Numbers contradict Kansas reputation as tournament underachiever


In this April 7, 2008 file photo, an estimated 40,000 people celebrate on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence after the Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers to win the 2008 NCAA National Championship title.

In this April 7, 2008 file photo, an estimated 40,000 people celebrate on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence after the Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers to win the 2008 NCAA National Championship title. by Mike Yoder

Mike Vest, formerly of the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Big Ten Network and a graduate of the University of Kansas, took to Twitter (@mike_vest) to poke holes in the notion that Kansas has underachieved in the NCAA basketball tournament under coach Bill Self, who has reached the Elite Eight in half of his 14 seasons, been to two Final Fours and won a national championship in 2008.

Kansas has earned a No. 1 seed in 7 of 11 seasons, a remarkable feat, and, of course, has an active regular-season conference winning streak of 13. Vest’s research also revealed that KU’s performance as a No. 1 seed is pretty much in line with the national average.

Vest also tweeted that No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 35.7 percent of the time. Kansas under Self as a No. 1 seed seven times checks in at 28.6 percent. That borders on underachievement, until you consider a little overseeding likely was at work there. Nobody does a better job of schedule to exploit the RPI than assistant athletic director Larry Keating.

Some things in sports pitch tents in people’s minds and never leave and this is one of them. Another example: McKenzie Calvert’s playing time was cut back after the Dec. 9 incident at the Yacht Club that resulted in Josh Jackson being charged with doing less than $1,000 in damage to her car. False. Calvert averaged 22.9 minutes in her next 11 games and her playing time wasn’t cut until her performance dropped off. Yet, I turned on ESPN one day and heard it being stated as fact, as it has been in print in various outlets. Once a narrative gets on down the road, it’s too inconvenient for some to stop it with facts and it takes on a life of its own.

In a couple of radio appearances the day before KU’s loss to Oregon, I shared my theory as to why Kansas has an unfair reputation as tournament underachievers. I believe it dates back to back-to-back first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley in Self’s second and third seasons. It was so unusual for a blue blood to take back-to-back hits like that and it stayed in everybody’s brains.

Self’s 2-5 record in Elite Eight games at KU is not good any way you slice it, but it also demonstrates that he has reached the Elite Eight in 50 percent of his seasons at Kansas, an amazing success rate.


Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks for pointing this out Tom, unfortunately it won't be national news because nobody cares about actual facts, they just care about what will make the most exciting negative headlines.

It's also odd that nobody remembers that Duke lost in the first round in 2007, 2012, and 2014, and the second round in 2008 and didn't get past the Sweet 16 between 2005 and 2009 and only got past the Sweet 16 once between 2011-2015 (and lost in the Elite 8) but nobody calls them out for being sub-par in the tourney because they won two titles as well.

Look at Coach K, supposedly the greatest of all time and his tournament resume over the last 13 years:

2005: Lost in the Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2006: Lost in the Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2007: Lost in the FIRST ROUND-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2008: Lost in the SECOND ROUND---------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2009: Lost in the Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2010: Won NC-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2011: Lost in the Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2012: Lost in the FIRST ROUND-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2013: Lost in the Elite 8-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2014: Lost in the FIRST ROUND-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2015: Lost in the Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2016: Won NC-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2017: Lost in the Sweet 16----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That's right, in the last 13 years, Coach K's team has only made it past the sweet 16 3 times! He's 3-6 in the Sweet 16 in that span and 4 times failed to even get there! He's lost in the first or second round 4 times in the last 10 years! He's only been to the Elite 8 3 times in 13 years!

Chris DeWeese 1 year, 1 month ago

Great stats. Thanks for that. Really helps put things in perspective.

Justin Kruse 1 year, 1 month ago

That's the one that jumped out to me as well after reading all of the "fire Self" comments. Thanks for sharing. I think we've got the right guy for the job!

Mo Golany 1 year, 1 month ago

What are Roy's numbers because we always compare the two? I was praying we would have a date with them in the Final Four sigh!

