Five things we learned from the 2016-17 KU basketball season


The Jayhawks come together in a huddle with little time remaining during the second half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

The Jayhawks come together in a huddle with little time remaining during the second half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

Now that enough time has passed — for most — between the rough ending to another amazing season of Kansas basketball and today, it’s time to take a quick look back at what we learned about the KU program during the 2016-17 season.

These things we already knew: Kansas is king of the Big 12 Conference; the Jayhawks are perennial national title contenders; Bill Self is one heck of a basketball coach.

So no surprises there.

But what about the things that were a little surprising, or at least proved to be realities that we don’t necessarily see every season at Kansas?

There were a few of those, too.

Here’s a look:

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles as he barbs an official during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles as he barbs an official during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

1. Bill Self is even better than you thought

Anyone who has followed Kansas basketball closely over the years — and even many who haven’t — knows what Bill Self basketball looks like. Inside-out, playing through big men, preferably with a big time shot blocker and a bunch of long and athletic guards who are fast and interchangeable. With a roster that lacked in some of those areas, Self adjusted to the four-guard lineup (more on that in the coming days as we’ll take one last look back at how that whole thing came to be) and watched the Jayhawks play a fast and exciting brand of basketball that made them a nightmare to match-up with throughout most of the season. Forget the X’s and O’s aspect of it, the bottom line about the 2016-17 season was that it proved further to what end Self will go to ensure his team is successful. There's a reason the guy's a Hall of Famer now. Actually, there are a bunch of reasons. Doing what he did with his roster and rotation in 2016-17 certainly qualifies as one of them.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court past Oklahoma guard Rashard Odomes (1) and teammate Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) charges up the court past Oklahoma guard Rashard Odomes (1) and teammate Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. by Nick Krug

2. We saw the true value of program guys

Imagine for a second where last year’s team would’ve been without Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas. Sure, maybe some other player or two would’ve come along and filled their spots, but would they have done it so well? Doubtful. And one of the biggest reasons for Mason and Lucas’ success was their experience. The two had been through so much during their four and five years in Lawrence and seen just about everything that they operated with a certain sense of calm. That experience also produced a great deal of confidence in both players, who often stood tallest against the toughest challenges. One-and-done and early-entry prospects are exciting and entertaining and, like it or not, probably will be the future of the sport for a long time. But that fact makes players like Mason and Lucas and seasons like the ones they had all the more special when they happen.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) raises up his arms as he leaves the court with little time remaining during the Jayhawks' 90-70 win over Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) raises up his arms as he leaves the court with little time remaining during the Jayhawks' 90-70 win over Michigan State on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

3. One-and-dones are worth it

Speaking of one-and-dones, KU fans have been left wanting more from recent freshmen for quite some time now but they finally got their payoff. Josh Jackson was sensational in just about every aspect of the game throughout the 2016-17 season and got better each month. Imagine if it were called May Madness instead of March Madness. Jackson would be a monster by now. And he probably is anyway. That’s why he’ll be a Top 3 pick in the NBA Draft next month and also why you take guys like him, year after year, class after class. I’m not sure the idea of loading up with one-and-dones like they do at Kentucky would ever work at Kansas. It doesn’t fit Self, it doesn’t fit the fan base and, as mentioned above, there’s legitimate value in program guys who carry a little veteran moxie with them. But taking one or two every year is absolutely worth considering and Jackson is the reason why. Even if you have to put four or five years of effort into recruiting them to get that nine months of time with them in your program, it can be worth it. They don’t all turn out like Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Josh Selby. It may be a while before KU has another freshman like Jackson. Heck, it may never happen again. The guy was a special player. But you can bet that Self and company will keep going after ’em and now you’ve seen up-close-and-personal why it’s worth it.

The Jayhawks' 13-straight Big 12 conference trophies are lined up along the court, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks' 13-straight Big 12 conference trophies are lined up along the court, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

4. That Big 12 title streak really is pretty cool

It’s celebrated and stressed over every year by the fans and I haven’t met one yet who is tired of adding to their T-Shirt collection at the end of another Big 12 season. But because it has been so long since someone other than Kansas won the Big 12, it does get taken for granted a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, each February or March, when another title is clinched, the celebration is cool. But this one, which tied the UCLA dynasty at 13 in a row, carried with it a little more of that special feeling. And understandably so. Year 10 was cool because it was double-digits. Years 1-5 were cool because the streak was just forming. And by Years 11 and 12 the whole thing became a feat we all just sort of marveled over. But those middle years, Year 7, Year 9, those sort of had that, “Oh, cool, they did it again” vibe to them and a little less euphoria and pride. Not this one. Tying UCLA was big. Passing the Bruins next season, should KU be fortunate enough to do so will be even bigger. And I really thought that fact was palpable throughout the 2016-17 Big 12 race.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) help up Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after Graham hit a three during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) help up Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) after Graham hit a three during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

