy Williams to say: “I started the season when I was 70 years old and I feel like I’m 103.”
Kansas (21-9) seemed to be drifting towards the opposite of its blue-blood counterparts, going from losing five of seven in late January to winning eight of nine before a COVID-19 implication caused KU to withdraw from the Big 12 Tournament. While this team seemed shaky in its first-round opener against Eastern Washington, Monday’s blowout was completely unexpected.
There are two ways of looking at this season for Kansas. One is that Self got the most out of this team given the talent on the roster, finishing second in the Big 12 regular season and garnering a No. 3 seed when it seemed destined for a No 6 or No. 7 seed. Self had no NBA talent like he has in years’ past or even a veteran like Frank Mason III or Udoka Azubuike. Instead he had a sum-of-its-parts team with five players averaging double figures.
Another way of looking at 2020-21: Self and Kansas had yet another disappointing finish where they underplayed their seed. A No. 3 seed clears the pathway to a Sweet 16, and instead it’s a round of 32 exit. That’s a frustrating March Madness trend KU fans know all too well. Self is in the Hall of Fame for guiding this program to the 2008 national title and 15 of the last 17 regular-season Big 12 titles. And yet, in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas has a slew of disappointing exits under Self.
► As a No. 1 seed in 2010, KU was upset in the round of 32 by Northern Iowa.
► As a No. 2 seed in 2014 and 2015, KU was upset in the round of 32 by Stanford and Wichita State, respectively.
► Despite being a No. 1 seed in 2016 and 2017, Self’s Kansas teams fell just short of a Final Four with Elite Eight finishes.
Granted, Self has taken Kansas to three Final Fours and eight Elite Eights. It’s not to say his job in Lawrence has been anything short of amazing. But it’s also very gray considering the expectation fans can put on a program that garners a top seed. It gives fans both consistent hope (and consistent heartbreak). Kansas has earned a No. 1 seed eight times and turned it into two Final Fours.
The Jayhawks have famously underplayed their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bizarre, COVID-19-implicated season or not, this year is no different. At least they made the Dance, though — unlike Duke or Kentucky.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.