Monday, August 20, 2018


Tom Keegan: Are expectations placed on this KU basketball team fair?

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) pulls down a rebound while running drills with the post players during an open practice on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The Jayhawks are preparing for four early-August exhibition games in Italy.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) pulls down a rebound while running drills with the post players during an open practice on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The Jayhawks are preparing for four early-August exhibition games in Italy.


Another poll with Kansas on top — this one of college basketball coaches, conducted by CBS — means more fuel will be added to the notion that this will be a disappointing underachievement of a season if the Jayhawks don’t make it to the Final Four.

Not fair.

No need to look beyond Kansas teams that made the Final Four and others that fell short to be reminded that so many more factors than the talent level of a collection of names on a piece of paper enter the equation. Playing with urgency and with chemistry, on the floor and off it, constantly building confidence, and yes, receiving a little luck, weigh so heavily in attaining that special season.

Sure, it’s tough to enjoy the journey and focus on the process, rather than the outcome, as sports psychologists constantly remind us. But it truly is advice as sound for fans as it is for athletes.

Sometimes, a team that seemingly has it all doesn’t reach the destination that four others do. And in other cases, a team that has enough hurdles in front of it to intimidate Edwin Moses somehow still is standing when the season reaches its final stage.

Talent’s a subjective thing, difficult to capture with numbers, so what would be the best means of trying to quantify it for a college basketball squad? Count the number of McDonald’s All-Americans? No. Some players are earlier developers than others. Why look back?

A better figure: Sum of NBA career salaries.

First, we’ll try that measuring stick with the roster of Roy Williams’ first Final Four team, 1990-91, and then with the 1996-97 roster, which did not include a single player who participated in a Final Four.

The ’90-91 roster, listed in order of scoring average that season: Terry Brown, Mark Randall, Adonis Jordan, Alonzo Jamison, Mike Maddox, Richard Scott, Sean Tunstall, Patrick Richey, Steve Woodberry, Kirk Wagner, David Johanning, Malcolm Nash and Doug Elstun.

Mark Randall and Adonis Jordan combined to earn $1.98 million in NBA salaries, according to Nobody else made the league. Randall played parts of five seasons with four different organizations and earned $1.63 million. Jordan played six games with Denver in 1993-94, four with Milwaukee in 1998-99 and earned a total of $350,000.

Six seasons later, Williams had his most talented roster, listed here in order of scoring average during the 1996-97 season: Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce, Jerod Haase, Scot Pollard, Billy Thomas, Jacque Vaughn, Ryan Robertson, T.J. Pugh, B.J. Williams, Nick Bradford, Terry Nooner, Joel Branstrom, C.B. McGrath and Steve Ransom.

All the money in the world can’t buy Final Four experience, but if it could, this group would have enough to pay the going rate.

Combined, these Jayhawks earned $332,652,826. If that is too large a number to process, it’s $332.65 million, almost enough to purchase an iPhone X.

A third of a billion for no Final Four, compared to $2 million for a Final Four.

Future Hall of Famer Pierce earned $198.1 million, LaFrentz $84.1 million, Pollard $38 million and Vaughn $11.3 million. Thomas and Robertson combined for slightly more than $1 million in NBA money.

Underachieving team? Hardly. It went 34-2, losing by two points in double overtime at Missouri and by three points to eventual national champion Arizona in the Sweet 16 in Birmingham, Ala.

Five players from that Lute Olson team made money in the NBA, including Jason Terry ($108.3 million so far, still hasn’t retired), Mike Bibby ($107.1 million) and Michael Dickerson ($17.1 million). A.J. Bramlett and Miles Simon combined for slightly less than $1 million.

Again, so much more than talent makes or breaks Final Four aspirations. In that case, running into Arizona so early in the tournament was the worst luck possible.

Let’s try the same exercise with a pair of Bill Self’s teams and start with the 2011-12 squad that made it to the national title game, where it lost to a Kentucky juggernaut led by Anthony Davis.

KU’s roster, listed in order of scoring average: Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Conner Teahan, Kevin Young, Justin Wesley, Naadir Tharpe, Jordan Juenemann, Merv Lindsay, Christian Garrett, Niko Roberts and Anthony West (played one minute, then quit).

That team didn’t have much firepower but understood from an early point in the season its only path to winning big was to defend in a way that consistently made the opposition stumble through an ugly night.

Three players made it to the NBA: Robinson ($12.6 million), Withey ($4.4 million) and Tyshawn Taylor ($1.3 million) for an exact total of $18,230,951). Robinson played in Russia last season. Withey signed to play in Turkey this coming season, which is where Taylor has been playing.