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 1 month ago

Roy's numbers at NC:

2004: Second Round---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2005: Won NC------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2006: Second Round--------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2007: Elite 8--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2008: Final 4 (Lost to Bill Self)--------------------------------------------------------------------- 2009: Won NC------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2010: Didn't Make Tourney-------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2011: Elite 8--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2012: Elite 8 (Lost to Bill Self)---------------------------------------------------------------------- 2013: Second Round (Lost to Bill Self)---------------------------------------------------------- 2014: Second Round--------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2015: Sweet 16---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2016: Lost NC------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So Roy is 2-1 in NC games at NC, is 0-3 against Bill Self, Lost in the second round 4 times in 13 years, lost 3 times in the elite 8, once in the sweet 16, once in the final 4.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 1 month ago

Roy at Kansas:

90: Second Round------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 91: Lost NC--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 92: Second Round------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 93: Final 4---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 94: Sweet 16------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 95: Sweet 16------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 96: Elite 8---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 97: Sweet 16------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 98: Second Round----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 99: Second Round----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 00: Second Round----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 01: Sweet 16 (Lost to Bill Self)-------------------------------------------------------------- 02: Final 4----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So Roy lost in the second round 5 times in 13 years at Kansas. He made one title game, 3 final 4's, 3 elite 8's, and 4 sweet 16's.

Mo Golany 1 year, 1 month ago

Ok so Roy has been to 5 Final Fours. 2 for us Should have had more with the teams we have had ugh so frustrating. Love Self though wouldn't trade him just wish we could have performed better in these Elite 8 games. We've have such great teams!

Cary Ediger 1 year, 1 month ago

Roy 17 years to win a championship... Bill 15.

Carl O'Hair 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks for this one, Tom. I doubt that some of the people who want to keep on with the sour grapes about Coach Self will bother to read this one and think about it but I, for one, am really glad you tried to show them some of the truth to deal with.

Tom Keegan 1 year, 1 month ago

You're welcome, but the thanks should be sent the way of Mike Vest, worth following on Twitter: @mike_vest

Carl O'Hair 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks, Tom. I just got back from checking Vest and found him to be very knowledgeable. I will check him more from now on.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 1 month ago

Tom, how was the Krispy Kreeme? You deserve another one! Great article/retweet of Vest's.

Kendall Von Bevern 1 year, 1 month ago

Your number as a #1 seed is wrong. We have been a #1 seed 7 times and made the final four once (14% not the 28% you quote). If you are counting the other final four (as a two seed) then he had made 2/14 total years which again is 14%. The reason people think we under perform as a 1 seed is because we do. On average they make it just over 1/3 of the time and we have made it 1/7 of the time. Bill's total post season record is OK but his seeding is out of this world which makes it seem like he is vastly underperforming.

Matt Gauntt 1 year, 1 month ago

Great research and article. Appreciate the positivity.

Sadly it won't stop the arm-chair head coaches that would have done SO much better than HCBS.

Daniel Kennamore 1 year, 1 month ago

Nobody is saying they, personally, are a better coach then Self. To imply they are is at the very least lazy and more likely just flat out intellectually dishonest.

I do know one thing, if I was being paid 5 million a year with the expectation of being one of the top 1-3 performers in the country...and was consistently falling on my face like Self is, I'd be fired.

Alex Berger 1 year, 1 month ago

Did you even look at the stats in the article or that Shannon put up above?

Greg Ledom 1 year, 1 month ago

Daniel, what (in your opinion) is not falling on your face and thus a fireable offense? Is it 50% of the time your in the final 4? Winning a national title 25% of the time you get to the final 4? What are your goals for coach Self? Looking at the table above, there are a lot of coaches at major programs that apparently would be fired if you were running the show. Not sure who you would have left to coach your team though. When your in a crap shoot like the tourney and relying on young men to take you to the promise land........well........what you get is a crap shoot. I'll take our coaches record any day over any other coach out there and stand tall every day. Rock Chalk Coach Self!!!!!

Rae Bricil 1 year, 1 month ago

"Self’s 2-5 record in Elite Eight games at KU is not good any way you slice it, but it also demonstrates that he has reached the Elite Eight in 50 percent of his seasons at Kansas, an amazing success rate."

i know this is a Kansas statement and question in the sense that some many other schools would be happy to reach the elite 8 but at Kansas with the seven #1 seeds we should have more F4s and not such a miserable record in the elite 8. I don't recall seeing elite 8 banners in AFH---could be wrong. Not saying fire at all but to be paid $5M a year and not able to get over the elite 8 game at a 40-50% mark (when most of the times you are a higher seed) is a failure. To be favored by seven and lose by double digits on what was basically a home game (in terms of crowd) is a coaching failure. If this only happened once i would agree with this that say "players didnt make shots" but this has happened over and over.

just wonder how many people would take an extra loss in the sweet 16 for an additional F4? since this article is all about averages--a sweet sixteen loss and a final four average out to two elite 8 losses.

