Best job he's done? Kansas coach Self not sure
The question has been dressed in different ways, asked by countless people in every situation imaginable: Is this the best coaching job of Kansas coach Bill Self's career?
The second-seeded Jayhawks have played a who's who of major college basketball: Duke and Kentucky, Missouri and Baylor. They beat Ohio State during the regular season, the team they'll play in the Final Four on Saturday night, and won their record eighth straight Big 12 title.
And they've done it with an All-American forward (Thomas Robinson) who hardly got off the bench last year, one of the nation's most dynamic guards (Tyshawn Taylor) whose career has taken more plot twists than a telenovela, and one of the best shot-blockers in school history (Jeff Withey) who averaged all of 6.2 minutes per game last season.
It was such a mish-mash of talent that even Self tried to temper expectations of a fan base that considers anything less than a trip to the Final Four to be just another year.
''When we started (the season), I think the reality was, `I hope we're good enough to get in,''' Self said. ''The players that we thought these guys could become, they've become.''
Does that mean Self has done the finest coaching job of his career?
He's still not biting on that one.
''I don't know that you should rate,'' Self said earlier this week, before the team departed for New Orleans. ''I'll say this: This has been one of the easier coaching jobs we've had because it's been easy to get guys to buy in and be exactly what we want them to be.''
So if Self isn't willing to rate his teams, perhaps his players will take the bait.
Connor Teahan is a good place to start. The fifth-year senior redshirted last season so that he could play more minutes in his final year. That means he's the lone player left from the 2008 team that cut down the nets for the school's fifth national championship.
''I'm impressed by his coaching performances every year. He does a great job regardless of the team,'' said Teahan, often the first player off the bench and a dangerous outside shooter.
''This team might not have as much talent,'' he said, ''but then it's just as hard to manage a lot of talent. When you have a team that's really, really talented, you got to have guys that are going to buy into the system and not be selfish, and he does a good job of doing that.''
Most people believe the Jayhawks of the past couple seasons were far more talented.
Two years ago it was Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry getting the attention, and last year it was the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, along with freshman guard Josh Selby. But despite all that firepower, the Jayhawks headed home early come March.
''He took a team a lot of people didn't think would be - let alone in the Final Four - to the top of their conference. To be able to do that says a lot,'' said Taylor, a four-year starter.
Taylor said this season has reminded him of his freshman year, when Kansas lost several stars from its title team. Expectations were a bit lower, yet the Jayhawks rallied around several former role players to win 27 games and reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Of course, the big difference is that this team is still playing.
Maybe it's fairer to compare this year's squad to the championship team, which was also the last team Kansas had in the Final Four. Both of them had go-to scorers, both had marquee wins over big-name programs, and both relied on defense to make everything work.
''The '08 Final Four team would be favored, but I'm not sure the '12 Final Four team would buy into that at all,'' Self said, musing on a dream matchup between two versions of the Jayhawks.
''It's unbelievable to me how much these guys enjoy competing. The longer they compete with each other, the more they like each other,'' he said. "This is a close team. We've had some close teams in the past, but I don't think we've had a team this close.''
Even though Self appears unwilling to admit it, his coaching performance during this NCAA tournament - from a straight X's and O's standpoint - has been nearly flawless.
Kansas dominated smaller Detroit in its opening game, and then ran into red-hot Robbie Hummel and Purdue. Self switched from his standard man-to-man defense to a triangle-and-two, allowing Kansas to finally shut down the Boilermakers' star and ease ahead in the closing seconds.
Self returned to the zone in the regional semifinals against North Carolina, and so appeared to confuse the Tar Heels that coach Roy Williams wasn't even sure how often it was used. Williams guessed one or two possessions; Self said it was the final eight minutes.
Either way, the switch coincided with the Jayhawks' push to victory.
''Besides the X's and O's part about it and him just him understanding the game, the coaching staff does a good job breaking down every team and having us prepared,'' Taylor said. ''I haven't been around other coaching staffs to know, but I don't see it being any better because we're well prepared for every game and we know the scouting report on every team really well.''
Sounds like someone's willing to admit this may be Self's best coaching job.