Self’s team from two years earlier was eliminated from the tournament by Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh in the second round. Eight players from that Kansas squad made it to the NBA.

The 2009-10 roster, listed in order of scoring average that season: Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich, Taylor, Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, Robinson, Elijah Johnson, C.J. Henry, Conner Teahan, Withey, Juenemann and Chase Buford.

The biggest NBA earners, so far: Markieff Morris ($32.5 million), Aldrich ($23.9 million) and Marcus Morris ($23.3 million). The total: $106,727,318 with plenty more coming in future years.

Those Jayhawks didn’t seem as united as the 2011-12 Jayhawks and weren’t as committed to defense. It never seemed as if Collins and Taylor had great chemistry.

How far will this rendition team go? Who knows? But the Jayhawks will need to make an early commitment to making other teams play lousy because it might not have a superstar, a la Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

This is a deep team, all right, both in the post and on the perimeter, but is there an All-American on the roster? Dedric Lawson? Maybe.


Aaron Paisley 4 years, 3 months ago

The expectations are fair because KU is one of 3 teams that are a class above everyone else this season. I'll say it right now that this season will be a disappointment of KU doesn't win a national title because this is the best team KU has had since the 2008 title team.

Not winning a title will be on par with the disappointments that 1997, 2003, 2010, and 2011 were.

Greg Ledom 4 years, 3 months ago

If what we see on paper fully translates to what we see on the court; I’m in general agreement. I struggle with being disappointed with a team not making the Final 4 or not winning the NC because of what TG is essentially trying to get across in this article. I always say I would be disappointed for them but not in them. If that makes sense...Rock Chalk!!

Matthew Coleman 4 years, 3 months ago

The tourney is very nearly a crapshoot with just that shred of credibility that keeps us interested. The NCAA tourney as the ultimate crowning achievement is a bill-of-goods sold to us by the press.

Fans of a program like Kansas, which brings out an excellent team every year, can either be miserable every year that luck doesn't favor or look elsewhere for a more meaningful validation of our excellence. Our string of conference titles provides a far more accurate picture - although with less glitter. These results rely on a sample size of 18 games from each team, whereas even the luckiest teams in the NCAA tourney play no more than 6.

Joe Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

...on the OTHER hand, it's no accident that if you look at the top winners of the NCAA tournament--the Kentuckies, Dukes, North Carolinas, etc--you realize that it's not all just happenstance. There is SOME proportionality--even if not 1 to 1--between excellence as a program and NCAA titles. In any case, judging by the winners of the Tournament it is hard to make the case that winning it all is a crapshoot. It isn't.

The most realistic thing to be said is something in the middle, and it's something that Bill Self and others have said. While winning the tournament DOES have a little of bit of luck or good fortune tied into it, having a really good team is a big piece of the puzzle.

Matthew Coleman 4 years, 3 months ago

It really is happenstance who wins the tourney. The best team of the season rarely wins it all. Among the top 8 to 12 teams, its pretty much luck that determines the outcome (and sometimes none of the best 12 win!). Kentuckies, Dukes, North Carolinas win more titles because they are in the top 8-12 more often, not because they win with the best teams. Syracuse (2003); Kentucky (1998); Duke (2010 - 5 losses); Florida (2006 - 6 losses); UConn (2011 - 9 losses); Arizona (1997 - 9 losses); UConn (2014 - 8 losses) were none of them the best teams in the tourney and they won it all. And yes, even our NCAA championship wins are testament to this fact - especially in 88.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 3 months ago

Very good article, and great line about the iPhone, but one HUGE luck factor that you left off was injuries. If Embiid hadn't been hurt, who knows how far that team could have gone? And Haase was hurt when they played Arizona in '97. And of course there have been plenty of other injuries that have derailed KU teams in the tournament over the years.

So sometimes it's more than just a LITTLE luck that plays a factor. In fact, I would argue that luck often plays a HUGE part in who wins the tournament. There are certainly exceptions, like Villanova last year and UK in '12. But so often it's about matchups, who has a hot shooting night, who has an off night, officiating, etc.

And let's not forget how close last year's KU team came to not making the Final Four (or, for that matter, how close that incredible KU team in '08 came to not winning the championship).

Danny Hernandez 4 years, 3 months ago

I take exception to Villanova. They shot lights out from the 3 and you can't deny that. Everything they threw up went it and how often does that happen? Yes, it happened on the biggest stage but you cannot discount the fact that if those 3's don't go in, what kind of outcome would one be looking at?

Len Shaffer 4 years, 3 months ago

Fair enough, Danny. i was thinking of their overall run. if I remember correctly, they won every game by double digits, so that tells me that there wasn't much luck involved, but you're right about their hot shooting night.

