Another crushing NCAA exit for Kansas, Self

In Bill Self’s eight seasons at Kansas, the Jayhawks have had

all sorts of disappointing finishes – back-to-back first-round

departures and last year’s second-round failure when they were the

No. 1 overall seed.

This one might be the worst yet.

Staring down what would’ve been the easiest path to a national

championship in NCAA tournament history, their status as favorites

boosted further by being the lone No. 1 seed left in the field,

Kansas blew it again.

The Jayhawks got behind early and hardly threatened the rest of

the way in a 71-61 loss to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the

finals of the Southwest regional on Sunday.

”We’re crushed,” Self said. ”We tried real hard and just came

up empty against a team that was better than us today.”

A victory would’ve sent Kansas into a Final Four matchup against

eighth-seeded Butler, then no better than a No. 3 seed in the

finals. Had the Jayhawks won it all, they would’ve shattered the

record for the highest sum of seeds faced by the champion.

But instead of strolling into Houston next weekend as the heavy

favorites, Kansas became the third No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 11,

joining Connecticut in 2006 and Kentucky in 1986.

”Seeds are so overrated,” Self said. ”It’s about matchups.

Their players could play for us any day.”

It’s easy to figure out what went wrong. The Jayhawks made only

35.5 percent of their shots and 9.5 percent of 3-point tries, both

season lows. They hit 15 of 28 free throws (53.6 percent), narrowly

better than their season-low.

Their last lead was 10-9. They trailed by a season-high 14 at

halftime. The deficit grew to 16 a few seconds later, then Kansas

made its lone rally, getting within two points then fading

again.

Unlike the 2008 team that walked out of the Alamodome as

national champions, the 2011 Jayhawks walked to the locker room

blank-faced, hands on hips, occasionally peeking at the wild

celebration around them. Marcus Morris tried holding off the tears,

but had to pull his jersey over his face by the time he reached the

edge of the court.

”We let them beat us,” Markieff Morris said. ”We missed a lot

of shots we normally make. We missed a lot of free throws that we

normally make.”

Kansas reached the regional finals on an 11-game winning streak.

In the tournament, the Jayhawks hadn’t trailed by more than two

points, and won by at least 14, in victories over teams seeded

16th, ninth and 12th.

As much as they claimed they would respect VCU as much as a Duke

or North Carolina, the Big 12 champions still knew they were facing

the fourth-place finisher from the Colonial Athletic Association.

The lack of respect may have oozed out during a pregame meeting of

team captains, when – according to VCU’s Joey Rodriguez and two of

his teammates – one of the Morris twins said, ”The run ends

here.”

The lack of respect was evident again after the game. Said

Markieff Morris: ”Probably the best game they played ever,

probably the best game ever as a school.”

The final minutes were a perfect example of what went wrong for

Kansas (35-3).

Marcus Morris missed a short shot, got his own rebound, then

missed again, only to see his brother grab the rebound. Just as

quickly, VCU’s Jamie Skeen snatched the ball from his hands.

Next time down, Tyrel Reed shot an airball on a baseline jumper.

Then Marcus Morris threw up a 3-pointer that was way too hard;

going for the rebound, he punched the ball out of bounds.

By the time Tyshawn Taylor made a layup with 24 seconds left,

the Jayhawks were down eight.

As the final seconds ticked off, thousands of Jayhawks fans

stood in stunned silence, arms crossed, while the small group of

VCU supporters chanted ”Hey, Hey, Goodbye.”

What’s next for the Jayhawks?

Much depends on whether the Morris twins return for their senior

year. Kansas already has to replace two senior starters in the

backcourt, Reed and Brady Morningstar.

”We didn’t accomplish what we set out to accomplish, so it’s

hard for me to say it’s a special year,” Self said. ”It won’t

sting from lack of trying or lack of effort. It will sting because

these opportunities – I wish they came yearly, but they don’t come

yearly. And you’ve got to make the most of opportunities when you

get them and we didn’t do that.”