Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Rock Chalk Rollercoaster
by Jeff Herr,posted Feb 28 2012 9:38AM
A few years ago Nike, hoping to catch the Lebron James mania at its apex, came out with the slogan “We are all witnesses.” The reference was to the greatness of James. On Saturday I think it’s safe to say that everyone involved in the Kansas-Missouri rivalry were witnesses as well. If game 1 wasn’t enough, with the Jayhawks coughing up an eight point lead with only 2:30 to play, game 2 topped it. KU found itself down by 19 points with just over 16 minutes to go, and clawed their way back to victory in overtime.
KU got smacked in the mouth and went into half time down 12. They came out and only looked worse. Phil Pressey, Marcus Denmon, and Michael Dixon were too quick for the Kansas guards. Ricardo Ratliffe was dominating inside against player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson. The Jayhawks had no answer for the Tigers.
Then something clicked. KU started playing lock down defense. Missouri started getting forced into making mistakes. Kansas started chipping away at the lead and the next thing you know it was only eight points with less than eight minutes to go.
The Jayhawks kept their foot on the gas and got it to three points with under a minute. Robinson gets a foul under the basket, makes it, and completes the and-one. The game was tied. Eventually, it brought us to overtime which was just as good as regulation. Tyshawn Taylor and Michael Dixon traded blows all overtime long reminiscent of the Keith Langford and Jarret Jack in the double overtime Elite Eight game in 2004.
KU held on to win 87-86 and secured a share of their eighth straight Big XII title. The Jayhawks laid claim to the title outright last night with their 70-58 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
We learned a lot about the top two teams in this league. We learned that MU can be a truly special team. We learned that KU, despite previous evidence to the contrary, can close out a game. We learned that sometimes it helps to have a few calls go your way. Most importantly, we learned that both these teams can lay legitimate claims to being forces come March.
With Kansas securing the Big XII title, and Gonzaga’s streak of 11 straight conference titles most assuredly ending this year, Kansas will have the longest conference title streak in the country. It also needs to be mentioned this was accomplished in one of the top 3 best basketball conferences in all the land.
Back in 2003 Most Kansas fans greeted Bill Self with lukewarm feelings. Coming off of two straight Final Fours and a last second defeat in the National Championship game, Roy Williams left Lawrence and Jayhawk basketball fans feeling a little lost when he shipped off to North Carolina.
Self took an experienced team that Williams recruited and went to the Elite Eight losing to Georgia Tech in double overtime. Roy Williams was quickly forgotten and everyone had all the reason in the world to think great thoughts about what was in store for Self and Kansas.
Things started going in the other direction shortly thereafter. Following their Elite Eight loss, Self had a team full of seniors and experience going in to the 2004-2005 season. The team had stars that had been to two Final Fours and never exited before the Elite Eight. They started out 20-0, faltered a little bit, but still found their way to a #3 seed in the tournament. Then they met the Bucknell Bison and the 14 seeded mid-major took down the mighty Jayhawks.
This was disappointing, but did not seem cause for concern. Williams had his fair share of flub ups in the early rounds as well. The next year Self had a team full of freshmen who were talented but inexperienced. They started off slow, then turned things around, won the Big XII and came into the tournament as a #4 seed. Unfortunately, they met the Bradley Braves, an under seeded, talented team that took out the Jayhawks. Concern was now legitimate.
After three years and two first round upsets people were starting to wonder if Self was actually the right man for the job. Kansas, with their supremely talented sophomores, grabbed a #1 seed and won 30 games, but fell short again in the Elite Eight. Self now moved to 0-4 in Regional Finals in his career (0-1 with Tulsa, 0-1 with Illinois, 0-2 with Kansas).
The next year, everything finally aligned. The Jayhawks withstood the upset storm from Davidson, got Mario’s Miracle, and 2008 is ingrained in everybody’s head as the year Kansas finally made it happen again. When looking back at Self’s career this is the pinnacle. This is the moment everyone looks to in proving Self is one of the greatest coaches in the country. What’s missing is what was going on behind all of this.
To get to where he was, Self took a moribund Oral Roberts squad that went 6-21 in his first season to a 21-7 record with a trip to the NIT just three years later. The Green Wave of Tulsa was never in anybody’s mind as a force to be reckoned with until Self won 32 games with them in the 1999-2000 season and took a trip to the Elite Eight. In his first year at Illinois Self was ousted in the Elite Eight again and then went on to recruit the players that ended up falling just short without him in the 2005 National Championship.
When he arrived at Kansas he won the conference in his second year and hasn’t relinquished that top spot since. Eight straight conference championships in this league is nothing short of remarkable. Self is a coach defined by his ultimate success, and yet too often marred by his failures.
With any luck Self will eclipse the 500 win plateau as a coach in the 2012-2013 season. If that luck continues Kansas could take their 9th straight Big XII title. Just like this past Saturday it’s been a rollercoaster ride of a career. Self has been doubted as possibly not cut out for the job at Kansas. Self has been touted as the best coach in the country. Through all of it, he has only remained as consistent as any coach in the country.
All too often the public lets Self’s shortcomings get in the way of his greatness. Make no mistake, with his eighth straight conference title; we are all witnesses to Self’s greatness.
Good article, Jeff!
I think it's funny how Self's shortcomings are only defined by his greatness. I mean, these days ANY loss (NCAA or regular season) by KU is seen as a major upset. Really, Self wouldn't be viewed as disappointing in the tourney if he wasn't so darn good at getting seeded #1. Think about it, 4 #1 seeds in the last 5 years, and no seed lower than #4 since he arrived! That means any time you lose and you're not in the E-8 or F-4, your season is a disappointment.
Assuming KU gets a #1 seed again this year, Self will have already matched the total of Williams' #1 seeds in his entire tenure! Sure, Williams brought home 4 Final Fours, but I'll take the Championship any day!