BY ALEX RUSSELL
The University of Kansas is 19-4 in basketball this year. That’s a phenomenal record. They’re certain to make the tournament and make it as a relatively middle-to-high seed. They beat a really good Ohio State team at Ohio State and they’re going to play their ranked in-state rivals at home tonight. The Phog will be angry, and that typically is good news for the Kansas faithful.
But three of those four losses have come in the last ten days. That’s so terrific I could scream.
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a lot of things: Elvis, BBQ, blues, the Mississippi River, etc. One thing it’s not known for: athletics. Our NBA team is still new, relatively speaking, and they’re essentially having their best season of all time right now in fourth place in the conference. Our other teams are comedy pulls at best and weird “what happened to them” sentence filler at worst when you are forced to ask the question about the Memphis Maniax or the Memphis Chicks. It’s just not a hotbed of athletic fandom. Our NFL team is a couple of hours away and most of the state would rather see Denver win these days, for Manning-related reasons that will send me to an early grave. All we’ve got is our Tigers, and despite this year’s successes, they’ve had a tough lifetime. A coach in jail, a player murdered by another, tax troubles, running into Bill Walton’s best day of his life in a national championship, and Kansas don’t make for a happy story. It’s tough to be a fan, but Memphis is always my team. If we’re bad, we’re bad, but we’re “we.”
Kansas is 56th in the nation in scoring. They’re 34th in field goal percentage. They are in the top 30 nationally in rebounding. They’re likely going to win the Big 12, and will be a weird sleeper pick in March. Kansas is really, really good.
They always are. That’s why this week’s three losses are so amazing. Oklahoma State, TCU, and Oklahoma handed Bill Self three losses in a week. Self called this essentially the worst team in a hundred years.
THE WORST TEAM IN A HUNDRED YEARS.
It’s delicious. I’m a Memphis fan, so I’ve got my reasons to hate Kansas. You don’t need any reason more than a season where they are in competition to win the entire conference and might, reasonably, win the whole damn thing is their “worst season” in a century. How much more awful can you get?
A lot more, but Duke is Duke. Kansas is harder to hate, but just as important.
The story of this season is that top ranked teams keep losing. Last season’s destined team saw an NBA-ready roster full of Kentucky kids that looked and were unstoppable. This season was supposed to be about the resurgence of Indiana. It kinda is, but the storyline come March will be about how it’s impossible to tell who the overall one seed is.
The story for Kansas this year was a lot of things. They lost to Kentucky last year in a championship game that was largely over before it was played. But this year brought good news! They have another big white kid that can block shots. Kevin Young’s hair looks like this.
It’s a weird place to be in. They lost their second game of the season to a Michigan State team that’s been hard to figure out this year and then the Jayhawks didn’t lose for two months. This is a good basketball team. It kills me to say it, but this is a good team.
That said, there’s nothing like watching a team struggle. People loved Alabama crushing Notre Dame (who apparently forgot their slogan) in the BCS Championship. People loved watching Tom Brady lose a Super Bowl. They loved watching Tom Brady lose ANOTHER Super Bowl. Why not think of Kansas the same way?
Duke hatred gets all the press. Duke hatred is alive and well in the media. A lot of that is helped by Coach K saying that the championship game between Duke and Butler was special because they were both private schools. It’s almost as though they don’t even know what irony is, or they just actually don’t care anymore.
I mention that only because Duke is the team to hate in basketball. Florida did a good job a few years back holding that spot. Kentucky was primed to take that spot, but they’ve lost six games this year and the SEC in basketball is never going to offer them enough television appearances to be truly and deliciously hated in March the way they deserve.
The Big 12 will. Kansas deserves this. Give them your hate. No one should be allowed to be this mad about a three-loss streak without developing a beautiful bandwagon of haters.
Tonight they’re playing a Kansas State team that’s 22nd in the nation in RPI and has no real bad losses. I hope you’ll join me in temporarily wearing K-State purple tonight and rooting against the “worst” team in history. The one with four losses that’s going to have a single digit seed in the tournament. That one.