5. The game is changing

Remember that four-guard lineup talk from No. 1? Back to that for a second. The game of basketball is changing and it’s starting to filter down to the college game in a big way. Small ball, quick guards, excellent shooters. All are becoming more and more important in the modern game. Look no further than the upcoming NBA Draft for proof, as five of the Top 10 projected picks are 6-foot-6 or smaller and two more, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, stand 6-8 and have a more perimeter-oriented flavor to their game. That means seven of the Top 10 picks in this year’s draft could very well be guys who are the poster boys for the modern game. Heck, even Florida State big man Jonathan Isaac, who stands 6-11, likes to play and looks incredibly comfortable on the perimeter. These things tend to go in cycles, so I’m not saying the game has changed forever. But thanks to the recent success enjoyed by the Golden State Warriors, teams at all levels have started to tweak how they play, looking to take advantage of tempo, quickness and the 3-point shot more than ever. Kansas is one of them and it worked tremendously well for the Jayhawks in 2016-17. The question now is where do things go from here?


Daniel Kennamore 1 year ago

We also learned that Bill Self's tendency to face-plant in the Elite 8 is a real problem.

If he can't push through to the Final Four with the POY, a virtual home court, and playing a team missing a starter...that's not an anomaly.

Dale Rogers 1 year ago

You really need to do a little more research, Daniel, particularly into a comparison of the records of the more well-known coaches in the tournament. It might open your eyes a bit. Or a lot. And keep in mind KU has not got blown out in the first round of the NIT despite lofty preseason rankings and expectations.

Daniel Kennamore 1 year ago

As of last Feb., Self is 7th in NCAAT winning percentage among active coaches.

Of the top 10, only one (Sean Miller) has less Final Fours than him...but Sean has only 9 appearances compared to Self's 18.

So he's a good, but mediocre (when compared to the well-known coaches you mentioned) tournament coach.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

Well-said, Daniel. Self can't win the games that matter, but we're stuck with him because apparently ripping victory from the jaws of defeat in 2008 means lifetime job security.

Les Miles led LSU to the 2007 national championship in football, but that didn't stop LSU from whacking him when he couldn't get the job done anymore. KU needs to take a similar approach with Bill Self.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year ago

Are we seriously going to have to listen while you do this EVERY summer or are you ever going to grow up and realize you're never going to replace Bill Self as coach?

Gerry Butler 1 year ago

OH SWEET MOTHER OF JESUS. - - Thank you - -thank you Daniel your level of intelligence it's so special to see you put SO MUCH THOUGHT to words that come out of your mouth. - -It must really hurt to think of such wit Do you realize how many schools - - - how many of those schools fans would die to have KU'S success we have in Basketball? - - - Do you realize in reality how hard it is to actually make it to a final four? - - You do realize Coach Self has of the top winning pct in College Basketball don't you? - -No wait you probably don't You do appreciate a teams of work over a season just a 7 game span don't you? - You do realize that if KU and a lot of these teams that they are getting knocked off by, if they were to play a series best of five - best of seven, you do realize KU would win a lot more of these series then not don't you. - -Alls it takes is ONE bad night of shooting field, a turnover here a turnover there, at player like we have had in previous years - - - - you do realize there is only ONE REAL winner at the end of the year? - - everyone else ends their season with an L? - -you realize ALL the teams who would die to just make the NCAA'S - -which we lead the Nation by the way consecutive yrs of making the tourney - - how many would give anything to make the field of 68/64? little lone the elite eight don't you? Do you think the others that make it to the Title game and lose - -you think they feel any better - you think that loss hurts anymore - -any less? - -a Loss is a loss - you still didn't accomplish what you set out to do - - win the title. - Every team ends thir season with a loss other then one - -THE CHAMPION. - -well thanks for stopping by anyways, have a great day

Daniel Kennamore 1 year ago

Yes, we have a program most would love to have...but the measuring stick is against other bluebloods.

If you're okay with being below average compared to our peers, as long as we are still better than 95% of other programs...good for you.

