The Kansas Jayhawks won the 2008 National Championship under head coach Bill Self. Self has been to the tournament in each of his 14 years with the Jayhawks, which means that Kansas has lost 13 times in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure as coach. Today I am ranking the losses by using four different categories: shock value, what could have been if Kansas had won the game (I will refer to this section as “potential” in the rankings), immediate pain, and long-term agony. Of course, the words “pain” and “agony” are major exaggerations, as Kansas fans should be grateful to root for a team that has made it to the seven Elite Eights in the last 14 years.
I will use a scale of 1-10 for the categories, with 1 meaning “not devastating/shocking” and 10 meaning “completely devastating/shocking.” I will then take the average score from each loss to determine the final “devastation” score, which is the number that is in parentheses. Below is Part 1 of my rankings, which showcases the losses ranked 13th to 8th. Part 2 of my rankings will feature the top 7 most heartbreaking losses.
13. 2009 vs. Michigan State (2.00)
Shock: 2. Kansas, a 3-seed, lost all five starters from their title-winning team and were going up against a Michigan State team that was a 2-seed and eventually made it to the championship game. Kansas was a slight underdog, and the Jayhawks’ inexperience showed in the key moments of the game.
Potential: 2. Kansas would have needed to beat Louisville, UConn, and North Carolina in order to win the title. All three of those teams were one-seeds and had more talent than KU did. I don’t think KU would have won the title if they got past the Spartans.
Immediate Pain: 3. KU led most of the game, so there was some disappointment that came with the loss.
Long-Term Pain: 1. This loss pales in comparison to the ones in the next few years, and I would be willing to bet that most KU fans barely even remember this game.
12. 2012 vs. Kentucky (2.25)
Shock: 1. The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats may be the best college basketball team of the 21st century. Their top six players were all selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being taken with the top two picks. Kansas was a heavy underdog in this game.
Potential: 3. The Jayhawks might have had a chance to win if one of their guards caught fire from beyond the arc.
Immediate Pain: 4. It was a loss in the National Championship Game, and seeing some of the players’ emotions after the game was tough.
Long-Term Pain: 1. The 2012 NCAA Tournament will be remembered fondly by Jayhawks fans. The team managed to win several games in which they played poorly, which is something that other KU teams simply have not been able to do. This team was ranked outside the top 10 in the preseason and only returned one starter from the previous season.
11. 2007 vs. UCLA (2.50)
Shock: 2. Kansas was the better seed in this game, but they played against a UCLA squad that made the Final Four the previous season. The Bruins had Russell Westbrook coming off their bench. Enough said.
Potential: 2. Kansas would have had to face defending national champion Florida in their next game. Kansas defeated the Gators earlier in the season in Las Vegas, but it would have been difficult for Jayhawks to beat them again. Then KU would have needed to top Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and the rest of the Ohio State Buckeyes to win the title. It is unlikely that the 2007 Jayhawks would have been able to do that.
Immediate Pain: 5. It is a loss in the Elite 8 as a one-seed, and those are always tough to stomach. Unfortunately, it’s far from the only 1-seed Elite 8 loss that Kansas has had in the Bill Self era.
Long-Term Pain: 1. The only high-impact player that the Jayhawks lost after the 2007 season was Julian Wright. The returning players improved and won the title the next season. There is no long-term pain from this loss.
10. 2015 vs. Wichita State (4.25)
Shock: 6. Kansas had the better seed, but Wichita State was ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. The Shockers still had Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet from their 2013 Final Four squad, and pulled away in the second half to win convincingly. The shock value of 6 out of 10 comes from the way the Jayhawks completely faded in the second half of the game.
Potential: 1. Kansas would have had to play against undefeated Kentucky in the Elite 8 if they made it past the next few rounds. That Kentucky team had Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and several other current NBA players. Kentucky embarrassed Kansas in the first month of the 2014-15 season in the Champions Classic, prompting Bill Self to wish his water was vodka. There was no way the Jayhawks were getting past the Wildcats.
Immediate Pain: 8. Pain isn’t really the right word here. KU was flat-out embarrassed by an in-state foe that is a much smaller school and has far less history than the Jayhawks do. During the broadcast of the game, Chris Webber called out the Jayhawks for not wanting to schedule a regular-season game against the Shockers. That comment did not make Kansas fans very happy.
Long-Term Pain: 2. The rivalry between the Jayhawks and Shockers… well… really isn’t that much of a rivalry. They rarely play against each other, and Kansas has nothing to gain from scheduling a game against Wichita State. As a fan, I have always thought that it is tougher to lose a close game than lose a blowout. This game became a blowout in the second half.
9. 2004 vs. Georgia Tech (4.50)
Shock: 3. Georgia Tech was the better seed in this game. KU tied it up in the final seconds of regulation, but ended up losing in overtime. This game was a toss-up and that’s how it played out.
Potential: 3. The Jayhawks would have had to play against Oklahoma State in the Final Four. The Cowboys beat the Jayhawks by 20 in their only regular-season meeting in 2004, but the game was in Stillwater. They then would have needed to beat Emeka Okafor and eventual champion UConn in the title game.
Immediate Pain: 7. This game was a loss in the Elite 8. KU had made it to the Final Four in each of the previous two seasons, so it was tough to see them not come through for a third straight year.
Long-Term Pain: 5. This ended up being the last time a Kansas team with Roy Williams’s players would make a deep run in the tournament. It is less painful to think about now than many other losses are, but it still hurts to think that Bill Self was that close to getting to a Final Four in his first season in Lawrence.
8. 2014 vs. Stanford (4.75)
Shock: 6. Kansas was the better seed, but Stanford had a balanced team that had plenty of talent. The Cardinal started four players- Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Josh Huestis– who have appeared in NBA regular-season games.
Potential: 3. KU may have gotten Joel Embiid back if they had beaten Stanford, but they would have had to play against Florida in the Elite 8. At that time, the Gators had won 29 straight games and were the favorite to win the title. Kansas lost a road game against Florida by 6 points early in the season, so it’s possible the Jayhawks could have pulled off the upset.
Immediate Pain: 8. The pain comes from knowing that Andrew Wiggins played poorly in his final game as a Jayhawk. Everyone knew he would be a one-and-done and declare for the NBA Draft when the season ended. In addition, Joel Embiid did not get his chance to heroically return, which he may have been able to do if Kansas had beaten Stanford.
Long-Term Pain: 2. Jayhawks fans have seen how good Wiggins and Embiid are in the NBA. We can look back on the 2013-14 season with reverence and realize that KU had two of the top prospects in the world on the same team. The team was young, and many players who were role players on that team ended up in starring roles for the Jayhawks in the coming years.