March Madness 2011: Five NCAA Tournament Exits That Broke Jayhawks Fans' Hearts
Almost everybody across the country is loving the VCU upset over the Kansas Jayhawks and doing their incredibly creative "VC who? VCU!" chants.
Everybody except for me, and the rest of the Kansas Jayhawks fanbase. This one hurts. This one hurts a lot, actually.
They are called "upsets" for a reason. Behind every David-triumphs-over-Goliath story, there are thousands of upset Goliath fans who believe that in a seven-game series, David would misfire on the sling shot at least four other times.
To Jayhawks fans, we find no joy in the madness of this year's tournament and have no interest in continuing to watch "Very Cinderella University." We have seen this before and have become all too familiar with the feeling of March Sadness.
Maryland 2002: This one hurt, because of how much talent the Kansas roster had. With a frontcourt that included All-American Drew Gooden and Nick Collison, along with a backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Miles, the Jayhawks were well equipped to win the title. This team finished the season at an impressive 33-4 mark.
The reason this game didn't make the list is because the matchup took place in the Final Four, and the Maryland team was equally stacked. Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox still play significant roles in the NBA and Lonny Baxter was a dominant college big man. On top of these three players, their emotional leader, Juan Dixon, carried the Terrapins throughout the tournament.
Bradley 2006: The reason this one hurt is it took place the year after the Bucknell upset. For Kansas fans, all we knew of Bill Self were two first-round upsets in three years. Meanwhile, Roy Williams had already won a title at North Carolina.
Why the loss wasn't devastating is because the Jayhawks' roster was still very young. Led by freshmen Brandon Rush, Julian Wright and Mario Chalmers, along with sophomores Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson, the fact that the Jayhawks even won the Big 12 tournament seemed like an over-achievement.
Although losing to a No. 13 was embarrassing, Jayhawk fans went into the offseason with plenty of hope in their young roster. Two years later, we celebrated a championship with this same core group of guys.
5. Bucknell 2005
Losing to a No. 12 seed happens all the time. Losing to a No. 13 seed hurts, but is still somewhat understandable.
Losing to a No. 14 seed feels terrible.
What hurt about the Bucknell loss was that the Jayhawks' roster was filled with talented seniors. First team All-American Wayne Simien, point guard Aaron Miles, swing man Keith Langford and sharp shooter Michael Lee almost led this team to the Final Four the year before and started out the 2004-2005 season 20-1.
They slumped their way to the tournament, but the overall feeling was still that this team had enough talent to win a championship.
Even worse, this game was played prior to the four-network system. Jayhawks fans outside of the Kansas area were trapped having to watch the faint scoreboard in the top of the screen until the final few seconds on CBS.
At the time, Kansas fans did not know that in the very next year we would have a new, more talented team that would eventually win a title for Bill Self. All we could do was watch the endless Bucknell highlights and endure the teasing the following day.
4. Northern Iowa 2010
The hype for this team was enormous before the season even began. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich decided to return, highly-recruited Xavier Henry was ready to fill in the small forward position and the Morris twins were rapidly improving. Throw in Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and Tyshaun Taylor, and it was easy to see why this team was expected to win Bill Self's second title in three years.
Much like this year's team, the Jayhawks only lost twice in the regular season. Unlike this year's team, the Jayhawks bracket appeared to be overly brutal (might be the reason why this year's route seemed so easy) with Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland and the only two teams Kansas lost to (Tennessee and Oklahoma State) positioned in their way of getting to the Final Four.
Northern Iowa never crossed our minds as a potential threat, but sure enough, there they were celebrating their Round of 32 victory.
This one hurt because of how close Jayhawk fans had gotten to Sherron Collins. Yes, Collins did already have a title from 2008, but his historic Jayhawk career was not meant to end in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Also, it was clear that Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry were leaving for the NBA, so it felt, at the time, that another opportunity like this would be many years away.
