It's official: Losing to TCU means Kansas has big, big problems
The warning lights had been flashing for the better part of a month, as Kansas' offense descended into a consistent pattern of mediocre or worse performances. They started ringing on Saturday, when the Jayhawks sloppily fell to Oklahoma State at home in a game where their guards were utterly torched.
But this? Losing at TCU? Formerly 0-8 in the Big 12 TCU? "KenPom.com gave us a three percent chance to win" TCU? Unspeakable. Unbelievable. Unwatchable. And a loss, in unto itself, that casts considerable doubt that Kansas indeed has the chops to challenge for the national title. You don't have to be a great team to make the Final Four in this wide-open season, but even good teams don't lose games like this.
It's hard to quantify how staggering an upset this was. There have been arguably "larger" shocks this season (Winthrop at Ohio? Old Dominion over Virginia? Division II Chaminade over Texas?) but none of them are "bigger" than one of the sport's greatest programs looking utterly inept, shooting below 30 percent from the field, in a loss to a team as relatively inferior, with zero pedigree, as TCU.
Here are some particulars that try to put some perspective on it:
• TCU was 270 (!!!) spots below Kansas in Pomeroy's rankings system. There appear to have been only two other games this season where a team at least 200 spots lower than its opponent won.
• Kansas' projected average margin of victory, according to Pomeroy, was 20 points.
• Kansas, which has averaged 1.13 points per possession for the season, even with its month-long struggles, found itself with two points after more than 13 minutes, having shot 1-15 from the field and having committed eight turnovers.
• The loss, piggybacking on the weekend setback to Oklahoma State, breaks Kansas' run at 264 consecutive games without back-to-back defeats.
• TCU has played four games this season against teams ranked 300 or lower in Pomeroy. They won all four of them ... by a total of 13 points.
• TCU has the 330th-ranked offense in the nation. There are only 347 teams.
• Local reporters tweeted that after the game, head coach Bill Self said "It was the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was there." In any case, according to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the worst shooting performance (29.5 percent) for Kansas under Self in his 344 games at the school.
I'm generally loath to take credit away from a winning team, but Kansas was so horrible in this game, continuing a streak where their offense has degenerated into something resembling that of, well, TCU, that the focus (and the finger-pointing) has to go at the Jayhawks. This performance was that putrid.
The one major red flag that Kansas had entering the season -- questions about its point guard play -- has manifested itself in major fashion. There's no way to sugarcoat this: Elijah Johnson is having a disappointing season, and he's been inarguably terrible in Big 12 play. Through nine league games, Johnson has a tick above a 1-to-1 assist/turnover ratio (35 assists, 34 giveaways) while shooting 25-for-82 from the field. That's just destructive to an offense coming from your lead guard.
The compounding problem: Alternate option Naadir Tharpe is shooting 14-for-64 in league play, with a 17-to-14 assist-to-turnover ratio. I'm not sure exactly what Bill Self is supposed to do when his floor leaders have, at the same time, been so poor, but he needs to figure something out, because Kansas' offense has cratered because of it. The point guards are not Kansas' only issue, but they're clearly the major one, and the one that might not have a suitable answer before March rolls around.
The only silver lining for Kansas fans tonight is they were far from the only team to suffer a dispiriting loss. Cincinnati lost at Providence. Creighton was routed by Indiana State (which is pretty good, but still). UNLV lost at Fresno State. Florida was eviscerated in the first half at Arkansas last night. It's just that kind of year. There are no great teams, only good ones that show well on the right nights.
None of those losses, though -- and maybe no loss suffered this season, anywhere -- is as bad as what Kansas experienced tonight. And the Jayhawks are starting to run short on time to figure out what's happening.