Kansas coach Bill Self applauds his team during the first half of the regional semifinal against Purdue on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo. Charlie Riedel AP
Kansas coach Bill Self applauds his team during the first half of the regional semifinal against Purdue on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo. Charlie Riedel AP

Bob Lutz

What must Kansas basketball accomplish to appease its fans?

March 24, 2017 05:34 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

An expecting fan base has always breathed down the Kansas Jayhawks’ necks.

KU is always good but it’s sometimes difficult to be good enough.

Bill Self, maybe the greatest coach with just one national championship, has guided Kansas to 13 consecutive Big 12 titles. The Jayhawks have been either a 1- or 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past nine years. They are consistently in the Top 10, in the mix on recruiting many of the nation’s best prep players and you couldn’t squeeze an extra body into Allen Fieldhouse on game nights with a shoe horn.

Yet this is a tweet that appeared on Twitter on Thursday night, minutes after the Jayhawks disposed of Purdue 98-66 in a Sweet 16 game at the Sprint Center:

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“The storyline I’m not seeing after KU stomped talented Purdue is that nothing but the title will now suffice. F4 ain’t enough. All or zip.”

Welcome to Self’s world. Welcome to the Land of Delusion.

You can understand some of this, maybe. Kansas has spoiled its fan base with an incredible run of success. The last time the Jayhawks didn’t win at least 23 games was in 1988-89. You must go back almost 35 years to find mediocrity associated with KU.

Kansas has had eight 30-win seasons since 2006-07 and have risen to 31 this season going into Saturday night’s game against Oregon with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Yet Self and KU have just the one championship, in 2008. The Jayhawks have a ravenous fan base that has built up an incredible appetite for another title since. And this is a team, led by senior guard Frank Mason, capable of going all the way.

“The thing that I kind of learned is that you handle expectations a lot better if you embrace them,” Self said Friday. “It’s good that people believe we should play at a high level. It’s good that people believe we should win because that means you’ve got good players.

“To me, pressure is when you’re expected to win and you don’t have good guys. I would much rather deal with the expectations than deal with the reality of not being able to play at a high level where there would be expectations.”

If it wasn’t already the case, Kansas shot to the front of the class of expected title winners after Thursday’s blowout. They passed Purdue, which pulled over to the side of the road while KU zoomed by going 100 mph.

With due respect to all the great players left in the NCAA Tournament, there’s nobody who does what Kansas guard Frank Mason does.

And he’s far from being a one-man crew. Kansas may not have the traditional power forward, but Self has made the four-guard look work better than even he anticipated.

Which team left in the tournament is going to hold down the Jayhawks down offensively? They scored 98 on Purdue, which prides itself on bogging teams down during cold Big Ten winters.

Mason is the leader, the motor, the shark in infested waters.

“No, no,” Self said immediately when asked if he’s ever coached a player who has had a better season than Mason. “Frank has had the best college season of anybody I’ve ever been around, by far. The things that he has done to be a point guard, to be totally usnselfish, to play both ends, to lead, to be tough, to be an iron man. And all he does is average 21.5 (points) and give your team its personality.”

Hard to avoid sky-high expectations when you have a player like Mason. And others like Devonté Graham and Josh Jackson.

Yet this is the round of the tournament that has been tricky for Self. This is Self’s ninth Elite Eight game in a coaching career that started at Oral Roberts in 1993-94 and wound through Tulsa and Illinois before he arrived at Kansas. He’s only won two games in the Elite Eight, and is 2-4 at Kansas.

Then again, it’s the Elite Eight against other elite teams. Last year, Villanova knocked the Jayhawks out of the tournament in this round in Louisville.

“I think it’s the hardest game in the tournament,” Self said. “We haven’t experienced very much success to date in this game.

“The biggest thing is just to go and play. Don’t play the game like you’ve got to win to go to the Final Four. Play the game like you’ve got to go complete because you have a chance to win a regional championship. Don’t look ahead, look in the moment and enjoy the moment.”

You wonder how much Self gets to enjoy, even with all of the success. Because just beyond the moment of those achievements are the expectations of what is yet to come.

There’s one game KU fans point to every year and it’s coming up a week from Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Will the Jayhawks’ season be a success if they don’t win a championship? Logically, of course. Realistically, you better believe it.

But there’s a fine line of reason where Kansas basketball is involved. How much is enough?

No. 3 Oregon

vs. No. 1 Kansas

  • When: 7:49 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
  • Records: Oregon 32-5, KU 31-4
  • Radio: 1240-AM, 97.5-FM
  • TV: TBS