3. VCU 2011
The Morris twins spent every day in the gym from the moment after the Northern Iowa exit to the loss yesterday to VCU. They shot thousands of shots a day and elevated themselves to an NBA level, all in hopes of winning the NCAA title this year.
This year's Kansas team was more personal to the fans than the 2010 squad. The Morris twins became the face of this team, and the Thomas Robinson story gave fans the same type of close connection that the tragedies of Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Sherron Collins did in 2008.
This was a more complete team than the one that lost to Northern Iowa. It also had an easier path to a championship. All that stood in the Jayhawks' way was a No. 11 seed in VCU, a No. 8 seed in Butler and either an eight-loss Kentucky team or nine-loss Connecticut team.
The title was in our grasp.
The way Kansas lost to VCU was painful, too. The first half was a disaster, but right away in the second, the lead had been chopped in half. At one point, the Jayhawks were a Markieff Morris accidental step out of bounds away from having the game tied up. The Jayhawks missed free throws, the guards had their worst three-point shooting night of the year and VCU couldn't seem to miss from long range.
What was frustrating about the VCU loss is that given more than 24 hours to prepare, Bill Self's Jayhawks would beat VCU eight times out of 10. This wasn't a situation where the better team won. Kansas had one of its worst nights of the year and suffered because of it.
It's easier as a fan when your team plays the best it can and still comes up short. This is what happened to Kansas against Maryland in 2002, and is why that loss did not make my top five list.
However, when your team plays an awful first half, starts to figure it out in the second and would go on to win the next four games in a seven-game series, the loss lingers around for the entire offseason.
2. Syracuse 2003
Syracuse had the best player on the court. Kansas had the better team.
For Kansas fans, disappointing early exits are very common. The fact that Roy Williams led the Jayhawks to back-to-back Final Fours gave us a sense of hope that we hadn't felt in years.
All-time fan favorites Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison were in their senior seasons. Aaron Miles had developed into a great point guard, and Keith Langford was explosive driving to the basket. Wayne Simien gave Kansas a solid power forward, and Michael Lee provided three-point shooting off the bench.
The analysts all picked Kansas to win this game, and there was a general feeling that this was finally the year for Roy Williams to get the "monkey off his back."
However, Syracuse had Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and one incredibly frustrating 2-3 zone.
Instead of Roy Williams winning his first title, Hakim Warrick threw out the Jayhawks dreams 20 rows into the stands.
To make it all the way to the championship and lose is devastating. To watch Nick Collison after the game at the podium say, "I wouldn't give a million dollars to be on Syracuse right now," brought tears to my eyes. Fans loved "Kirk and Nick," but sadly, neither won a title in their four years at KU.
Throw in Roy Williams's departure shortly after, and it's easy to see why 2003 hurt almost more than any of the other exits.
1. Arizona 1997
Fourteen years later, it is still hard to even revisit this game in my mind without getting upset.
This Jayhawks team was loaded with talent. Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Jaque Vaughn and Scott Pollard all went on to have long NBA careers. Jerod Haase was about the equivalent of a Tyrel Reed or Brady Morningstar, and Billy Thomas was a solid Elijah Johnson figure. All this talent only lost one game during the regular season.
The only positive out of this whole situation is that Arizona went on to knock off two other No. 1 seeds and win the title. That makes the loss sting about 1 percent less.
The 1997 Arizona loss is one of the only two things that keep Jayhawks fans optimistic after a painful upset loss like the one suffered against VCU. The 1997 exit will forever be the standard of heartbreak for Kansas. Unless the Jayhawks go undefeated during the regular season, have a player who goes on to be a better pro than Paul Pierce and still gets knocked out before the Sweet 16, Jayhawk fans can always say, "Well this sucks, but at least it's not as bad as 1997."
The only other thing keeping Jayhawks fans alive is footage of Mario Chalmers's game-tying shot against Memphis. At the very least, this reminds us that winning a title is actually possible.
Just imagine if Kansas had lost that game in 2008. There would be absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel following the VCU defeat. Instead, we pray for the Morris twins to return and hope for better luck next year.