KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Within an hour of it being announced Thursday that Bill Self had been hospitalized overnight, a local sports show had already moved on to the real concern: speculating how the Hall of Fame coach’s absence would affect the seed of Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.
You know, the really important stuff.
To be clear, the health of the Kansas coach remains the main concern in the Big 12 Tournament and around college basketball. However, there are other not so parallel issues.
These Jayhawks I am doing they have their sights set on becoming the first college basketball team in 15 years to win back-to-back national championships. Winning that No. 1 overall seed is important to this pursuit given its consequences.
“Of very important,” Big 12 Player of the Year Jalen Wilson said after KU’s 78-61 Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal win over West Virginia. “Why not get a chance to cut nets in the same gym?”
This was a reference to the Midwest Regional being played in two weeks at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, 45 miles from the KU campus. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee might even make the Jayhawks even more consistent by placing them three hours from here in Des Moines, Iowa, for the first two rounds.
At least that was the guilty pleasure KU fans had to consider while their coach recovered at a local hospital.
After Thursday’s game, Kansas clarified that Self “underwent a formal procedure that went well” and is “expected to make a full recovery.” He also shot down false reports that Self had suffered a heart attack.
It’s a tribute to what Self has created that the program was put on cruise control against WVU. Veteran assistant Norm Roberts is now 5-0 for Self this season having also coached the first four games. The school self-suspended Self during an ongoing NCAA investigation.
“Honestly,” said freshman guard Grady Dick, summing up Roberts’ style.[there was] a little less shouting.”
It doesn’t seem to matter much who is coaching these Jayhawks right now. Kansas has won the No. 1 seed 15 times in its history. Two of Self’s four national championships (2008, 2022) have come against a No. 1 seed. That’s not counting the 2020 COVID-19 year, when the tournament was canceled and the Jayhawks likely would have been No. 1.
Now, it seems the only questions is whether it will be Kansas one No. 1 or The No. 1 and whether it matters if Self is unavailable after the Big 12 tournament.
You can argue with CBS Sports bracketology expert Jerry Palm where the Jayhawks belong as a No. 1 seed — he currently has them at the top — but being No. 1 overall after Selection Sunday is a real and perceived advantage. This team can play close to home. This team has been labeled by the committee as the best in the country. This team’s path through the bracket is supposed to be easier.
Then there’s the math: 23 times since the bracket seeding began in 1979, the No. 1 seed has won the national championship. No. 1 seeds are 147-1 in first-round matchups.
“Our resume, no matter how people look at it, is pretty impressive,” Self said after Wednesday’s pre-tournament shootaround. It was the closest he got to campaigning.
More than two-thirds of the Jayhawks’ 32 games (22) have come against Quadrant 1 competition. Their 16 first-quarter victories lead the nation. He last week won the 17th Big 12 regular-season title in his 20 seasons at Kansas.
All of Thursday’s immediate shock came from the slack Jayhawks. They were updated on Self’s condition at an 11 a.m. team meeting. There was no distraction. Wilson posted another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Elite point guard Dajuan Harris had one of his best games with 13 points, 8 assists and 5 steals. A few cheers led the fans from their seats in the second half.
“I’m not worried at all,” senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. said. “They’ve given us a lot of updates. I know he’s a fighter. The main thing for us older guys, we try to be there for him and be on-field coaches for him.”
“I know he’s kind of sad that he’s not here, but I know it’s going to make him feel better that we’re still winning,” forward KJ Adams said. “… I don’t really know as much as I want to.”
but this is sports where priorities are sometimes reversed when a championship is at stake. Kansas’ Big 12 Tournament title would be its 10th under Self. KU’s semifinal opponent, Iowa State, will make sure to rock the arena again in what has become the nation’s best conference tournament, home to the nation’s best basketball conference.
“We definitely need him,” Wilson said of Self. “Our motto is kind of, ‘Faces will always change, but expectations won’t.’ That’s the key in this tournament no matter who we play, no matter what happens, we play our game.”
There must still be a level of uncertainty in Kansas. The truth is that we still don’t know exactly what ails the self.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins got philosophical late Thursday afternoon. In his postgame press conference, the 69-year-old coach recalled suffering a heart attack in 2002. In 2017, he clutched his chest while on the sideline when his defibrillator went off.
“I think it would be really difficult for Bill at this time [to miss games]” Huggins said. “Trying to make another run for another national championship and for him to be in the situation he’s in, I would think it would be very difficult.”
Huggins was then asked how he prioritized his mortality over wanting to get back on the floor.
“I’m not a very good listener,” he said. “… I want Bill to come out of there the way he always was.”