March 27, 2011
Despite the easiest path to the Final Four of any top seed in history if the seeds are used to compare opponents, Kansas once again fell victim to its tortured history of NCAA tourney collapses. A 71-61 Elite Eight loss to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth was at least as exasperating as last year's second-round knockout at the hands of Northern Iowa, maybe even more so considering how ineptly the Jayhawks played.
They trailed by as many as 18 in the first half, by 14 at halftime and never led after a 6-0 spurt to start the game. They shot a putrid 2 of 22 from 3-point range and 15 of 28 from the foul line. They played much of the game at VCU's breakneck tempo. And they allowed the streak-shooting Rams to get enough open looks to hit 12 of 25 3-pointers.
"It was just one of those days," Kansas guard Tyrel Reed said. "I mean probably one of the poorest shooting nights we've had as a team. But credit to VCU. Our shots just weren't falling. When your shots aren't falling you have to defend and have something to fall back on. We didn't do the best job in the first half and dug ourselves a hole."
If the joy of a Final Four berth is an entirely new experience for VCU players and fans, the sorrow of an earlier-than-anticipated March exit is a familiar feeling at Kansas. In addition to last year's loss to Northern Iowa, there were first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and 2006, a second-round loss to Rhode Island in 1998 and of course the infamous Sweet 16 flop against Arizona in 1997 when the Jayhawks were an overwhelming national title favorite.
The latest Kansas loss guarantees a Final Four with zero No. 1 seeds for only the third time in the history of the NCAA tournament. Third-seeded Florida won the national title over second-seeded UCLA in 2006 and second-seeded Louisville defeated eighth-seeded UCLA in 1980.
It seemed unlikely we'd have to worry about such an outcome this season even though Kansas was the lone No. 1 seed to make the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks had been dominant the first three rounds, easily dispatching of 12th-seeded Richmond in the Sweet 16.
Kansas appeared to be in OK position eight minutes into the second half when it trimmed its deficit to two, but credit VCU for showing poise and resilience in gathering itself and gradually extending the lead again. The Jayhawks never made another legitimate run, their woeful outside shooting, horrendous free throw shooting and poor decision-making halting every burst of momentum they produced.
As a result, they had to go through the familiar ritual of evaluating a great season that ended sourly.
"We won the league seven years in a row, we did a lot of good things this year, but we didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "This one will sting for quite some time. But it won't sting from lack of trying or lack of effort. It will sting because these opportunities -- I wish they came yearly, but they don't come yearly. And you've got to make the most of opportunities when you get them."