The problem with expecting your team to win a championship every year is that most years end in disappointment — but some years hurt more than others. Behold my official ranking of Kansas NCAA Tournament losses, arranged from least anguish to most.
Full disclosure: My first year as a student at the University of Kansas was 2007-2008, the year we won the Orange Bowl and the NCAA National Championship. It’s really where my emotional attachment to KU begins to get out of hand — and for that reason, I’m counting down just the losses since the last time Kansas won it all.
Michigan State 67, Kansas 62 (Regional Semifinal)
The hangover year. I didn’t really expect Kansas to win a national championship, except that when you’re a KU fan you kind of always expect Kansas to win a national championship. But I can live with a No. 3 seed losing to a No. 2 seed Michigan State. Didn’t lose any sleep there. A 28-7 record record for the season is pretty mediocre by Jayhawk standards, and the season was one big shrug emoji. Pain level: Mild, like sleeping on your neck wrong
Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 (National Championship)
The pleasant surprise. I told myself I’d be satisfied with an Elite Eight performance. When Kansas overachieved and made the Final Four, my best friend and I road tripped to New Orleans. I ran into my nemesis, Shaka Smart. I bonded with Louisville fans at the bar. And when the Jayhawks won in New Orleans, I led impromptu renditions of the Alma Mater and the Rock Chalk Chant in the French Quarter. So when they lost to one of Kentucky’s best teams ever in the national championship, it was hard to stay mad. After the game, I ran into a bulldog (that is, a literal canine) inside a Houston bar. Pain level: Mild, like brushing through a big tangle in your hair
Stanford 60, Kansas 57 (Second Round)
Why don’t I remember this loss at all? That season felt like kind of a crapshoot as far as Kansas basketball was concerned, and it also happened to be the single worst year of my personal and professional life. Let’s just forget it ever happened. Pain level: Mild, like biting your tongue
Villanova 64, Kansas 59 (Regional Semifinal)
Two things that almost guarantee a bad time when you’re a Kansas fan are slow starts and bad free throws. This game had both. The Jayhawks were an unimpressive 7-of-11 from the line while the Wildcats went 18-for-19. Devonte’ Graham led KU in scoring with… 17 points. In the whole game. Well, heck. Another good-but-not-great Kansas team falling apart at the worst possible time. Pain level: Moderate but fleeting, like a charlie horse
Wichita State 78, Kansas 65 (Second Round)
Ugh, this stupid game. Wichita State played a better game, and the box score shows it. But Wichita State was comically underseeded at No. 7 – which means this game never should have happened in the second round. The whole thing seemed fishy and contrived. Pain level: Moderate, like a really embarrassing sunburn
Michigan 87, Kansas 85 (Regional Semifinal)
The first (and still the only) time I saw the Kansas Jayhawks lose a basketball game with my own eyes. Michigan’s unlikely comeback felt like a bad dream, but I managed to stay through most of the Florida-FGCU game (that was the year of Dunk City — and the year I ran into Sherwood Brown and the team at Texas Land & Cattle) and then laughed about the situation with another KU alum as we watched the Vin Diesel classic “XXX.” The next day, on my drive from Dallas back to my home in Bryan, I got a ticket for driving 5 mph over the speed limit on Highway 6 and sobbed for a solid hour of the trip. It occurred to me then that maybe this loss did bother me. Pain level: High-moderate, like the aches you get when you have the flu
Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67 (Second Round)
The one that can’t be explained away. This Kansas team was good enough to beat any team. It was my senior year. It was Sherron Collins’ senior year. It was Cole Aldrich swatting balls down and The Morrii throwing elbows (but also being unfairly persecuted for throwing elbows) and Xavier Henry, pronounced Zah-vee-ay. This was supposed to be the year for Kansas, and it slipped away. This team’s downfall was that it was too good to ever take things seriously. Pain level: Severe, like having your toenails ripped off one by one while you’re giving birth and also you’re on fire and you have clinical depression
VCU 71, Kansas 61 (Regional Final)
Looking back, this was the year I officially became a privileged Kansas fan, with all the warped perspective that entails. The Jayhawks lost in the Elite Eight and I was devastated. This year was supposed to make all the ickiness of 2010 go away, and instead it brought up year-old bile. A new friend I’d met in my new city (College Station, Texas) said he was excited to give me a hard time about the loss until he saw how genuinely distraught I was. Also, check out this gut-wrenching lede from my former college classmate Tim Dwyer, who now works for ESPN. I want it tattooed on my back:
Want to know how much it hurts?
How about this: Thomas Robinson, jersey rumpled on his lap, with the “LR” patch commemorating his late mother staring back at him like an unblinking eye.
Or Tyshawn Taylor, doubled up, face buried in his hands, muffling his sobs as a lone photographer offered a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
Or the sobs that interrupted Conner Teahan’s answer to a question about Tyrel Reed. Or Reed, the winningest Jayhawk ever, with red-rimmed eyes as he fielded questions after one of the worst shooting days of his career. Or Brady Morningstar, next to him, so choked up that he could barely speak.
Or Marcus Morris, bent double with his head resting on arms folded across his knees and media standing around, waiting for minutes before bothering him with a question.
Or Markieff Morris, sitting next to his brother, staring at a box score with a blank expression on his face, as if looking at the numbers long enough could change the fact that Kansas lost, again, to a team that nobody gave a shot.
(I would love to link to the original story, but it seems to have been lost in one of Kansan.com’s website redesigns.) Pain level: Unspeakable agony, like being skinned alive