You don’t pull the strings on an outrageous streak of 264 games without losing two in a row if you don’t know how to use that loss to administer a one-sided beating in the next outing.
Bill Self, a masterful brainwasher who year-in-and-year out has shown he knows how to put his players in the right frame of mind to maximize their abilities, is as good at getting his team to bounce back as any coach in any sport.
Until, that is, Wednesday night in Fort Worth, Texas, where the same collection of players who defeated Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 22 scored two points in the first 13:53 of the first half and lost to last-place TCU. It came on the heels of KU’s rare home loss to a good Oklahoma State team.
What is it about this team that makes it so different from Self’s others, which all rebounded so well from tough losses? I racked my brain — dug through dead cells, piles of regret and the indestructible sweet tooth running around up there — in search of an answer. A basketball explanation would not suffice. It’s more than this team’s sub-standard point-guard play, more than the broken string of exceptional power forwards (Thomas Robinson, Marcus Morris, Darrell Arthur, a veteran Darnell Jackson, Julian Wright, Wayne Simien, Nick Collison/Drew Gooden).
Basketball reasons can explain Oklahoma State, not TCU. More is at play.
All I could come up with was that this is without question the nicest group of young men I have covered in eight seasons following Kansas basketball. The other rosters included some players who were rough around the edges, a few more than just the edges. You challenge the manhood of guys like that, tell them and the world they’re soft, and they’ll prove you wrong. Tell kinder men — that, by the way, is a compliment — they are soft, and they might just take it personally in the wrong way, withdraw into themselves and unwittingly prove you right.
That was one shell-shocked basketball team that tripped all over its own frightening shadow Wednesday.
Self has coached in seven more Elite Eights, won two more national semifinals and one more national championship than I have, you say. I say you’re right. Not only that, he has forgotten in the last five minutes more about not just basketball but motivating and leading men than I’ll learn in a lifetime. But even the smartest guy in the room isn’t always right.
If that’s it, if Self’s typical approach isn’t the right fit, that would qualify as good news because he’ll realize it and try a path that does work.
If that’s not the case, then it’s one of two things: He either simply didn’t recruit as talented a team as the early-season success fooled us into thinking, or it’s just another case of a modern sports team peaking two or three times during a season, each time climbing a ladder of sound fundamentals to get out of the valley.