I hold our program to a higher standard.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

As well we should. Connecticut, Duke, and North Carolina have each won two national titles since we won our most recent one. In fact, our former coach, Roy Williams, in his fourteen years with UNC, has won three national titles with the Tar Heels and been to two other Final Fours. In the same time span, Bill Self has only been to two Final Fours and won the title only once.

Most bluebloods only go a few years between national titles; we go generations between national titles at Kansas. Which makes me question whether we can legitimately call ourselves a blueblood.

Mike Greer 1 year ago

And exactly how many titles did coach Williams win at KU? Why?

Terrence Alan Bidnick 1 year ago

I tend to agree somewhat with Daniel. However he overlooked one fact. We also were playing without a starter, a seven foot starter.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

But we had most of the season to learn to play without that one starter, not just a few weeks as in 2014 when we lost Embiid to injury, or 2015 when Alexander was being investigated.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

Matt, how the hell can you write "Bill Self is even better than we thought" as the #1 item on this list with a straight face? We expect the Jayhawks to go to Final Fours on a fairly frequent basis, but with all the #1 and #2 seeds we've had under Self, we ought to have been there six times by now. We've only been there twice. Self's already poor record in the Elite Eight dropped to the abysmal level this season when we lost to Oregon - and we did it in a virtual home game in KC in an arena that was 90% full of our fans. The Elite Eight is too big of a stage for him. We didn't hire him to win conference titles and take KU to the Elite Eight; we hired him to take us to the Final Four and win a national title. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, 2008, uh-huh, yeah, yeah, yeah. 2008 is OLD NEWS. We can only hang our hats on Mario's Miracle for so long. If Self can't win the games that matter, he needs to step aside for someone else who can. It's people like you, Matt Tait, who continue to sing his praises while ignoring or explaining away his postseason underachievement, are part of the problem, not the solution.

John Fitzgerald 1 year ago

Good article, Matt. I feel sorry for any KU fan that can't appreciate having a chance at the title every year while Self has coached. I remember when Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT.. under Calipari.

Daniel Kennamore 1 year ago

How can you say we 'have a chance at a title every year' when our coach has only made it to the Final Four twice?

We gobble up wins in a bad and small conference...guess how many not Kansas fans think Big 12 titles are all you need to be an elite coach.

Mike Greer 1 year ago

Because if you don't make the tournament you have absolutely NO chance of winning the title. Only the 68/64 teams that make the tournament have a chance at the title. That seems like such a simple concept for a college graduate to grasp.

Tony Bandle 1 year ago

! think Bryce and Daniel are the same guy!! Actually, a brilliant strategy for proving a point. All kidding aside, however, I think this is kind of a "how many rungs are in a ladder" kind of argument.

I think both sides on this issue can make credible arguments to support their positions based on their perceived levels of success interpretation. Regular season, post season, the entire season, whatever combination you want gives a basis for a defending position.

What I find interesting is that it seems like no one thinks the other guy has anything worth reviewing...kind of like Congress. Let me try to propose a compromise. Bill Self is a Hall of Fame Coach who sometimes has a bad day in the month of March. Does that sound like a relatively true statement?

By the way, on a scale of 1 to 10 relative to life itself, this argument ranks at about -66, but it is fun typing crazy sh#t at midnight!!! :}

Len Shaffer 1 year ago

Well said, Tony. I would add one thing, though: although Daniel and Bryce may have some good points, their credibility goes out the window when they suggest that Bill Self should be fired. As so many have asked, who in the hell would we get that would be better???

Daniel Kennamore 1 year ago

" Bill Self is a Hall of Fame Coach who sometimes has a bad day in the month of March. Does that sound like a relatively true statement?"

No. He more often than not has a bad day in March.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

Bill Self is to Kansas what Jim Boeheim is to Syracuse - great during the regular season, but a postseason underachiever. Oh sure, he might reach the occasional Final Four here and there, and we do have that one national title to hang our hats on, but like Boeheim at SU, Self has let us down more times in the postseason than he has lived up to expectations in the postseason.

Mike Greer 1 year ago

Well he managed to knock off Kansas when Roy Williams was coaching.

Terrence Alan Bidnick 1 year ago

I am starting to think these types of comment series are more about the fans than the coach or the program. Some fans are just more demanding, spoiled, unhappy etc. than others.

Humpy Helsel 1 year ago

Clearly, some of us are yet to recover from the grief of our last loss. Some of us sound stuck in the anger phase of grief...Others of us still remain in denial regarding how hard it is to win in a one and out tournament over 6 games where every team except one goes home sad.

With that said, back to the story. Your breakdown of the 5 categories gets to the heart. Bill Self is a brilliant representative, recruiter, general manager and coach of a program that is worth millions to the university. Imagine where KU would be on the national conscience without its basketball program. We get amazing national and international airplay, branding and attention because of our program. Enjoy the ride with Bill because he will eventually make the jump to the NBA. Love program guys. Devonte, Frank and Landen. What a group! You have to have them as the foundation which, by the way, helps keep in the spirit of that thing called intercollegiate athletics. Josh Jackson has set the standard at KU for OAD. All future OAD will always be compared to him. Good luck with that. There will be a national spotlight on the streak this year like never before. It just adds to our mystique if we can accomplish it at least one more year. The pressure on the players and staff will be enormous. I really think it is a bit draining on the players late in the season. But at this point, it's worth it. I loved the way we played last year with "small ball," but never underestimate the right bigs. Seems like it has been harder to recruit as many with Danny's departure. We have something special going right now. I am getting old and fine wine taste better and better with age and an increasingly sophisticated palate.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

"Others of us still remain in denial regarding how hard it is to win in a one and out tournament over 6 games where every team except one goes home sad."

Really? Because it wasn't that hard for UConn, Duke and North Carolina to win it twice each in the past nine years. Nor was it that hard for Indiana to win it three times in eleven years from 1976-1987, or even Louisville to do it twice in six years. Other bluebloods haven't found it that hard to win it all on a somewhat frequent basis; no excuse for us not to do the same.

And no, I'm not saying we should have as many titles as UCLA or Kentucky; they're in a class all by themselves. But we should strive to have as least as many titles as Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, or Connecticut.

And if we're still in the anger phase of grieving the Oregon loss, it's because the Selection Committee practically gift-wrapped us a trip to the Final Four with the Tulsa-to-Kansas City road to get there - we were playing in the Sprint Center, our home away from home, for crying out loud - and we STILL choked!

Jim Stauffer 1 year ago

First, great article. Second, as to the debate about Self, many of the great coaches did their winning later in life. I believe Self is in the 54,55 range in age. All of Roy's titles came after that age I believe. Coach K has had much of his success in the last 15 years. I really think there is a maturation or "now I get it" factor that seems to happen between the age of 55 and retirement with these guys. If Bill doesn't win it all again before he is 60, I will begin to be concerned. Right now I am enjoying the ride and finding great pleasure in watching him evolve as a top flight coach. One thing Bill possesses is a great personal charm the co-exists with his demands for his players to excel. That is a beautiful thing to watch.

Brock Wells 1 year ago

Great perspective Jim!

Bill clearly and genuinely cares about his players and what he did for Jamari (my apologies if not spelled correctly) comes to mind... of course they have to have great talent but that relationship between Bill/staff and his players is much more important than getting to the final four. Not every elite or hall of fame coach has that type of relationship with his players.

And I hate losing and grieve just like the rest of us spoiled fans year after year when we don't win the NC!

Bob Bailey 1 year ago

Self has made much of throw it in the middle, that it works for him, almost.

He has been totally inflexible on that point. It should have showed up when we lost and Ellis got only 4 points. If he made 6 - 7 we were a sure winner. It really bothered some; how can you not see we're in trouble and do something about it.

But if you look around at other coaches, there is no place to go!

All the top coaches have their own problems! There is NO 'up', from where we are. Perhaps he got part of the lesson this year. Hang in there and hope for the best.

John Fitzgerald 1 year ago

To all the Bill Self haters I have one question; who would you have replace him? And I'm not talking about digging into your wonderland fantasy world. I'm talking legit prospects that would leave their current job to coach KU and have had the same consistent success as Self, as in wins per year, NCAA tournament appearances, conference titles, home victories, Elite 8 appearances, and recruiting.

Len Shaffer 1 year ago

Well said, John, and don't forget academics, and that he does it all with tremendous class.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

No one specific. Someone who is willing to change the defense and not doggedly stick to man-to-man when it's getting shredded. Someone who can figure out how to attack and beat a matchup zone, something Self has failed to do in back-to-back Elite Eights. Someone who can maintain a double-digit lead on Iowa State and not let them come back to beat us as has been the case three seasons in a row. In short, someone who does all the things Self does well and who does all the things that Self is unable or unwilling to do.

