Mississippi Valley State won five games in 2012-13. The Delta Devils went 5-23 and finished 339th in KenPom, 339th in BPI, 331th in SOR, and 344th in RPI. They lost to Alabama State, Alcorn State, and Jackson State (twice) in finishing 1-16 in the worst conference in college basketball. Mississippi Valley State was a terrible team … that nearly beat TCU.
On Dec. 30, 2012, Mississippi Valley State erased an eight-point first-half deficit and led TCU, 62-60, with under three minutes remaining. The Horned Frogs scored seven of the game’s final nine points to win, 67-64, but still almost lost at home. Five weeks later, TCU beat Kansas for their first-ever Big 12 win. And they did so with a poor performance.
TCU didn’t beat Kanas, the eventual Big 12 champion and 1-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, by playing well. They played poorly, marginally better than in the three-point win over Mississippi Valley State five weeks earlier. Trent Johnson’s team allowed 17 offensive rebounds, committed 21 fouls, shot 39 percent from the floor (31 percent from deep), and hit 22 of 38 free-throw attempts.
TCU didn’t win because they played well; they won because Kansas played like retired tax accountants in a Tuesday morning rec game at the local YMCA.
“It’s the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was here. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA in his first couple years,” Bill Self famously said after the seven-point loss in Fort Worth.
It’s funny because it’s true … kind of. It wasn’t Kansas’ worst team since the early 1900s; the 2012-13 team had depth issues, but the starting lineup on Dec. 30 was Jeff Withey, Perry Ellis, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, and Elijah Johnson. It was, however, in all seriousness, one of the worst performances since Naismith founded the program in 1898.
Eight years later, Kansas isn’t losing to a KenPom-265 team that barely beat Mississippi Valley State–in fact, they have only one loss to a team outside the current KenPom top 25 (Oklahoma State, No. 45)–but the 2020-21 team is historically bad. This is the worst Kansas basketball team since…
Just two years ago, they lost 10 games, including six in the Big 12 (most conference losses in 30 years), had frontcourt issues after Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending injury, and were undisciplined in several areas. They were, however, good on the glass, offensively dominant inside the arc, and beat Michigan State, Tennessee, and Villanova in non-conference behind All-American Dedric Lawson. That team was flawed and suffered several blowout losses, including to Auburn in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, but not as bad as this year’s team.
Nor was the 2013-14 10-loss team, the 2008-09 team gutted by post-national championship departures, or any of Self’s first three teams that averaged eight losses apiece and two of which lost in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.
This is the worst Kansas team since Roy Williams led a 24-win team that lost in the Second Round of the 2000 tourney as an 8-seed. Behind Kenny Gregory and three freshmen–Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison, all of whom would eventually have their jerseys raised into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters–the Jayhawks crashed the offensive glass, blocked a ton of shots, and scared top-seed Duke in the Second Round. But, they couldn’t shoot and couldn’t hit free throws, draw fouls, force turnovers, or avoid double-digit losses.
That was the last Kansas team to earn worse than a 4-seed. In Self’s 17 seasons, they’ve never been worse than a 4-seed, including last year because the Jayhawks would’ve been a 1-seed. They’re currently a 5-seed in BetMGM Bracketology and, as the 18th-ranked team in those Bracketology projections, two spots outside the final 4-seed, currently owned by Missouri in the selection committee’s early rankings.
Even if this year’s Kansas team fails to earn another top-4 seed, and continues to struggle with shot selection and fails to sniff 80 points in conference play, they’re not a bad basketball team. They’re not lose-to-TCU-who-almost-lost-to-Mississippi Valley State bad. Relatively speaking, however, this is a bad Kansas basketball team, the worst one in more than two decades.
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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