Note: Here is a listing of definitions for some terms used in this blog. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below if something doesn't make sense.
It's two days after VCU's 71-61 victory over Kansas in the Elite Eight, and honestly, the longer I think about it, the worse I think this loss was for KU.
Because it was the Elite Eight and not the first or second round, most KU fans I've read on here have been pretty forgiving and have seemed to shrug off the defeat as "one of those days."
It's just tough for me to see it that way when KU had probably the easiest path in history to the national championship game (KenPom had KU with a 49-percent chance to win the whole thing before the VCU game) before failing to even make the Final Four.
Let's start with this: KU coach Bill Self is a victim of his own success. He took a top-15 preseason team and molded it into one of the best in the country. He won at least a share of his seventh straight Big 12 title and also led his team to a 35-2 record before its final loss.
But that amazing success in the regular season just boosts expectations for the postseason. He's his own worst enemy in that regard.
Having said all that, KU should have cakewalked to the Final Four after getting by Illinois.
I know I bring up KenPom a lot, and his projections gave KU an 88-percent chance of winning the game against VCU on a neutral court. And trust me, the Alamodome was anything but neutral, as KU fans outnumbered the other fans about 10-to-1.
The percentages for KU losing by 10? I can't think that would be better than 1 in 100.
But let's forget KenPom for a second and just look at the Vegas lines. KU was an 11-point favorite over VCU.
I've heard the argument that these same types of upsets in the NCAA Tournament have happened lately at the other big-name schools as well.
I did some research, and that simply isn't true.
Since the 2003-04 season (Self's first at KU), I looked back at all the NCAA Tournament games for the four biggest name college basketball programs: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina.
During that time span, those four teams have gone a combined 31-4 in games where they were favored by 10 points or more in Vegas.
The four losses? Take a look below.
2004 — Kentucky favored by 10 (loss to UAB)
2005 — Kansas favored by 13.5 (loss to Bucknell)
2010 — Kansas favored by 11.5 (loss to Northern Iowa)
2011 — Kansas favored by 11 (loss to VCU)
As a double-favorite in the NCAA Tournament in the last eight years, North Carolina is 10-0. Duke is 9-0. Kentucky is 4-1.
And Kansas is 8-3*.
* — It's worth noting that Kentucky and North Carolina both failed to make the NCAA Tournament during certain seasons in that stretch — something else to keep in mind. Self gets KU to the Tournament every year, which is a credit to him.
When favored by 10-12 points in the last two seasons, KU is 10-0 before the NCAA Tournament. And 1-2 during the NCAA Tournament.
It's something that can't be ignored.
On Sunday, much of KU's improbable loss was blamed on its shooting.
The best shooting team in the nation (KU had a 57 percent effective field-goal percentage* coming in) posted an eFG% of 37.1 percent — the worst shooting performance by the Jayhawks in the last two seasons.
* — eFG% takes into account the extra value of three-pointers by giving them 1.5 times the credit of twos.
KU also made just 2 of 21 threes (9.5 percent), also its worst mark in the last two years.
How bad was it for KU? Here's a typical shot chart for KU, this one from the first half against Richmond. The circled numbers mean a shot was made, while the numbers to the side of the baseline are layups.
Now, look at KU's second half against VCU.
That's right. The Jayhawks made just one true jump shot in 18 second-half attempts (5.6 percent).
Can this be explained? The best shooting team in the nation making one jump shot in an entire half?
You can call it a bad shooting day, but uncanny poor shooting is becoming a pattern for KU in its recent Elite Eight games.
Below are KU's effective field-goal percentages from Self's four Elite Eight appearances, along with KU's season average for eFG% that year.
2004 vs. Georgia Tech — 44.6 eFG% (season eFG% of 51.4%)
2007 vs. UCLA — 44.6 eFG% (season eFG% of 54.5%)
2008 vs. Davidson — 49.0 eFG% (season eFG% of 56.7%)
2011 vs. VCU — 37.1 eFG% (season eFG% of 57.0%)
The point here isn't that KU shot worse than its season average. That's most likely going to happen against a tough opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
In almost all the games, though, KU's shot significantly worse than its season average.
I looked up free-throw percentages from the Elite Eight games, and KU shot below its average in each of those four games as well.
Again, it's something worth exploring for Self. What's the reason for his team's tight play, especially in that Elite Eight round?
"It's amazing to me that we're 6-1 in Sweet 16 and 1-5 in Elite Eight games," Self said Tuesday. "That's the kind of stuff. I need to look at. ... This was the loosest we've ever been going into a game. Even our coaches said, 'Gawdang, if you're tight, no one knows it.' The loosest we've been, so that doesn't guarantee anything either."
It sure appeared to be a different Self once he stepped on the sideline.
One national media member, after watching Self on the bench during the VCU game, told me it almost seemed to him like Self was strangling his team on the sidelines with quick subouts and sharp words, and his team seemed to respond negatively because of it.
Self can't shoot shots, but he can affect the mindset of his team during those games.
Some of these NCAA occurrences don't look like flukes any more. They're starting to look like patterns.
And Self — as he promised Tuesday — will surely do some self-examination to see how his team could be better prepared in future years.
M.O.J. (Most Outstanding Jayhawk)
Only two KU players can even be considered for this award, and though Marcus Morris played harder, Tyshawn Taylor earns the M.O.J. for being a little bit better.
Amazingly, the junior guard was the only player on the Jayhawks’ roster to post better than 1 point per possession used against VCU. Taylor notched 1.23 PPP used while ending 17.8 percent of KU’s possessions. His floor percentage (the percentage of possessions he ended where KU scored at least one point) was a team-high 61.3 percent.