John Fitzgerald 1 year ago

If you don't have a person in mind who currently exists then all of your points are completely moot. You can't constantly call for someone's firing if you don't even know who you'd replace them with. And why can't you think of anyone? Because there is no one who matches Self's consistency that would leave their current job to coach at KU. Zero. Zilch. Nada. None!

Larry Renbarger 1 year ago

You are in dreamland,idiot. Name one above Jr. High.

Tommy Tripp 1 year ago

Brad Stevens (from Boston Celtics and Butler).

Tommy Tripp 1 year ago

"Wrong. Try again"??? Nice counter point John. So you trash Bryce and anyone else who doesn't name a replacement coach even though they have valid points for wanting a replacement coach. Yet "Wrong Try again" is all you got. Trust me Brad Stevens would do twice as much with the talent that Kansas can get versus what Self has done. Oh and by the way Stevens has just as many final fours as Self in a 1/3 of the years coaching and with "Butler" talent. Look what he has done with the stuff the Celtics have. Trust me Stevens is far better coach than Self.

Mike Greer 1 year ago

Ok, I'll bite, just suppose Stevens is a better coach, how many millions would it take to get him to quit his NBA job and come to Kansas to coach? If you'll recall, the challenge wasn't just to name someone with a better record, but someone that could do better, that you could actually hire.

And just for the record, not every "replacement coach" does better than his predecessor. Look a Kentucky, they pushed out Tubby and ended up with Billy Gillispie.

Tommy Tripp 1 year ago

To me Self needs to change what ever it is he does to prepare between the Thu/Fri to Sat/Sun games. It's not just a Elite 8 problem he's also a round of 32 problem he has. It's always the weekend game that he doesn't have his players ready.

Harlan Hobbs 1 year ago

Thanks for trying, Tony, but Daniel and Bryce are locked in to their sadness, so let them wallow on. I'll stick with you and Matt, who wrote an excellent article.

Bryce Landon 1 year ago

You're just as much part of the problem as they are.

Len Shaffer 1 year ago

Not to be another buzzkill, but I do have one question about the streak: did UCLA tie for any of its conference titles? As tremendous as KU's accomplishment has been, the fact remains that in 4 of the 13 years, KU didn't win the title outright. That makes at least some difference in the record book.

Randy Williams 1 year ago

Having lived in Lawrence for the five years my wife pursued and achieved her PhD, I came to love Allen Field House, Rock Chalk, and college basketball. Roy W was the coach then, and he was having a heck of a time trying to win a National Championship. When Bill Self took over (after all the crying was done) I watched the Jayhawks go to an higher level. They even won a National Championship!!! But, even so, it remains very difficult to win the National Crown from Lawrence KS. Why???? I'll leave you to argue amongst yourselves, but it's hard to see how "mediocre" coaching is the main problem, or even a significant one. Despite my love for the team, its coaches and the University, I suspect some of us need a Realtor check: location, location, location. Meanwhile congratulations to HCBS, and the Jayhawks of 2016-17. It was a great year. Can't wait for the summer tour and the fall season. Randy W

Larry Renbarger 1 year ago

Dear Mr Tait.

Of course they all are comparing Wooden and Self and their records. But the thing is, They worked under very different rules.

I would like to see a comparison of what their records might have been if Players like Alcindor, Walton, Walt Hazard, Gail Goodrich and James Worthy were all one-and-dones. What would UCLA's record be with all them gone after one? How many titles would KU have won if our one-and-dones had 4 years of Self's guidence.? Alcindor alone got Wooden three of his titles, Bill Walton did the same. They all played THREE years. How good would they have been if they only had Woodens teaching for one lousey year. How would we have been if we had Wiggins, Jackson and Embiid and the brothers "M" for three or four years. We would have had a team that would have had Wiggins, Jackson and Embiid ALL PLAYING IN THE SAME YEAR. WOULD ANYONE HAVE BEATEN US?

Would like someone to do a study. I'm not smart enough.

By the way, we won in '08 without one one-and-done.

Mike Greer 1 year ago

You're correct of course on different times, but one must also consider, if KU had all of its one-and-dones, so would Duke, Kentucky, etc. and since Calipari gets a whole team of one-and-dones every year, think how good his teams might be if they had 3 or 4 years of playing together. It's just a comparison we can't make.

Enough things change in sports that comparisons from one era to another are all but impossible. Even the attitude of today's athletes is so much different than those of 50 years ago.

Titus Canby 1 year ago

Excellent point Larry Renbarger. And great article Matt. Thanks for the insight.

It's interesting to see how entitled we all are as KU basketball fans.

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