Kansas' title dreams crushed in stunner
The Kansas Jayhawks had it all.
A senior point guard, a veteran big man, a talented freshman and multiple role players.
Kansas had everything.
Now, Bill Self’s team is gone after just two games, becoming the first No. 1 seed to fall after an earth-shattering 69-67 upset Saturday in Oklahoma City at the hands of No. 9 seed Northern Iowa.
“You operate under pressures the whole year that a lot of teams don't operate under because of where we were ranked and expectations,” Self said after the loss. “And to put ourselves in a position that we were in, they don't come around every year.
“You got to make the most of those opportunities when you're granted them. That's probably what stings the most.”
Sure, it was a veteran UNI team that swept the regular-season and conference tournament in the Missouri Valley.
The Panthers have three senior starters — including guard Ali Farokhmanesh, who banked in a three with 4.9 seconds left to beat UNLV in Northern Iowa’s first-round win and showed monstrous cajones again when he knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer early in the shot clock with 34 seconds left to upset Kansas.
“We feel like we're a good team,” UNI senior forward Adam Koch said. “We can play with anybody.
“We never doubted we could play with them at all.”
Sure, Kansas junior big man Cole Aldrich was sitting on the bench nursing an ankle injury down the stretch.
But there’s no way anyone saw this coming — with or without Aldrich.
“When the brackets came out, the first team I looked at was Northern Iowa,” Self said. “Lot of people talked about Ohio State or Georgetown or Michigan State ... The first team I looked at was Northern Iowa because I know how they play and in basketball the key to having a good team is to get easy baskets and not give up easy baskets.
Kansas proved to be vulnerable a couple times during the season. I saw when the Jayhawks didn’t defend and went through the motions down in Knoxville against a Tennessee team that had just six scholarship players.
There was also a lapse when the Jayhawks lost in Stillwater.
Now, the NCAA tournament field opens up.
Kentucky just became the de facto front-runners, but if this can happen to Kansas, the Wildcats are far from a sure thing to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Let’s not hand this thing out just yet.
Kansas wasn’t the only top-four seed to go down Saturday, either.
Second-seeded Villanova was bounced by No. 10 Saint Mary’s and No. 3 New Mexico was pummeled by an 11th-seeded Washington team that barely made the field.
Georgetown, another No. 3 seed, is also history, as is fourth-seeded Vanderbilt.
However, Kansas was the team that virtually everyone figured was going to cut down the nets in a little more than two weeks, myself included.
The Jayhawks had two guys in Aldrich and floor leader Sherron Collins who not only spurned the NBA, but also didn’t even test the waters after last season when both could have gone in the first round.
Two stars who stuck around to win another championship.
Guys who already had rings on their fingers.
“Obviously everybody is disappointed on our team,” Aldrich said. “To work so hard and to go through so much adversity … it's disappointing that we couldn't have let Sherron go out in a better way.”
“There's nobody I wouldn't go to war with but Sherron,” junior guard Tyrel Reed added. “He's the ultimate teammate, ultimate competitor. He's been great for this program, and I wish we could have sent him out on a much better note.”
They were so deep that Bill Self chose to redshirt a couple guys that would have started for numerous other BCS programs.
Collins, the tough-minded, fearless senior floor leader out of Chicago wouldn’t allow them to bow out.
The road began with No. 16 Lehigh, and Northern Iowa was thought to be a cakewalk as well.
“This team has done such a great job of turning the page to what's next, and (we knew) this would be the biggest challenge of the year,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “A lot of positive things have happened because the way these guys played. They've been able to really focus on what's next.”
But Collins struggled to make shots (finishing 4-for-15 for 10 points), Aldrich sat and the highly touted frosh, Xavier Henry, missed a crucial front end of a one-and-one in the waning minutes that may have proved to be the difference.
With Aldrich on the bench, it was partially left up to Marcus Morris, who has made vast improvement in his game but is hardly the guy you want to depend on with everything on the line.
“We had a good season, just didn't end the way we wanted it to,” Reed said.
The loss was the first time that a No. 1 seed has gone down since 2004 when Kentucky and Stanford both came up short against UAB and Alabama.
Fellow top seeds Syracuse and Duke still have a long way to go to get to Indianapolis in two weeks.
Don’t be shocked if either joins Kansas as bystanders before April.