Rae Bricil 1 year, 1 month ago

also as a mathematician to simply use averages to make a point in this system/payoff hierarchy is lazy. one should use a weighted average system giving more points to advanced games wins. for example, similar to the previous one, in the average system discussed here if we have two years--one with a first round loss and the next year a national championship is the same as two elite 8 losses. 3 wins per year on average--i know which two year period i would chose.

Carl O'Hair 1 year, 1 month ago

Which arm of your arm chair do you sit closest to when watching the team play on TV? Left or right?

Rae Bricil 1 year, 1 month ago

guessing that is supposed to be some sort of witty reference to an arm chair quarterback. I am not questioning how Bill Self coaches only his results and the laziness of an analysis solely based on averages. If you are a 1/2 seed almost every year and yet have a 2-5 record in a specific stage of the tournament then something is wrong with your approach to that game. I posted elsewhere that in 6 out of 9 of Self's E8 games have been his teams lowest scoring games of the season. That is insane that in 6 years of making to the elite 8, and out of over 30 games played in a season, your worst offensive performance is on that day in that game--i am sure that every year at this specific game regardless of the players, team or venue they happen to just go cold--i am sure there is no connection to the coaching whatsoever.

Bryan Mohr 1 year, 1 month ago

I guess I look at it a little differently. UConn, UNC, Florida, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, UCLA, and Michigan State all have more Final 4 appearances than Kansas over the past 14 years. And schools Butler and Ohio State have the same number of Final 4's as Kansas. Sorry to sound conceited, but KU should be more elite than that. For KU's standards, Self has underachieved. Self's record in the tournament clearly defines him, and KU, as consistently being in the Top 5 to Top 16 teams (50% of the time), but seldom in the Top 4 (14%). Overall, KU has finished in the Top 1 to Top 16, 64% of the time under Self. But KU fans expect more Top 4 because they expect KU to never fall behind Kentucky, UNC, Duke, or UCLA in the conversations about greatest basketball programs. Self will always have the pressure to finish Top 4 because KU considers itself Top 4, not Top 16.

John Brazelton 1 year, 1 month ago

Basketball season is over until next year. How about somebody from the Lawrence Journal World start covering Spring football? They are half through their 15 practice sessions.

Mike Riches 1 year, 1 month ago

In my opinion the only difference between losing in the Final Four/NC game and losing in the Sweet Sixteen/E8, is the players take another week off of school. Who cares if other coaches (i.e. Izzo) have more Final Four appearances, if they don't have more national titles?

This is why conference championships have always meant more to me than Final Fours. At least we're winning something!

Susan Mangan 1 year, 1 month ago

Everyone who understands the game knows that achieving a conference title (in a respectable conference, at least) requires long-term success. A tournament title requires a few good days. I couldn't care less whether we win or lose the Big 12 tournament because being consistently good, over the course of a season, is far more difficult than being good for 3 days. The same holds true for the 6 games needed to win the NCAA.

David Robinett 1 year, 1 month ago

Cary, you said it took Roy 17 years and Bill 15 years. It took the great Dean Smith 20 years at UNC. Then it took Dean another 11 years to win his second NC.

Susan Mangan 1 year, 1 month ago

Not to mention, Dean Smith was burned in effigy during my mom's undergraduate years at UNC (1961-1965), due to his teams' performances. He would have been fired LONG before achieving greatness, by most of these arm-chair quarterbacks.

Benny Armstrong 1 year, 1 month ago

Don't forget as well, that Roy went 9 seasons between Final Fours in 93 and 02. Lots of early tourney losses led to a frustrated fan base before breaking through for back to back Final Fours in 02-03. We weren't even making Elite 8s a lot of those seasons.

And semi-unrelated to your comment David, but relevant to the whole discussion is this idea of what defines a good/great season? UCLA went to 3 straight Final Fours and basically ran Howland out of town because he didn't win a title any of those years. As someone else noted above, if we make it to the Final Four 50% of the time, then are we pissy that we don't win it each of those times? I hope we win it each year like most fans, and we typically have a team with a legit shot at it, but I am also realistic that its really hard to win a title. Additionally, there are a number of great coaches out there in college basketball (and some really lucky ones too), but each time one of them wins it, the rest can't by nature of the tourney. It's an amazing but cruel ending to a season each year that one program gets to be happy, but it also makes it the most exciting sports event.

