The Kansas Jayhawks basketball program has been through a lot over the past several years. Sure, they won a National Championship in 2021-2022 season, won yet another Big 12 regular season title in 2022-2023 season and are now the preseason #1 team in America heading into the 2023-2024 season. However, the program didn’t get here without some bumps along the way.
In 2020, a season where the Jayhawks started the season as preseason #3 and spent a majority of the season as the #1 team in the nation, KU didn’t have a chance to climb the ladder and reach the pinnacle of the sport with a National Championship that season. COVID-19 came along and shut the country down, including all sports, right when KU was about to make a magical run through March Madness. They were the consensus #1 team and it looked like the rare season where no one was better.
Of course, it was the 2017-2018 season in which the alleged infractions took place in a case that ended up taking six years to figure out the results. The infractions case loomed largely over the program throughout the past several seasons. Would the team be banned from postseason play? Would they lose scholarships? Would head coach Bill Self be suspended for a season? None of the above. It was decided that Kansas would need to vacate 15 wins from that season, including a Final Four appearance, and the program would be on probation for three years. Essentially, a slap on the wrist.
Sure, some fans will be upset that a Final Four banner will be taken down from the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse, but it’s not like they don’t have an assortment of other banners proudly displayed. Yes, the NCAA record of 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles goes away. Self and Kansas go back to being tied with the late-great John Wooden’s UCLA teams with 13 consecutive conference championships. It is what it is, but things could have been much worse or the Jayhawks. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yorkmark seemed to be happy with the outcome.
“The program has been vindicated, and I think the outcome was fair for all.” Yormark said at Big 12 media days earlier this week. “The unknown was probably as much of a penalty as anything, going the period of time that we did with the unknown and not knowing how to address it or how to attack it,” Bill Self added last week after the results of the case were revealed. “I’ll make one thing clear, the penalties that were imposed were basically the vacation of wins. The three years probation and other penalties were self-imposed penalties that we knew we were going to deal with because we self-imposed before the ruling came out.”
Self was a little bit more animated at Big 12 media days. He reflected on the past several years, and the restrictions they had when out on the recruiting trail due to the violations that were hanging over their head. Now he is ready to move forward.
“The opportunity of operating with a free mind is something that hasn’t existed,” Self said while discussing the past several seasons with potential sanctions looming. “Now it’s time to go for the throat. We went through four years of time where I don’t think we recruited a top 20 player. Fortunately for us, the guys we’ve recruited have turned out to be better than those guys in many ways, whether it be Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, or Jalen Wilson, or whatever. The opportunity to actually go for it is back to where it was prior to when all this went down.”
Self is hoping for big success from a team that is a mix of veteran players, newcomers that were gained through the transfer portal and incoming freshman.
“I don’t know how Kansas fans really feel but I feel like there’s a fricking urgency to win every year,” Self said of expectations put on his team. “In the years that we’d been preseason No. 1, we’ve had good years but haven’t finished great. I’m certainly hopeful that we can change that trend.”
The Jayhawks will certainly have a bullseye on their back. Teams will be coming after them since they are the #1 team in the nation. Fanbases will come after them because they feel like penalties should have been harsher on the program. The haters will be out in full force this year, and the Jayhawks will be out to prove they have the mental and physical toughness to make it a season to remember.