Craig Carson 4 years, 3 months ago

the fact that Nova hit 18 3's and KU only managed to lose by at 15 points was amazing..if Nova only makes half those 3's, the game could have gone differently

Joe Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

I was in Los Angeles in 1984. Certainly Tom knows why that is relevant to this article.

I don't know if the expectations are fair or not, but fans are going to do it KANSAS. And I think when you look at the landscape across college basketball, title aspirations are as reasonable for Kansas as they are for any other team out there, so when looking at it that way it's really hard to say the hope is not justified.

Tom Keegan 4 years, 3 months ago

Hope is certainly justified and fun. But hope is different from expecting. Only four teams can get there, just one can win it. That's tough for any team, not as tough for Kansas as most, but tough.

Joe Ross 4 years, 3 months ago

Oh absolutely. I always bemoan the fact that Kansas hasn't won more often in championship games, but then one has to remember that the teams they faced rose up through the ranks as well. I guess my point is that if we are to take the position that it's tough for any team (which it IS) then expectations of a championship are almost always unfair. If I take this view, then I'm inclined to agree with you, because I don't think there is as much separation between Kansas and the field of other top contenders as there was when, for example, Calipari had the '12 team or Jay Wright last year. In the latter case, it's probably fair to say that no one expected Nova to completely dominate the tournament in the way that they did. So I get your point.

But taking the fans'-eye view, where Kansas is coming in completely loaded and deep as all get out, and with many having professional, favorable opinions with regard to Kansas' chances, hope easily sublimates into expectation. But I DO take your point.

Robert Brock 4 years, 3 months ago

This year’s team will not have the outside shooting firepower that last year’s team featured. Better learn how to play some D.

Craig Carson 4 years, 3 months ago

I think KU finally having more bigs will help on D..they seemed soft on the inside these past 3-4 years

Steve Corder 4 years, 3 months ago

Expectation and potential are two sides of the same coin, as they have never have won a single contest. Discussing expectations and potential are great fun for fan conversations and articles like this but meaningless to Bill Self....he just grinds on and on with relentless perfection.

Eliott Reeder 4 years, 3 months ago

I’m worried about Self having too much talent on the team this year. Oddly enough, other than 2008, his “best lineups” have seemed to flame out early in the tournament. He ends up in the final Four or NC game when he has a team full of underdog scrappers and a short bench. I’d say over his entire career he has had a tendency to do more with less and less with more. He’s a better ‘underdog’/ ‘nobody believes in us’ coach than ‘embarrassment of riches’ coach. I feel like the best thing that can happen to a Self-coached team with tons of talent is a couple of bad losses that lower expectations early so that they can battle back over the course of the season and peak toward the end.

Clarence Haynes 4 years, 3 months ago

Per the old cliché, one game at a time! Rock Chalk!

Marcus Balzer 4 years, 3 months ago

Winning a Natty requires a lot of luck and the right match ups unless you are that much more of a dominant team ala Nova last year, the Tar Heels a couple of years back. Those type of teams are few and far in between. When you get into the month of March you need to have the breaks go your way because once you get into the Elite 8 and beyond the teams are as close to evenly matched as possible, barring a huge lower seeded team but with the abundance of talent available and the 3 pt shot that gap is closing. Can this team win a Natty? For sure it can but they are going to have to have a lot of breaks go there way too.

Dillon Davis 4 years, 3 months ago

I think it's also important to mention the 2019 NCAA tourney sites as reason for the high expectations as well. Not only are we preseason top 3 on pretty much everyone's lists, not only do we have the returning talent along with new 5-star talent, but if we play up to expectations we will see ourselves as a 1 seed in the Midwest - which means we will have a chance to get to the Final Four by playing in our backyard in KC. Lucky draws are important in the tourney but when you're the 1 seed and playing 45 min from home in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and have all the fan support, then it's even more expected that you get to the Final Four. It was a disappointment when it didn't happen in 2016 and it will be a disappointment if it doesn't happen this year - barring injuries.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 3 months ago

I think unless you're playing on your home court (which doesn't happen anymore), the location of tournament games is overrated. It certainly hasn't helped KU consistently in the past ...

Tim Orel 4 years, 3 months ago

Certainly if KU lets an underdog hang around the fans even of the teams KU isn't playing start rooting for the underdog, thereby turning what should be a local advantage into a road game.

Titus Canby 4 years, 3 months ago

My theory is that superstars can derail a tournament run. I believe last year's team made the Final Four because they played their hearts out and played as a team. The '08 championship team is another great example of a team with tons of talent but no superstar that played together as a team. Other teams with automatic lottery picks lose at times because the superstars are playing to not get injured. Think Andrew Wiggins. Winning in the tournament, in my humble opinion, is a combination of talent, desire, and teamwork. And luck.

