On Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts, Kansas head coach Bill Self will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is deserving of being selected to the Hall of Fame even though he is still coaching.
Self has the best winning percentage of any coach in Kansas Jayhawks history. The Jayhawks have only had eight coaches in the history of the program. Five of them, including Self, are Hall of Famers. He has won over 82 percent of his games in his first 14 seasons in Lawrence. He ranks 30th all-time with 623 wins at the Division I level. About one third of those wins are from his time as a head coach at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, and Illinois. At Kansas, Self has only ten losses at Allen Fieldhouse in his fourteen years as the head coach. He has won 7 Big 12 Tournament titles, made two final fours, and has one won one national championship. His Kansas teams have been competitive every year he has been there and have won at least 25 games in each of the past 12 seasons.
Consistency is the best measure for describing the value of a coach in any sport. The best current NFL coach, Bill Belichick, has made the playoffs in 14 of his 17 years coaching the New England Patriots. The best current NBA coach, Gregg Popovich, has led San Antonio Spurs to the playoffs for 20 straight years. Both of these coaches have won their division and finished in close to the top of their conference during their time with these teams.
Bill Self has done at Kansas what Belichick and Popovich have done in New England and San Antonio. Self has guided the Jayhawks to 13 straight regular-season Big 12 titles, matching John Wooden’s UCLA teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s for the longest such streak in NCAA history.
Self has been the most consistent coach in 21st-century college basketball. His 13 straight regular-season conference titles are far more than any current coach (other than Gonzaga’s Mark Few) has been able to string together. Roy Williams and John Calipari have each missed the tournament in the past decade. Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, and all of the other elite coaches have endured at least one first-round exit in recent years. Self’s Kansas teams have advanced to at least the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament in each of the past 11 seasons. His teams have been victims of upsets, but none of KU’s losses in the past 11 seasons have been to teams seeded lower than 11th.
Self’s critics always bring up the fact that he has “only” made two Final Fours as a head coach. They point out that he has a 2-7 record in the Elite Eight and that his Jayhawks have been upset by a lower-seeded team ten times in his fourteen years as the head coach at Kansas. All of those things are true. He has endured many heartbreaking losses at Kansas in March and has had fewer breakthroughs than Kansas fans would have liked to see.
But the NCAA Tournament is what it is- a crapshoot. It’s easy to realize why a number of Self’s teams have been victimized by upsets. The NCAA Tournament is a single-elimination tournament in which the games are only 40 minutes long. In the NBA, the games are 48 minutes long and every round of the playoffs is a best-of-seven series. Upsets are rare in the NBA playoffs because it is unlikely that a significantly less talented team could win four out of seven games against a superior team. In the NCAA, crazy upsets happen every year. Teams that have multiple All-Americans have lost to teams that have had no future NBA players. Any team can run into a bad matchup at any time.
Luck matters more than anything when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. In Self’s three most recent losses in the Elite Eight at Kansas, his teams have shot a combined 13-for-68 (19 percent) from the three-point line. Those games may have ended differently if KU had knocked down a few more shots. Each game that late in the tournament is basically a 50-50 proposition, and when a team shoots poorly the chances of them beating an elite team are slim.
Self has had plenty of success in the tournament with the Jayhawks. His title run in 2008 is one of the most impressive in recent memory. His Jayhawks had to take down Stephen Curry and Davidson in the Elite 8, number one overall seed (and 2009 National Champion) North Carolina in the Final Four, and Derrick Rose and Memphis in the Title Game. During that tournament, Self’s Jayhawks beat three National Championship-winning coaches (Jay Wright, Roy Williams, John Calipari).
Kansas’s 2012 run to the title game was one of the most surprising in school history. The team only returned one player from the previous year’s starting lineup. In the tournament, the Jayhawks won games on the defensive end. They allowed 67 or fewer points in each game. Self, who employs man-to-man defense 99 percent of the time, famously used a triangle-and-two defense in the final minutes of Kansas’s Elite Eight win over one-seed North Carolina.
Bill Self has been the most consistent coach in American sports in the past 13 years. His Kansas teams have been in championship contention every year he has been the head coach. In each of the past eight seasons, Kansas has been either a one-seed or a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has always put his teams in position to win big games and has won a national championship. Bill Self is deserving of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.