Cancellation Won’t Halt Kansas’ Tournament Seed Streak

Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks talks with players during a timeout in the quarterfinal game of the Big 12 basketball tournament against the Oklahoma Sooners at the T-Mobile Center on March 11, 2021, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas was a 2-seed in the first edition of Bracketology on Jan. 7. Four weeks later, after their first three-game losing streak in eight years and four losses in five games, the Jayhawks dropped to a 5-seed. They will be a 5-seed or worse on Selection Sunday, I tweeted on Feb. 6, and this was the worst Kansas team since 1999-2000, I wrote on Feb. 15.

Even without a Big 12 Tournament to pad a résumé already filled with Quadrant 1 wins and strong metrics, Kansas won’t be a 5-seed or worse on Selection Sunday. And this isn’t the worst Kansas team since 1999-2000. I misfired with a midseason evaluation of my alma mater, and their streak of top-4 NCAA Tournament seeds will extend into next season.

In Roy Williams’ second season as head coach, Kansas was a 2-seed in the 1990 NCAA Tournament. It was the first of nine straight tournament appearances for Williams, all of which came with a 4-seed or higher, including three 1-seeds over four years from 1995-98. A year later, sans Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and Billy Thomas, they won the Big 12 Tournament but lost 10 games, including a Second Round overtime loss to Kentucky as  6-seed. Another Second Round followed in 2000, this time as an 8-seed.

That was the last time Kansas was worse than a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Since their sophomore trio of Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, and Kirk Hinrich landed a 4-seed in 2001, the program has never been worse than a 4-seed:

2001: 4
2002: 1
2003: 2
2004: 4
2005: 3
2006: 4
2007: 1
2008: 1
2009: 3
2010: 1 
2011: 1
2012: 2
2013: 1
2014: 2
2015: 2
2016: 1
2017: 1
2018: 1
2019: 4
2020: N/A
2021: 3 (Projected)

In securing a 20th straight top-4 seed, Kansas will extend two records: consecutive top-4 seeds and consecutive tournament appearances. It will be their 31st straight appearance, eight more than Michigan State, provided the Spartans reach the 2021 tournament. Only Gonzaga (22 with a 2021 appearance) has an active streak longer than 10 years.

Over the 19 years of top-4 seeds Kansas, has won one national championship and played for two others but it’s been largely filled with tournament failures, including three Second Round losses as a 1- or 2-seed and five Elite Eight losses. They’ve lost to a lower seed 12 times, lost to four double-digit seeds, and have only one Final Four appearance since 2020. 

Bill Self and the Jayhawks aren’t playing for a tournament streak, even if they even know it exists, but the consistency remains remarkable and unprecedented. 

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM