Monday, March 28, 2011

Another NCAA Tournament, another early flameout from Bill Self

Bill Self should forever be indebted to Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Back in 2008 when Kansas won the national title, the Jayhawks were able to overcome a nine point deficit in the final 2:12 thanks to Rose and CDR missing four of five free throws down the stretch. If those had made just one more free throw, Memphis and John Calipari would have had a national title wiped from the record books.

That wasn't the only break that Self caught in that tournament, either. We all know about the three that Mario Chalmers hit to force overtime with 2.1 seconds left, but what about Jason Richards'?

If you have forgotten, Kansas played Davidson in the Elite 8 in 2008. That Davidson team was riding the hot hand of Stephen Curry, but the combination of tired legs and Brandon Rush forced the future Golden State Warrior into an off-night against the Jayhawks. Davidson was still able to hang around, however, and had the ball down 59-57 with the chance to take a last second shot. But Jason Richards' 25 footer, which looked similar to Chalmers', found the bottom of the back board instead of the bottom of the net.

And its that miss that has saved Self's reputation.

Its the reason that he is a national title coach and not the Kansas coach that is 0-6 in the Elite 8.

If Richards hits that shot, Self is Rick Barnes. He's Jamie Dixon with McDonald's all-americans. He's just another coach that can dominate the regular season but always seems to fail to live up to expectation in March.

His notable failings at Kansas?

In 2005, the Jayhawks lost to Bucknell in the first round as a No. 3 seed. In 2006, it was Bradley knocking off the No. 4 seed Jayhawks. Self led No. 1 seed Kansas to the Elite 8 in 2007, where they lost to No. 2 seed UCLA, and in 2009, after Self lost most of his roster to the NBA or graduation, surprised many by getting Kansas a No. 3 seed and taking them to the Sweet 16.

But in 2010, the Jayhawks were once again upset on the first weekend of the tournament, losing to No. 9 Northern Iowa as a No. 1 seed in the second round.

This year, however, may be the most excruciating for Kansas fans.

The Jayhawks all but had a Final Four sewn up. After a first weekend full of upsets, all Kansas had to do to make the Final Four was to beat the third place team from the Atlantic 10 and the fourth place team from the Colonial. To make matters worse, most Jayhawk fans envisioned a free pass to the title game with No. 8 seed Butler waiting for them in the Final Four.

But like last year against Northern Iowa, VCU took control early and never looked back. After jumping out to a six point lead, Kansas looked like the mid-major. They looked like the team that was overmatched. The Rams knocked them back with a barrage of threes, and Kansas all of a sudden looked flustered. How flustered? They shot 2-22 from three and 15-28 from the line.

And once again, Bill Self was heading home early.

It begs the question -- how much value should we put into NCAA Tournament performance would evaluating a coach?

Because Self is certainly the furthest thing from a bad basketball coach.

In his first season at Kansas, he finished second in the Big 12. In each of the seven seasons since then, he's won or shared the Big 12 regular season title. In five of those seasons, he's won the Big 12 tournament title. He spent three seasons at Illinois before coming to Kansas. In his first two years with the Illini, he won the Big Ten regular season title. His third year, he won the Big Ten tournament title. That means that in the 11 years that Bill Self has been a major conference basketball coach, he has won a conference championship 10 of those years. In five of those years, he won both the regular season and tournament titles.

Criticize all you want, that is an impressive resume.

But we don't value consistency. College basketball fans, especially the fans of a program like Kansas, don't value conference titles or 30 win seasons. They want banners. They want Final Fours and national titles. Regular season success is great for a resume.

But postseason success is what makes you a legend.

The ironic part of all of this?

Bill Self was Shaka Smart 12 years ago. He was Brad Stevens. He built Tulsa into a powerhouse in the WAC, taking them to the 1999 NCAA Tournament and then advancing to the Elite 8 of the 2000 NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed.

Bill Self's tournament success at Tulsa got him to a position where he can be ripped for his lack of tournament success at Kansas.

Ironic, isn't it?

So be warned, Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. It isn't always going to be fun and games once you're coaching the big boys.

And be thankful, Bill Self, for Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Jason Richards. They've saved your reputation.

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