March Madness 2014: There's Plenty of Blame for Yet Another Early Kansas Exit

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March Madness 2014: There's Plenty of Blame for Yet Another Early Kansas Exit
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ST. LOUIS — The potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick had four points and four turnovers.

The future Hall of Famer was grossly out-coached by a guy who, less than a month ago, was in danger of losing his job.

The champions of the nation’s toughest conference looked shell-shocked while getting punked by a double-digit seed in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Again.

Sunday’s 60-57 loss to Stanford wasn’t as bad as the epic choke jobs—Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa—that have hovered over Kansas’ program for years. But it was close.

With a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line, Kansas looked ill-prepared and rattled against the No. 10 seed Cardinal, whose zone defense forced Bill Self’s squad to shoot 32.8 percent from the field while committing 14 turnovers.

Standout freshman guard Andrew Wiggins—who had averaged 28 points in his previous four contests—made just one basket and a pair of free throws in what was likely his final game as a collegian.

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“It’s my fault we lost,” Wiggins said. “I know it’s my fault we lost.

“If I would’ve done my part, and helped the team like I was supposed to help them, we would’ve beat them. We would’ve won the game.

“But I didn’t do what I usually do, what my team wants me to do. I let my team down, my coaches, my fans, Kansas fans, everybody.”

Dwight Powell (15 points) was one of four players to score in double figures for Stanford, a former bubble team that will now play Dayton in the Sweet 16.

Kansas, meanwhile, is finished after one of the more mediocre seasons of the Bill Self era. The Jayhawks won a 10th straight Big 12 title, but their 10 losses were the program’s most since 1999-2000.

“We had a good year,” forward Jamari Traylor said, “but we definitely didn’t have a great one.”

For that to happen, nothing short of a Final Four berth would’ve sufficed. And advancing to college basketball’s biggest stage seemed more than realistic with a roster that featured Wiggins—who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before he ever played a college game—along with McDonald’s All-Americans such as Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.

Even with projected top-three-pick center Joel Embiid sitting out Kansas’ first two NCAA tournament games, the Jayhawks’ draw seemed favorable enough for them to advance to the Sweet 16.

“This team is good with or without me,” said Embiid, adding that he likely would’ve returned from a back injury next week.

Actually, the Jayhawks didn’t resemble anything close to a good team against Stanford, which started three juniors and two seniors, compared to a Kansas lineup that featured a pair of freshmen, a sophomore and a junior alongside senior forward Tarik Black (Embiid’s replacement).

Kansas, though, looked shaken from the get-go against Stanford’s length. The Jayhawks committed five turnovers in the game’s opening six minutes and couldn’t get off a good shot, setting the tone for what turned into an angst-filled day.

“Nobody was able to get into the flow,” said point guard Naadir Tharpe, his voice quivering. “No one could get it going out there. A lot of shots we would’ve made any other game, we didn’t make today.”

Self said he was pleased with his team’s energy.

“That wasn’t the problem,” he said. “It was nerves.”

Kansas trailed most of the second half but pulled within two, 59-57, on a three-pointer by backup guard Conner Frankamp with 18 seconds remaining. Stanford’s Anthony Brown split a pair of free throws moments later to make it 60-57 with 13 ticks left.

Frankamp’s attempt at a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer was way off the mark.

“At a time when we needed to be in attack mode as much as we have all year, we weren’t in that mode,” Self said. “We just didn’t make plays.”

The lone bright spot for Kansas was senior Tarik Black, who scored a team-high 18 points before fouling out. Selden, who has been mentioned as a potential first-rounder, matched his two-point total from two nights earlier against Eastern Kentucky.

Traylor was 1-of-8 from the field and Ellis was 3-of-10. No player, though, was as lackluster as Wiggins, especially considering his reputation.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“He obviously had an off-day,” Self said. “He’s been so good all year long, but he wasn’t aggressive today. Not shooting the basketball, but going after balls and things like that. That wasn’t the guy that we’ve seen the majority of the year.

“A lot can be put on him or me or whoever, and I guess that’s how it should be. But the kid had a great year. I hate that the last game he labored like this. He’s obviously better than what was shown today.”

Kansas will almost certainly lose Wiggins to the NBA draft, and Embiid is likely to go, too. Embiid said he’ll consult with his family and his mentor, NBA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, before making a decision. Black also played his final college game.

“This team is never going to be together again,” Ellis said. “It hurts to think about that.”

Ellis will lead a strong cast of returnees including Selden (assuming he doesn’t enter the draft), Frankamp, Traylor, Tharpe, Frank Mason and Brannen Greene. Kansas will also add a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in likely one-and-doner Cliff Alexander, a power forward, and Kelly Oubre, a wing who will replace Wiggins.

Self can only hope that squad will surpass the accomplishment of a 2013-14 team that fell short—way short—of expectations.

“When we played well, we were pretty good,” Self said. “When we didn’t play well, we got average real fast.”

 

Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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