Kansas Jayhawk fans undoubtedly are still reeling from the meltdown of their beloved basketball team in the South Region semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Championship. The final seven minutes of the Jayhawks’ game with Michigan on Friday night were nothing short of a nightmare, and one that will be relived many times over in the months and years to come. And for the four seniors that made up 80 percent of the Kansas starting lineup and were part of four consecutive 30-plus win seasons and a combined total of 131 victories, the way the nine-time defending Big 12 champions went down in their 2013 tourney run will be an indelible memory they will carry with them for a lifetime.
Michigan, whose NCAA Tournament appeared to be coming to an end with a 14-point deficit and just under seven minutes remaining in its game with No. 1 seed Kansas, came out Sunday as if it had been awakened from the dead and wasn’t about to go back there. As a direct result, the third-seeded Florida Gators never really knew what hit them. The Wolverines took charge from the beginning, jumping out to a 20-5 advantage from the opening tip and cruised from there to a 79-59 victory and a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta as the South Region champions.
So the four seed out of the South will meet the four-seed out of the East in one of the Final Four semifinal contests, the first time two No, 4 seeds have met in the Final Four. Overall top-seed Louisville will play another Kansas school – but not the one everyone figured would be there – matching up with nine-seed Wichita State out of the Missouri Valley Conference on the other side of the semifinal bracket.
Kansas’ improbable elimination from this year’s NCAA Tournament and Michigan’s advancement begs the curious question: If you have to lose, is it mitigated to some extent knowing that the team that beat you is going on to play for the same championship you had hoped to be playing for, or is it a better feeling if the team that beat you falls short in its next game and doesn’t move on to play for the championship, either?
Chances are, the answer to that question would be different depending on who you asked. I believe most fans would eventually admit, if you have to lose, it’s a better feeling to know the team you lost to beat everyone else it played, as well. I’m not so sure, though, that the players themselves would share the same opinion.
In this particular case, I believe the Kansas players are still convinced that the Jayhawks are the better team and should have closed out what they started and finished off Michigan, gone on to preserve their No, 1 seed against Florida and be preparing this week to play Louisville next Saturday in Atlanta. Whether Michigan won or lost its next game is totally irrelevant, given that mind set.
The bottom line is that Kansas could and should have beaten Michigan. But none of that matters now. The Jayhawks were the better team for 36 minutes in their game with Michigan, but the Wolverines were the best team when it mattered the most: the final nine minutes. As a result, Kansas went down and Michigan is going to Atlanta instead of the Jayhawks.
And there is nothing that will soothe that painful feeling.