SAN ANTONIO -- The game hasn't even started, but Kansas coach Bill Self already has made a tactical error against Richmond. He made it a year ago, and has repeated it every day since.
You remember last year, right? Kansas played a feisty team from a smaller conference in the NCAA tournament, and Kansas lost. Northern Iowa stunned the top-seeded Jayhawks. Of course you remember. Who would forget?
Oh. Right. Kansas would forget. Because Bill Self hasn't shown them.
Senior guard Derwin Kitchen has finally found a home at Florida State More >>
|More on Kansas-Richmond|
"He's never shown that film to us," said Kansas senior guard Mario Little. "We don't talk about that. I know for a fact that the [Morris] twins have never seen that game."
That's a problem.
The Jayhawks won't watch that game, but you and me, we remember. And if by chance one or two of you did forget, here you go. That's what I wrote from courtside last season, after watching Kansas sleepwalk for 37 minutes before waking up too late. Not to take anything away from Northern Iowa, but any team like Northern Iowa -- very good, very motivated -- was going to beat Kansas on March 20, 2010. In 2005 it was Bucknell that beat Kansas. In 2006 it was Bradley. Two years ago it was very nearly Davidson. Last year it was Northern Iowa.
See the pattern here?
It's not just Kansas. It's huge teams every year, all over the bracket. In 2006, in the biggest upset I've ever seen, it was Connecticut against George Mason. Here's my theory, and I guarantee you I'm right: Players at a school like George Mason in 2006, or Northern Iowa in 2010 -- or Richmond on Friday night -- look at a game like this as the biggest day of their lives.
"It will be," said Richmond guard Darien Brothers. "Biggest day for all of us."
For Kansas, the motivation isn't the same. Kansas, like Connecticut in 2006, has a bunch of pros whose biggest basketball day will come in the NBA. George Mason and Richmond? There's nothing to look forward to that's bigger than this. And they play like it.
You remember last year, or you read my story from that Northern Iowa game. Kansas' players didn't play like that was the biggest day of their career, or even the biggest day of their season. They were more fired up for rivalry games against Missouri than they were for Northern Iowa, a school that was merely an abstract thought until that abstract thought punched the Jayhawks in the mouth.
"That's exactly what they did," Little said. "They hit us in the mouth and we didn't respond."
Self's response, over the following year, was to pretend the beating didn't happen. Maybe he put in their lockers a picture of a magazine depicting that game, but he won't show them the game itself. Or even talk to them about it. They know, he figures. Just like they know about the program's NCAA tournament losses to Bucknell and Bradley, and the near-loss to Davidson.
"Those games don't get brought up much," said Kansas sophomore forward Thomas Robinson. "We lost to a team that we probably, seed-wise, shouldn't have lost to. So we understand."
Really? It doesn't sound like Kansas understands at all.
We lost to a team that we probably, seed-wise, shouldn't have lost to.
A team like Richmond.
Self screwed up. All five Kansas starters played in that game, and several others saw it from the bench, and as a team they needed to be taken back to that devastated locker room, to the tears cried by future pros like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and -- yes -- the Morris twins. All of them, bawling. Because they realized, way too late, that losing to a school like Northern Iowa was possible, and would be painful.
It's possible Friday, too. This is not a prediction of a Kansas loss, Kansas fans, so if the Jayhawks do what they're supposed to do and eliminate the massive underdog Spiders, save your emails. Don't embarrass yourself by bragging about a top-seeded Kansas win over 12th-seeded Richmond.
But Richmond is a scary, nasty No. 12 seed. The Spiders play that bizarre Princeton offense that has anomalies like 6-foot-10 power forward Justin Harper shooting 45.2 percent on 3-pointers and 6-9 center Dan Geriot being third on the team in assists -- and Richmond's defense is even more unusual. It's a 2-3 matchup zone that looks like a zone but reacts like man-to-man defense. Richmond is the kind of team that will get in Kansas' head, at both ends, and demand the Jayhawks to focus for 40 minutes.
Richmond is confident, too. Spiders coach Chris Mooney doesn't have much in the way of film to learn about beating Kansas -- the Jayhawks are 34-2, for crying out loud -- but he grabbed all the film he could find of Kansas' closest games. Not because he wanted to see what other teams did to stay close to the Jayhawks. He wanted to see what plays Kansas likes to run late in a close game.
Mooney wants to know because he assumes Friday will be close. He told his players to assume the same thing. He reminded them of the big wins Richmond has amassed over the years -- the Spiders beat Missouri and Florida last season, and they've beaten Purdue and Vanderbilt this season -- and reminded them of something equally uplifting.
"We haven't played a perfect game once, in any of those games," Mooney said. "That's what I talk to our guys about. We're not going to play a perfect game [against Kansas] ... we don't need to play a perfect game."
Richmond just needs to do what it does. As for Kansas, well, Kansas needs to avoid doing what it usually does. Too bad Bill Self didn't show his team what that looks like.