Being on the doorstep of the last weekend makes the losses hurt more, but being there consistently in the first place is a great achievement. Hopefully the coaches can figure out the formula and break through this perceived wall. And hopefully we as fans can have some perspective on the great season this was after the hurt subsides.

Jay Hawkinson 1 year, 1 month ago

Also worth noting that Roy seemingly came pretty close to being stripped of the '05 title due to academic infractions. I'd rather have a tainted title than no title, but that does take a bit of the luster off.

Jay Hawkinson 1 year, 1 month ago

IMO Big 12 play has been the outlier. Part of that is Self being freakishly good at instilling consistency and beating the coaches in this conference, but part of that is the B12 being overrated. OSU made the Final 4 in 2004, and then no non-KU B12 team made it until OU last year. Everything else - the mixed record in the Champions Classic and other marquee non-con games, frequent disappointments in March, and 0 NBA all-stars (Wiggins, Embiid, or Jackson will make it one of these days, but still) - tells a consistent story. I think a big part of what is going on is that Self (with help from non-con scheduling as Tom notes) consistently produces a 1 seed resume with 2 seed talent. And if everything goes chalk, the Elite 8 is where a 2 seed is supposed to lose.

Also, not all Elite 8 losses are equal. Villanova last year and UCLA in 2007 are respectable losses. GaTech was the higher seed in 2004. The VCU and Oregon losses really were brutal. I think VCU was worse - worse opponent, more dominant KU team to that point, and weaker potential Final 4 opponents. Losing in KC is a bad look, but Bell was the best shot blocker we saw this year, and that had given this group huge problems in years past.

Self can do better - he called the Elite 8 the toughest round, and I wonder if that passed his mental block on to his team. Meanwhile, everyone starts calling Dorsey Mr. March, and what does he do? He lives up to it.

But hey, if Graham comes back we should be better next year - a) arguably as much NBA potential 1-5 as we've ever had, b) the best fit for Self's preferred style that we've had in years.

Jonathan Allison 1 year, 1 month ago

"But hey, if Graham comes back we should be better next year - a) arguably as much NBA potential 1-5 as we've ever had, b) the best fit for Self's preferred style that we've had in years."

There are several things wrong with this statement. For example, you are ignoring the fact that this team was consistently ranked in the top 3 throughout most of the season. No mention that Frank Mason was arguably the best player in America this season (despite his lack of "NBA potential"). And no mention that Josh Jackson, was the best two-way freshman contributor we've ever had. No mention that we are losing a very reliable, crafty, and smart 5th yr senior in Landen Lucas who also is a good FT shooter to boot. We don't have a great idea yet how good Azubuike, Billy Preston, Dwight Coleby and Carlton Bragg will be as a big man group.

We have a chance to as good as this year if everything clicks with these guys, but to say that we should be better, you are either lying to yourself or trying to set this team up for failure. KU will have good team. That is what we know. But let's give credit where it's due. This year's team was really good despite all of their perceived weaknesses (ie. depth, front-court, size, etc)

Jay Hawkinson 1 year, 1 month ago

I should clarify. I think next year they will have less consistency but a higher ceiling. Even if we had brought our A game against Oregon, Bell and those 3 point shooters still would've given us problems. Maybe not enough to beat us, but that was always going to be a tough game. Next year, few if any teams will be able to outplay us when we bring our A game. The question will be how often we bring it.

I would also point out that while this year's team was consistently in the top 3 of the human polls, the computer rankings (Kenpom, ESPN's BPI, etc) had them in the 8-10 range for most of the year. Which would be consistent with my hypothesis that we had a 1 seed resume due to Self's greatness in close games, but our underlying quality was more like a 2 seed.

Andrew Foster 1 year, 1 month ago

Sorry but the re is so little room for error in a single elimination tournament and you afre working with kids who may have a bad day, and unfortunately it happened

Pius Waldman 1 year, 1 month ago

Yes the one and done Big Dance causes sometimes upsets due to one game stats. Villanova Arizona Duke all lost to teams rated considerably below them. But I honestly believe Coach Self and his attitude about not playing zone or short practice time has been at least one reason for his team to be defeated. Guess what Oregon and the zone defense had our players mixed up how to attack.

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