Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Woodling: Kansas must get over defeat

March 16, 2003

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— Who were those guys? Who were those players wearing Kansas University basketball uniforms?

Unfortunately, we've seen those guys before. Saturday's stunning 68-63 loss to Missouri in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament brought back unsettling memories of Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon and, of course, New York City.

Most of the time this Kansas team spins straw into gold, but every now and then somebody forgets to say Rumplestiltskin, and the Jayhawks carry a load of iron pyrite to the assay office instead.

Fortunately -- or so it would seem -- Saturday was one time when the Jayhawks could have unwrapped a lump of coal and still be smiling because they could still receive a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announces its bracket late this afternoon.

In most years, a team with a 25-7 record wouldn't have much of a chance at a No. 1 seed, but this isn't a normal year. Once you get past Arizona and Kentucky, it's a wide-open scramble for the other two top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and Kansas is in the scrum.

"A lot of people said we had a No. 1 seed locked up before the (Big 12 tournament), but I don't know if we do, and I don't know if we don't," KU coach Roy Williams said following Saturday's stinker. "But I think we're a No. 1 seed."

Williams bases his opinion on the Jayhawks' strength of schedule, saying 13 or 14 teams KU met during the regular season would make the NCAA Tournament.

One of those 13 or 14 is North Carolina Asheville, an automatic NCAA qualifier because it won its league tournament, yet most likely will be a No. 15 or No. 16 seed today. Kansas clobbered Williams' hometown college, 102-50.

Other than the Bulldogs, though, the other NCAA Tournament-bound teams on KU's schedule were legit. North Carolina, Florida, Oregon, California, Tulsa and Arizona were the best. Moreover, only one of those six games was in Allen Fieldhouse. It's true the Jayhawks compiled a 2-4 record against those potential NCAA qualifiers, but the results may be less meaningful than their mere existence.

As bad as the Jayhawks played Saturday -- a season-low eight assists, 0-for-11 three-point shooting in the second half, fateful foul trouble, etc. -- they really didn't play any worse than they did in their last game in last year's conference tournament at Kemper Arena.

Who can forget that shocking 64-55 loss to Oklahoma in the 2002 championship game? KU shot a dismal 33.3 percent and committed 20 turnovers against the Sooners.

Once the initial shock of that OU loss wore off, people had a tendency to shrug it off as an anomaly, rationalizing that the Jayhawks had received a much-needed wake-up call and would be heading into the NCAA Tournament in the right frame of mind.

Then KU went to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and struggled to subdue Holy Cross, a No. 16 seed, by just 11 points. Holy Cross led, 37-35, at halftime, and CBS was breaking in whenever it could to report a No. 16 seed was on the brink of defeating a No. 1 seed for the first time in NCAA Tournament history.

As we know now, the Jayhawks shrugged off those bad Holy Cross moments and eventually advanced to the NCAA Final Four. But the effects of that loss to Oklahoma clearly had damaged the Jayhawks' confidence. They didn't regain their stinger until they socked Stanford, 86-63, two days later.

No way this year's Kansas team -- especially without Wayne Simien -- is as good as last year's 33-4 club, so if the Jayhawks will indeed become a No. 1 seed today, they had better get over Saturday's loss to Missouri in a hurry, or they really will be in danger of becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to drop its first NCAA Tournament game.

Even though the 2003 Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season championship outright, they proved Saturday they won't continue to advance if they have another sinking spell.

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