|Self would become the 14th coach to win two national titles if Kansas upset Kentucky Monday night. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- There is no pressure on Bill Self to win his second national title, but if he does beat John Calipari for the second time in the ultimate game, he'll convert from a great coach with one championship into an active legend with two.
Two-for-two at that. Two Final Fours, two championships, both over Cal. Forget Rick Pitino as a foil; Self stands to be the one who overshadows and haunts Calipari's career. Tough to imagine the game playing out like this, but if Kansas does beat Kentucky, Self will widen the gap between himself and all but three other coaches in the game (see below), putting a title-less Calipari even further in the rear-view. Calipari's team has six McDonald's All-American's. Kansas: not a one.
Kansas has been to 14 Final Fours. Not surprising. That's fifth all-time, behind Duke, UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina. The surprising part? This program has just three national titles. Those titles came under three coaches (Phog Allen '52, Larry Brown in '88, Self in '08). Delivering two titles in a four-year span at KU is unprecedented. Now we're understanding the weight of the accomplishment if Self can pull it off.
This winning-it-twice thing has become common in the past decade, and maybe Self speaks to the most powerful era of college hoops coaching we've ever seen, but still: getting two is hard and rare. Fourteen coaches have done it in history. Jim Boeheim and Pitino don't have two titles. Neither do retired greats John Thompson, Gary Williams, Jerry Tarkanian, Al McGuire and Lute Olson.
|Self won his first Naismith Coach of the Year award Sunday. (US Presswire)|
Self's long been one of the 10 best, even five best coaches in the sport. Winning two is the key to untouchable status and long-term hierarchy in college basketball for him. If Kansas wins, you know what the narrative has to be. College basketball remains a coach's game. Well, that and Calipari's inability to win a title. But that's another post entirely.
"I've always thought since I've been at KU seems like, kids are leaving earlier and earlier," Self said. "We had [two] one and dones, we had several two and dones, and a lot of three and dones, but I thought the most important thing were those transition years. If you're like us and you had really good players, you position yourself maybe for a year or two to maybe make a run, and then you retool it, maybe make a run again."
Maybe? Self is too humble. There is no maybe with Kansas. Not under Self. That's what we've learned since he took over nine years ago. There is nothing "maybe" about a winning percentage the hovers around .850 -- early tournament exits aside (and two titles completely demolishes any fans' criticism of Self's early exists in past tourneys).
But hey, think about it, if Kansas wins its fourth title we'll have had Jim Calhoun, Billy Donovan, Self and Roy Williams win it all twice in the past eight years, while Mike Krzyzewski got mixed in there to win his oh-by-the-way fourth championship. At no other time will it be more appropriate to call college basketball the preeminent coaching sport than if it's Jayhawks over Wildcats. Calipari's no pushover, but he can't win two in one night. He can't get his esteem to the level with one title the way Self can with a pair.
Here's the list Self joins if he coaches to a crown in New Orleans. These are the two-timers:
1. Dean Smith
2. Denny Crum
3. Roy Williams
4. Henry Iba
5. Billy Donovan
6. Ed Jucker
7. Phil Woolpert
8. Branch McCracken
Even without the title, it's still a hell of a year for Kansas and for Self (is this his greatest coaching job?). Beautifully unexpected is the way a lot of Jayhawks fans see it. I think we can sometimes get caught up with big college basketball names and take for granted what some of these teams do in March. Kansas was picked fourth in the Big 12. Many believe this team would struggle to earn a single-digit seed. Instead, a No. 2 seed, 32 wins, and the most mind-blowing stat of all: Thanks to the come-from-behind win against Ohio State, Kansas' 197 wins in the past six seasons is a college basketball record.
"Wow. I did not know that," Self said when I shared the stat with him (discovered by our own C.J. Moore) Sunday. "We play more games now than they used to. UCLA back in the '70s, they would have won more games. … During that six-year period, we've had three or four different teams. We had to reload, and it's amazing to me that the consistency that we've had. We've been healthy. We've gotten good kids that like each other."
Self received more good news and tenability -- not that he needs it; just another trophy for the case -- Sunday, when he was handed the award that dodged him for the past decade. In his five previous nominations, Self didn't win Naismith Coach of the Year. In 2012, his sixth nomination, that isn't the case. Finally, a guy with eight straight regular-season Big 12 titles gets the nation's most prestigious coaching award.
"Winning the award and all that is a reflection of your team playing well," Self said. "I appreciate it, but I don't put a lot of stock into thinking I've done something that others haven't."
That's Self. His life after that first title? He said it didn't change much. If it didn't then, it probably won't with No. 2, but the legacy inflates two-fold. He joins the privileged pantheon.