Kansas fell to Virginia Commonwealth in an Elite Eight matchup Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 71-61 loss to VCU on March 27, 2011.
KU senior guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar talk to reporters following VCU's 71-61 victory over Kansas on March 27, 2011.
San Antonio For the Kansas University basketball team, Selection Sunday had so little sizzle and absolutely no suspense. On a more eventful day, a statement uttered by KU coach Bill Self might have been swallowed in all the March madness buzz, but it hung in the air. It felt as if he knew what he was saying.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a team that barely got in is in the Sweet 16 or even further down the road,” Self said. “I think anybody can be had. All you’ve got to do is get hot at the right time.”
He called it. He never wanted to be more wrong about anything in his entire life. The college basketball landscape has changed, with the rich getting slightly poorer, the poor slightly richer. Self knows all about parity, but that didn’t make losing to Virginia Commonwealth University, 71-61, hurt any less Sunday in the Alamodome for the coach or his players.
So much for “the bracket opening up.” That doesn’t apply in these times. There are reasons schools from big conferences shy away from scheduling the best teams from the so-called “mid-major” leagues, and one of them is they don’t want to lose.
Consequently, it’s difficult to tell how good those schools really are. VCU didn’t look so hot Friday night in sneaking past Florida State, and on Sunday looked like it had the rest of the tournament: efficient, smart, quick at both ends and blessed with hot shooting hands.
VCU was the story on Selection Sunday, when ESPN’s Jay Bilas blasted the committee for including the Rams, and nobody could deliver a decent counter-punch to Bilas until the Rams started playing. Five victories against schools from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 later, VCU joins a Final Four that doesn’t include any No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.
“I got a picture sent to me where you can’t walk anywhere on Broad Street (in Richmond) right now,” Rams point guard Joey Rodriguez said.
That was supposed to be Mass Street in Lawrence.
The reason Mass Street didn’t rock with euphoria: VCU was the better team and advances to Houston for a matchup against Butler, which is making its second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
This outcome didn’t feel like an upset the same way the Northern Iowa flop did. It felt more like the 2003 title matchup against Syracuse, when the Orange caught fire from long range in the first half, and KU didn’t make its free throws. VCU played Syracuse, and Kansas played Kansas.
The horrific numbers: The Jayhawks shot 35.5 percent overall and 9.5 percent (2-for-21) on three-pointers, both their worst figures during a two-year run in which they went 68-6. They shot .536 from the free-throw line.
VCU made 48 percent of its three-pointers, including nine of 17 in the first half. When somebody suggested the Rams made everything they threw up, KU freshman guard Josh Selby countered graciously.
“They weren’t throwing up those shots,” Selby said. “They were shooting those shots. They didn’t even touch the rim. You have to give them credit. They outplayed us today. They were the better team.”
It’s too convenient to say Kansas just had one of those days when its shots didn’t drop. Was it bad offense or good defense?
“I take all the credit for that, to tell you the truth,” Rodriguez said, meaning VCU’s defense. “I think we wore them out. We came right at them. If you go back and watch the game, I think every time they shot the ball, somebody had a hand in their face.”
VCU coach Shaka “Aptly Named” Smart did a nice job of summarizing how the Rams’ defense contributed to KU’s poor shooting.
“Joey said it had everything to do with what we did,” Smart said. “That’s impossible to tell. But I’ll tell you this, that game was all about style of play. We got the style going the way we wanted in the first half. And if you watch closely, their players were tugging on their shorts for much of the game. When you don’t have your legs, it’s hard to make outside shots.”
KU’s bench played 32 minutes and scored just three points. Each of the five starters played at least 32 minutes.
VCU plays a similar style to Missouri’s, but plays it better, with better players.
“That’s why we play the way we play,” Smart said. “That’s part of our havoc style is getting people winded, getting people fatigued.”
Exhaustion can lead to mental mistakes, and KU’s defenders had plenty, veering from the scouting report and too often leaving shooters to help on the man driving.
VCU scored 30 more points than Kansas from beyond the three-point arc, but the three isn’t the game’s lone equalizer.
“I think over the last 10 or 15 years in college basketball, the playing field has evened out a little bit,” Smart said. “When you have a senior-laden team like we do, you have an opportunity to go make a run like this, because we have as much experience as anybody we’re going to play.”
Mix in the extra “nobody respects us” fuel, and look what happened.
“We weren’t 35-2 coming into this game, but we’re playing our best basketball when it matters most, and that’s why I’m sitting up here right now with a net around my neck,” Smart said.
Kansas had been playing its best basketball when it mattered most until Sunday, when it did far less than that, and that’s why Self, 1-6 in Elite Eight games and 2-0 in the 2008 Final Four and coach of seven consecutive Big 12 title teams, and his players headed home Sunday on what must have been a silent flight.