Forget you ever saw two No. 15 seeds upend a pair of No. 2 seeds on the same day. What you witnessed on Wednesday night in Fort Worth was more unfathomable than the coincidence of those two tournament shockers.
Just one short week removed from gripping the nation’s longest active winning streak, Kansas now finds itself on the losing end of the nation’s biggest high-profile upset…in a long time. The Jayhawks inexplicably lost to Big 12 piñata TCU, handing the Horned Frogs their first-ever league win as members of a high-major conference, any high-major conference.
Old Dominion (2-20) clipping tournament-hopeful Virginia? Division II Chaminade drubbing Texas in Maui? Sure, those upsets were stunning unto themselves. TCU manhandling Kansas from the opening tip, holding the Jayhawks to an historically pathetic first-half performance on the heels of KU’s stirring home loss to Oklahoma State? That’s nothing shy of miraculous.
KenPom.com gave TCU a 3-percent chance to win on Wednesday, less than half of Norfolk State’s win expectancy vs. Missouri and nearly a third of Lehigh’s win probability vs. Duke last March. Jerry Palm, resident stat geek at CBSSports.com, notes the upset was the largest in terms of RPI difference in the 20 years he’s been tracking the numbers.
The unthinkable loss to TCU marks the first time in 264 tilts that Kansas has dropped consecutive games, the first time in the shot clock era a top-10 Jayhawks squad has lost successive games against unranked opponents and the first time in program history the school has dropped the second of back-to-back losses against a team winless in conference play (minimum five games played). Phog Allen never saw a mini-streak of such ineptitude.
Judging by KenPom’s tempo-free, efficiency-based ratings system, Wednesday’s mammoth upset was more unlikely than a 16-seed beating a 1-seed in the Big Dance. Try almost two times as unlikely. In fact, KenPom.com had TCU pegged as the 272th best team in Division I entering the game. That would put the Horned Frogs in line for the final 68-seed if the NCAA tournament ever expanded from a 68-team field to 68-team regions.
College basketball’s eighth-least efficient offense as of last night’s pregame warm-ups, TCU team had lost seven of eight games in conference play by double figures prior to the Kansas affair. Its best Big 12 performance previously? A nine-point loss at home to lowly Texas Tech, which won just one game in-conference itself last season.
Bill Self vented after the game “[This] was the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was there.” Under Naismith, the Jayhawks once dropped a game against Nebraska, 48-8, in Lincoln.
Self’s ignominious Jayhawks may have eclipsed, if only barely, the 8-point threshold set by one of Naismith’s first teams. That Wednesday’s abject performance is even in the discussion with an ancient team learning the sport on the fly underscores just how sharply these once-mighty Jayhawks have nosedived.
Rock Chalk Nation would give an arm and a leg to relive memories of Bucknell and Bradley over this unmitigated mess. Even falling victim to a 16-over-1 upset would do the KU brand less harm.
For once, Missouri ought to be happy to embrace its bitter rival as company. The Tigers aren’t the only Border War militants mired in college basketball infamy anymore. Consider that another fascinating footnote to a rivalry that, though severed by conference realignment, will always endure.