Kurt Eskilson 4 years, 3 months ago

Good point, Jay, but Danny was a 4-year superstar who was dedicated to WINNING for Kansas … not saving himself for an early exit to the league. Do they make 'em like that anymore?

Lawrence McGlinn 4 years, 3 months ago

In 2011 Kemba Walker carried a very meh UConn team to a title. He averaged around 20 and hit a lot of key shots. The final game against Butler was a crime against basketball, but they won it, and he was the star. That was also the year that KU lost to VCU in the elite eight. Had KU won that game it would have been in the final four with UConn, Butler and a year-too-early Kentucky, Yikes...Never look back...keep looking forward...yup.

Brad Avery 4 years, 3 months ago

I expect the KU basketball team to win the national championship every season. Albeit those expectations are neither fair or rational, it is the price Kansas basketball must pay for the history, players and coaches with which it has been blessed. It is far better to be stupidly giddy about basketball and incur the additional pressure of media predictions than enduring the opposite reactions produced by the football program.

Larry McGlinn 4 years, 3 months ago

Consider this - correct me if I'm wrong, but only 3 times since 2008 have we lost in the tournament to a better team, and two times were in the final four - Ky in 2012 and Villanova in 2016 (reg final) and 2018 (2016 is debatable). So, at least 6 times we have lost to lesser teams. The tournament is a crapshoot, but more often than not it was hot outside shooting that doomed us, so it helps to have solid 3-point shooting in the tournament. Playing in a so-so Big 12 we usually get a #1 seed, but after the first round it is anyone's guess.

Kit Duncan 4 years, 3 months ago

So-so Big XII? 7 of 10 were in the NCAA tournament last year. 4 of those 7 made it to the Sweet Sixteen!

This year's Big XII is projected as the number one conference in basketball.

If anything, it's the tough conference schedule AND the Big XII Tournament that takes a toll on Kansas players leading up to the NCAA.

If not for Andrea Hudy's conditioning regimen and Bill Self's mandatory Boot Camp, to begin the training season, Kansas players might not have the stamina to make it through the year, much less the NCAA tournament.

It often shows late in conference play how Kansas is able to wear down opponents that have lesser stamina.

Lawrence McGlinn 4 years, 3 months ago

It does seem unusual because of the East/West Coast media bias, but the Big 12 is often overrated, at least by tournament performance. Since 2009, Final 4 teams: Big 10 - 7, Big East - 7, ACC - 6, SEC - 6, Big 12 - 3 (KU twice, OU once). Only the Pac 12 has less during that period among Power 5 conferences, 1. I'd say the Big 12 has been so so, very weak aside from KU. I do admit 2018 was a good year for the Big 12 in the tournament. My main point is that because of the one-game format the tournament is pretty random, not totally random, but pretty random. Sports Illustrated has a column every February where they choose 8 possible teams for Nat Champ, and they've been right pretty consistently, but that is one of 8 teams. KU would definitely be one of those 8 this year, but champ? We can root for it, but my wallet will be firmly in my back pocket.

Steven Haag 4 years, 3 months ago

Agreed about the National Championship. The great UCLA coach, Wooden made a comment when the field expanded to 64 teams. He said (I don’t have the exact words) but “now you have to have some luck to win a national championship”. There are always KU haters that are quick to throw out how few national championships we have, but EVERY single one of them would take 14 straight conference championships in a heartbeat. If we gel well, play team ball, and play HUNGRY and with a chip on our shoulder, we should make the Final Four......but it only takes an injury, foul trouble, or cold shooting and the team watches it on TV like the rest of us

Bryce Landon 4 years, 3 months ago

Since Kansas won its most recent national title in 2008, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Villanova have each picked up two national titles. I don't think the tournament is as big of a crapshoot as some of you make it out to be. We need to pick up a fourth national title pretty soon if we still want to be considered among the titans of college basketball.

I would like to think that the players on this year's team will have the bad taste of getting waxed by Villanova still fresh in their mouths and use it as motivation to take care of last year's unfinished business. Surely Coach Self will use that as motivation. Here's to the Jayhawks getting to a 16th Final Four and cutting down the nets in Minneapolis in 2019!

Craig Carson 4 years, 3 months ago

yes we all wish KU would have more titles,but they are in no danger of being dropped out of the list of the titans of college dont get dropped out of that discussion after 100 years of BBALL success just because you dont have more titles..

Tony Bandle 4 years, 3 months ago

I would pay top dollar to listen to Bryce Landon debate Jay Scott.........on anything!!! :)

Commenting has been disabled for this item.