Norman, Okla. — What a shame, so many no doubt thought 25 years ago. Danny Manning and Chris Piper, the Lawrence High star big men, deserved a better senior season at the local university.
Loss No. 5 came at Notre Dame, the first of four in a row in late January/early February. Kansas lost at Nebraska four days later. At least they were headed to Allen Fieldhouse, where Manning and Piper had 53-0 records. Then came the back-to-back setbacks in the Phog, to Kansas State and Oklahoma.
None of those came close to matching KU’s surreal Wednesday sleepwalk in Fort Worth to a TCU team that had come within nine points of just one of eight Big 12 opponents it had faced.
Still, this might be a nice time to remember that a quarter-century ago the only title a Kansas team with a 12-8 record had a shot at winning had an ugly spelling. NIT.
Sometimes major underdogs do win it all. And even if this team seems like a long shot, even if the losing streak grows to three today and four on Monday, the list of 30 or so teams that could win the national title in this wide-open season still includes the Jayhawks. It’s too early to count them out.
It’s also too early to proclaim Elijah Johnson’s senior year a bust. For all we know, Johnson could wake up today and decide to play the way he played when he became, according to what his father Marcus Johnson told me a year ago, the first kindergartner to play for a fifth-grade team in the history of the state of Indiana. By that I don’t just mean he’ll play with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a child. I mean he might reach the conclusion that the correct path to make this team awaken is to pretend he’s the young guy again whose main job is to set up the older players and pretend that Ben McLemore’s the veteran who needs to get the most shots.
Enjoy today’s mystery production featuring Kansas and Oklahoma in the Noble Center, where the curtain comes up at 3 p.m., and don’t even pretend you have the slightest clue as to its outcome.