It will take more than the rain that fell on Lawrence on Sunday night to wash away the melancholy hovering since the Kansas basketball team’s 74-60, Saturday night loss to Oregon at Sprint Center.
For Bill Self, who has been to two Final Fours, it was his seventh overall Elite Eight loss and fifth in 14 years at Kansas.
Self is smart enough to know that all but a few of the active 351 Div. I basketball coaches happily would take that record because it means he has reached the Elite Eight in 50 percent of his KU seasons.
At the same time, Self is competitive enough to be bothered by the Elite Eight record and will continue to search for common denominators to see if there is anything that makes the quick turn-around game on the brink of the ultimate stage one that hasn’t gone well for him.
At Kansas, Self won the national title in 2008 and has lost twice in the first round (Bucknell, Bradley), three in the second round (Northern Iowa, Stanford, Wichita State), twice in the Sweet 16 (Michigan State, Michigan), five times in the Elite Eight (Georgia Tech, UCLA, VCU, Villanova, Oregon), once in the title game (Kentucky).
Another way of putting that: Self is 12-2 in the first round, 9-3 in the second, 7-2 in the Sweet 16, 2-5 in the Elite Eight, 2-0 in national semifinals and 1-1 in the national-title game for a 33-13 NCAA Tournament record at KU and a .717 winning percentage.
Among active college coaches, only two have been to more Elite Eights during Self’s Kansas years: Kentucky’s John Calipari (nine, the first three at Memphis) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (eight). Six active college coaches have reached the Final Four more in that span: Calipari (five, the first at Memphis), Williams (five), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (four), and with three apiece Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Mississippi State’s Ben Howland (all at UCLA in consecutive seasons).
The day before the regional final against Oregon, Self explained why Elite Eight losses sting the deepest.
“If you lose in the first round, it stinks. It stinks, especially at Kansas, but you were in the tournament,” he said. “If you lose in the second round, at least you won a game. If you lose in the Sweet 16, we got to the second weekend, but the one you can't rationalize is the Elite Eight game. It's a big game for everybody and I'm not putting any more emphasis on it than what it is, but it's a game that needs to be played in the way you played your first three games getting to this point.”
Even among Elite Eight losses, the Oregon and VCU ones, in that order, stand out because Kansas appeared to be on such an unstoppable roll.
In 2011, the Jayhawks drilled Boston University and Illinois by a combined 33 points in Tulsa and hammered Richmond by 20 in San Antonio on the same night that VCU squeaked past Florida State, 72-71 in overtime, the Rams’ only close game to that point of the tournament.
This season, the Jayhawks won their first three games by a combined 96 points and averaged 96 points a game. In the final 26:24 of its Sweet 16 game, Kansas smacked Purdue, 73-33, on the same night that Oregon edged Michigan, 69-68.
Those nights in San Antonio and six years later in Kansas City left the impression that KU could not be denied a spot in the Final Four.
And both served as a reminder that every game starts 0-0 and takes on a personality of its own. VCU and Oregon survived their off nights in Sweet 16 games and Kansas couldn’t overcome its off nights against them in Elite Eight games.