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Lenz: Critics of Bill Self’s performance in March are overreacting

It is March in a college basketball town, and two things have become a constant around this part of the country.

The Kansas basketball team earning a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, and critics coming together to question whether head coach Bill Self will once again, “choke” in March Madness. I am here to tell you that this is a lazy, feeble-minded narrative.

The NCAA Tournament is considered by many to be the best sporting event the country has to offer for good reason. Fans all across the United States skip school, cut out early from work, and cancel any and all of their plans to make sure they are cemented in front of a television.

Quite literally anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament in which the teams are led by 18-22 year old kids who have yet to come into their own. So many of the games come down to a few possessions late in which a single bounce of the ball can send a team home.

As we continue to progress deeper and deeper into the “one and done” era of college basketball, the parity of the sport has never been greater. With the top level programs constantly dealing with rapid turnover of their rosters, and mid major schools continuing to develop their talent over four years, the top seeds in March are more vulnerable to upsets than ever before.

In the past five years alone, we’ve seen four number 2 seeds go down in the first round (Missouri, Duke, Georgetown, and Michigan State). In the twenty six years prior to 2012, we saw four number 2 seeds *total* get beaten in the first round.

While it may seem like a cop out to blame parity or luck for an early out in March, the fact of the matter is that the best team rarely wins the national title.

Since Bill Self’s first season at Kansas, three out of the thirteen number one overall seeds have gone on to win the whole thing. For all the mathematically challenged people at home, that is 23%. Putting into consideration the nature of the beast that is the tournament, it is irrational and unhealthy to expect deep runs in March every single year for your beloved schools.

Now, if you are one to discount all the factors I just mentioned above and still want to run with the “Bill Self chokes in March” narrative, lets take a closer look at what Kansas has done in the tournament in the Self era compared to the other most successful programs in the sport.

NCAA TOURNAMENT WINS SINCE 2003-2004 (Bill Selfs 1st season at KU)

1. North Carolina: 36

2. Kansas: 30

3. Duke: 30

4. Kentucky: 29

5. Michigan State: 29

6. UConn: 25

7. Louisville: 25

8. UCLA: 19

9. Syracuse: 19

10. Indiana: 8

Yes, you did read that correctly, Kansas has the 2nd most wins in the tournament since Bill Self became the head coach of the Jayhawks.

Self also has more wins and national titles since he began his tenure than the guy everyone will get on their hands and knees for, the king of March, Tom Izzo.

Additionally, when going head to head with North Carolina in the tourney, the only team above Kansas on the list, Bill Self has gone a cool 3-0.

“But Bill Self only has 1 championship and he ALWAYS loses in the first round!!” the critics might shout at the top of their lungs.

There have only been four teams since 2003-2004 to win multiple championships. A very, very small percentage of the teams present in NCAA Division 1 basketball (there are 351). Also, when you compare the amount of times Kansas has been knocked out early with other teams, you will be surprised.

When a team like Kansas loses in the first weekend of the tournament, those losses tend to stick out and become overblown more than even a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.

NCAA TOURNEY STATS AMONGST TEAMS WITH TITLES + THE BLUEBLOODS SINCE 2003-2004
School Elite Eight Appearances Final Four Appearances National Titles First Round Exits
North Carolina 7 4 2 0
Duke 4 3 2 3
Kentucky 6 4 1 1+1 =2*
Kansas 6 2 1 2
Villanova 3 2 1 3
UCLA 3 3 0 2
Indiana 0 0 0 2
Syracuse 3 2 0 2
Louisville 6 3 1 3
Uconn 5 4 3 2
Arizona 4 0 0 3
Michigan State 5 4 0 4
Florida 6 3 2 2

 

*NOTE: Kentucky only actually has one first round exit in the NCAA Tournament, but when you’re a program of Kentucky’s caliber and you miss the tourney entirely as they did in 2012-13, that should count as a first round exit. Not to mention they lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. (Never lose to a school that is a name of a person. That’s never a good loss.)

Looking at this data from all of the most successful programs of the past 13 seasons, what teams could you 100% say have had more success in the tournament than Kansas?

North Carolina, Florida, UConn, Duke?

So four teams in the entire country have had more success in the tourney since Bill Self has been the coach at Kansas?

AND PEOPLE STILL WANT TO RUN WITH THE NARRATIVE THAT BILL SELF IS THE CONDUCTOR OF THE CHOKE JOB EXPRESS TRAIN.

When Kansas stacks up adequately to the teams that have had the most success in college basketball in the past 13 seasons, I really do not understand how you could label him as a guy that “cant win when it matters.”

Do Michigan State, Duke, Villanova, and others choke every year in the tournament as well? Because KU’s numbers are very similar to all of those schools.

Every school is going to lose a first round game every once in a while, and every school is going to win a game they shouldn’t win every once in a while.

It’s just how it is, and to expect anything less is ignorant. It’s simply impossible to win a title every single season. Even betting on the best team in the field every year is not a safe wager.

Remember the 2015 Kentucky team that was sent straight down to Earth from the Death Star to eviscerate any and everything in it’s path? One of the most dominant teams in college basketball history, a team who started the season 38-0? Yeah, they still failed to bring home a championship.

So, with all of this in mind, next time you want to throw on your anti-Bill Self super villain costume and attempt to discredit his indisputable greatness, know that you are acting ridiculous.

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Feature photo courtesy of Nati Harnik.