SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not unusual for the preseason No. 1 team to end the year ranked somewhere lower.
But blown out in the second round of the tournament to a team seeded below you? That’s not exactly common for the team once ranked at the top.
That’s the path that Kansas Jayhawks took losing 89-75 to Auburn, the No. 5 seed in a game that was not nearly as close as that final score. Auburn led by 26 at halftime. Its largest lead was 27.
“I was surprised how great they were, even though I knew they were good,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Their guards dominated us. They had us so off balance. We played young tonight, especially in the first half.”
The Tigers are riding all sorts of momentum, having won the SEC tournament just last week. They continued that Saturday night in the home of the Utah Jazz, draining 13 threes and shooting 52 percent from the field.
Youth, meanwhile, finally caught up with KU in a big way.
On Wednesday, Self joked that starting four freshmen has resulted in him shopping for hair dye, because teaching this many newcomers has made him go grey faster than he’d like. Saturday night in the second round, the Jayhawks did not get back defensively (Auburn scored 34 fast break points) and turned the ball over 16 times.
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Now, Self and his staff enter an offseason full of uncertainty. There’s a looming FBI investigation which won’t go away anytime soon, and questions about whether Self will be back as head coach. Though he has insisted to local media that he’s not going anywhere, the findings of a federal investigation could always change things.
In what might be the understatement of the NCAA Tournament, it’s been a tumultuous season for Kansas (26-10). Their streak of owning at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title ended after 14 years.
The Jayhawks came to lean heavily on their youth after Lagerald Vick, their hot shooting senior guard, mysteriously took a “leave of absence” from the team. Vick’s mother told media her son was needed back in home in Memphis for family issues.
Self has been mum on Vick’s departure, but that was absolutely an unexpected loss. Ditto with the season-ending injury to junior center Udoka Azubuike, who tore a ligament in his right hand in early January.
It was a long season for the Jayhawks — even if it ended earlier than anyone expected.
“We’ve had a pretty good run over time,” Self said.
“It was still a nice season. I don’t think we overachieved. I don’t think we underachieved.”