NEW ORLEANS — His team was ranked No. 1 at season’s end, and yet there could be no greater feeling of emptiness. Bill Self had himself some squad at Kansas in 2020, one capable of winning the coach’s second national championship.
It never happened — COVID-19 did.
A bug on the windshield of real-life problems, the Jayhawks and their 16-game win streak never got a chance to prove their superiority when the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Now they will.
Kansas meets North Carolina in the national title game Monday at the Caesars Superdome, the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks this event’s best team so far.
Others were denied a legitimate opportunity at standing alone at the end in 2020. Gonzaga. San Diego State. Dayton. Baylor. Florida State.
But none was considered on par with the 28-3 Jayhawks.
None was thought as talented and capable.
“It was tough for everybody, no matter your profession,” Self said. “But it was probably our most equipped team to go into the tournament. What made it a little tough is we got knocked out in the second round in (2021). So getting here now is pretty sweet because many guys on this team didn’t get a chance in (2020).
“I don’t know if we had a legitimate shot then, but it would have taken a pretty good effort to knock us out.”
Kansas hasn’t won it all since 2008, and be sure Self is reminded of it often. He has brought four teams to the Final Four, made the Elite Eight five times and the Sweet 16 on 11 occasions since arriving in 2003.
He also has won 16 Big 12 regular-season titles and nine conference tournaments at Kansas.
You get the idea. Questions abound as to how a team that is annually so good hasn’t been the one cutting down the nets on a Monday night in April more often.
“I don’t think that I personally feel pressure we have to win,” Self said. “But I do know that when you coach at a place where you have an opportunity to be in the (final) game most years, you need to take advantage of it more than we have.
“At most places, winning a national championship would be quite an accomplishment. As many good teams as we have had (during his tenure), one is not enough.”
Kansas can change that Monday and finally leave 2020 behind.