Taylor also led KU in effective field-goal percentage (66.6 percent, no one else shot above 46 percent) and assist percentage, contributing 24.6 percent of KU’s assists when he was in.
He just didn’t get help offensively from anyone besides Marcus (0.94 PPP used, 28.6 percent possessions ended).
Room for Improvement
VCU came in scoring 35.4 percent of its points from three-pointers. On Sunday, the Rams scored 50.7 percent of their points from threes.
Yes, VCU did hit some tough threes, but it also hit some wide-open ones as well.
Whether it was poor execution of the gameplan or a bad gameplan, KU unnecessarily helped way too much on dribble penetration, allowing the Rams to kick out for open shots.
It was a drastic two-game turnaround for KU’s perimeter defense. After holding 40-percent three-point shooting Richmond to 4-for-26 outside shooting on Friday (15.4 percent), KU allowed 37-percent three-point shooting VCU to hit 12 of 25 threes on Sunday (48 percent).
Coming in, three-point defense hadn’t been a KU weakness. Opponents had made just 29.8 percent of their threes against KU.
That didn’t matter much to VCU, which made 9 of its first 15 threes during the decisive first half.
Here’s a stat I picked up from John Gasaway on Twitter: In five NCAA Tournament games, VCU has made 43.8 percent of its two-pointers. And 43.8 percent of its three-pointers.
I’m not sure why KU’s defenders were so worried about helping out on drives at the risk of giving up open threes, but it definitely cost the Jayhawks.
In a game full of bad performances, Josh Selby’s was the worst.
The freshman posted just 0.57 points per possession used while ending 11.7 percent of KU’s possessions. In 15 minutes, he also had no rebounds, no assists, no steals and no turnovers.
There’s some debate on the usefulness of the plus-minus statistic, but Selby’s was so bad on Sunday that it’s hard to ignore.
During his 15 minutes on the court, KU was outscored 35-15. That also means, in his 25 minutes off the court, KU outscored VCU by 10.
The play-by-play makes things look even worse.
Selby checked into the game at the 13:38 mark of the first half with KU trailing 12-10. When he left the court at the 9:48 mark, KU trailed 20-10.
Then, in the second half, Selby checked in at the 13:11 mark with KU trailing 46-44. When Selby checked out at the 8:48 mark, KU trailed 57-47.
That’s not all on Selby, obviously. He was part of some funky rotations then, and he was one of only five players out there.
That doesn't change the fact that he was on the court for two of the most important stretches of Sunday’s game. And during those nine minutes, KU was outscored 19-3.
I often talk about players’ points per possessions used. Multiply this number by 100, and you have the statistic known as a player’s offensive rating.
Here are the final offensive ratings for KU’s rotation players this season, along with their percent of possessions ended, from KenPom.com:
Brady Morningstar 122.7 (14.9 percent)
Marcus Morris 122.1 (26 percent)
Tyrel Reed 122.1 (13.1 percent)
Markieff Morris 120.4 (25 percent)
Travis Releford 118.4 (17.1 percent)
Elijah Johnson 114.9 (13.7 percent)
Mario Little 114.0 (18.6 percent)
Jeff Withey 110.0 (20 percent)
Thomas Robinson 109.0 (26.5 percent)
Tyshawn Taylor 104.2 (21.3 percent)
Josh Selby 94.2 (23.8 percent)
Not only Selby the worst offensive player efficiency-wise for KU, he was the worst player by a good margin. He also was the fourth-highest usage player on the team, meaning oftentimes he was taking offensive possessions away from more efficient players.
When Selby became eligible in December, many wondered how much better he could make KU’s offense.
The numbers would tell us that he only made it worse.
KU scored just 0.9 points per possession, the second-worst offensive performance of the season for the Jayhawks behind the Texas loss.
Though KU's offensive rebounding was well above season average (42.2 percent offensive rebounding percentage, compared to season OR% of 36.7 percent) and its turnovers weren't bad (20.6 turnover percentage, which is a good number against VCU), it didn't matter because of the difference in the teams' shooting percentages.
VCU's eFG% of 50.9 percent was just above its season average, while KU's eFG% of 37.1 percent was its worst this season by a mile.
The Rams — coming in not even as a top-100 team in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency metric — held KU to the 17th-worst shooting game from a Big 12 team this entire season.
If that's a coincidence, then some pretty unnatural forces were at work Sunday.
There's no doubt Self did a good job this year of learning from the Northern Iowa loss to become a better Tournament coach. He was more focused on dictating tempo this year, pressing Boston and Richmond to speed them up, which helped the Jayhawks pull away during both games in the second half.
The growth should continue after this game.
I heard someone say that this isn't the worst Tournament loss for KU under Self, but it was the biggest blown opportunity. And I agree with that. To make the Final Four, KU had to win four games when it was favored by at least eight points in each game. Then, to make the championship game, KU would have to had beat Butler — a game where it once again would have been about an eight-point favorite.
KU will never, in any year, have an easier road than that.
Self still seems to become a different coach in NCAA Tournament games: His screams are louder, his rants to the officials are longer, his sideline demeanor is more animated and his yanking of bench players is quicker.
I'm not sure why it's necessary when something else has led you to a 32-2 record.
After the Jayhawks scored the first six points on Sunday, VCU went on a 39-15 run. Think about that. How many times this season has KU allowed a team to show that kind of dominance over it?
During the stretch, KU's players looked tight. And nervous. And panicked.
No team can get to 35-2 unless it follows its coach's lead.
KU's players might have been doing that again — only this time, to their detriment.