Now that almost two months have passed since the Final Four in San Antonio, I’m able to look back on the 2017-2018 Jayhawks with a slightly more appreciative eye even though the season was simultaneously historic and challenging.
The Jayhawks were a top-rated team for most of the season, led by a fun and outgoing All-American guard in Devonte’ Graham, had some hard-fought and entertaining wins over major teams, won a 14th consecutive regular-season conference title as well as the conference tournament, and made a 15th Final Four appearance. Unfortunately three losses at home (I’m not counting Washington in KC), ongoing concerns about Graham’s minutes, inconsistent play mid-season, eligibility questions around Billy Preston & his subsequently leaving the team for (temporarily) Europe, and the pall of an FBI investigation into college basketball that eventually ensnared KU somewhat dampened those accomplishments. In short, when Rob Riggle cleared out all the other schools from the Tournament Circle of Trust during ESPN’s Gameday visit in February, it definitely seemed more like wishful thinking.
That all having been said, it was a memorable season and with Memorial Day Weekend upon us, it seemed the right time to list the top five things I will remember about the 2017-2018 Jayhawks:
ONE: “I give you the F.B.I.” I thought about going with Keanu Reeves’ line from Point Break, but went with Alan Rickman since I like Die Hard better. Anyway, there’s no way around it – the FBI’s investigation into college basketball was not only one of the biggest stories of the season, but with both Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa brought into the sordid mess, it became one of the biggest stories of KU’s season, too. It will be interesting to see how this impacts next season (and possibly the season after, and after, and…), as well. Let’s move on…
TWO: KU vs. Missouri, October 22, 2017. Yes, I know it was just an exhibition. Yes, it was great that almost $2M was raised for victims of hurricanes that had recently hit. And, yes, it was one of the only times two, top-tier freshmen in Billy Preston and Michael Porter, Jr. even made it onto the court this season. But it was a win over Missouri, a word that I typed even just now with disdain and a snarl. A sentiment also shared by Abe Simpson:
Who am I to argue with The Simpsons?
THREE: KU vs. Trae Young. Other than the FBI investigation, there wasn’t a bigger story in college basketball this season than Trae Young – particularly the first half of the season. Young was so big, in fact, that…well:
Now, I’m not going to hate on Young – it’s not like he created the media frenzy other than with his exceptional play. And even after deciding to attend Oklahoma and spurning Kansas, Young showed class by being among the select few who called Coach Self to turn him down. But it was particularly satisfying to watch him struggle mightily in the Payback Game in Allen Fieldhouse and have his season – and collegiate – low in points scored.
FOUR: The Streak becomes The Record. I’ll admit, there were several times over the last half-dozen years or so, where I played the game of “How Many Conference Titles Would You Trade for a National Championship.” And I’ll also admit, there were several times over the course of this season where I assumed the conference title streak would end at 13. But to watch this team persevere over the course of this season made #14 special – even if it wouldn’t have set a record. When KU, with its multiple flaws, played some of its best basketball against Texas Tech in Lubbock on a day when ESPN’s College Gameday was in town and secured at least a share of history with Devonte’ Graham unofficially sealed his Big 12 Player of the Year award, that was special.
FIVE: KU Beats Duke and advances to the Final Four. Despite being the region’s #1 seed, KU was the Vegas underdog against Duke’s incredibly talented squad. In fact, a significant number of analysts not only picked Duke to beat KU, but thought that Duke was the favorite to win it all in San Antonio. Instead, the two, college titans played one of the best games of the tournament and the Jayhawks outlasted Duke in overtime. (Just as an aside, KU has beaten Duke the last three times we’ve played. Oh – and KU has beaten Kentucky the last three times we’ve played, too. Just sayin’…) The final 30 seconds of regulation – with Svi’s three and Grayson Allen’s miss – were simply amazing to watch.
Well, unless you were a Duke fan, I suppose…
So, in summary, the 2017-2018 Jayhawks’ season was a thrilling, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding ride – one that I will absolutely remember for the five reasons above (though for more results, check out the excellent and succinct summary at KU Athletics).
As a result, KU BALLS is honored to induct this year’s team into the museum’s Final Four wing represented by the following items: