Is a Loss Ever Irrelevant? Some KU Fans Think So

Kansas vs. Tennessee, Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TennesseeWhen the Kansas Jayhawks come to town for a basketball game, it’s an Event.  It makes little difference if the team is top-ranked, top 10 or top 25.  It’s Kansas, and KU spells Historic. 

It’s much the same when UCLA comes sailing into your town from the west coast for a game.  They can be a .500 team, but one look at the baby-blue uniforms with “UCLA” on them reminds you of Wooden, Walton, Alcindor, 88-game winning streaks and national championships.  There are certain teams in college basketball that stand for royalty and when they’re in the gym, you’re there, too.

And so it was, the #1 ranked and undefeated Kansas Jayhawks came into Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the #16 Tennessee Volunteers.  The Jayhawks have all the makings of a team destined for the Final Four.  And the Vols?  Over the past week, they’ve had the look of a team getting ready for games and court appearances.

Thanks to a rental car, several guns, a bag of pot and an open container of alcohol, three players – Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams – have been indefinitely suspended and another one, senior captain Tyler Smith, has been dismissed from the team.

That left six scholarship and three walk-on players… against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Final score:  Tennessee 76, Kansas 68.  And this was no fluke. 

Playing in front of a deafening, sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena crowd of 21,936 the seasoned, more talented Jayhawks committed 16 turnovers to only eight for the Vols.  Kansas’ only second half lead was 37-36, with 18:01 remaining in the game.  They finally got it tied at 64 and that’s when you expected the Jayhawks to find another gear and put away the Vols, once and for all. 

But over the final 4:21, Tennessee went on a 12-4 run to end the game.  Jump in the pool and swim with that for a moment:  KU was held to four points over the last four-plus minutes by a team most “experts” figured would be honored just to be on the same floor with Kansas.

What’s most interesting in an upset like this is the reaction from fans of The Historic Program.  A quick sampling of multiple message boards, gauging several friends who are KU alums and hearing a few diehards on talk radio, you’d have thought the game didn’t count in the standings.

The word “irrelevant” found its way into comment after comment, both spoken and written.  Apparently, as some said, it’s a good thing the Jayhawks lost if they learn from it.  But hold on – since the loss is irrelevant, how do they learn from it?  Can a team learn from a loss that doesn’t matter?  I’m confused.

Irrelevant?  When is any loss irrelevant?  I find it nothing short of remarkable how many KU fans passed off this loss as though it was nothing more than water off a duck’s back.  I guess that’s what you’re allowed to do when you’re a Program of Greatness:  You actually can pass off a loss as though it didn’t really happen.  “Yep, we’re still undefeated.  Say what?  The Tennessee game?  Well, that one was irrelevant.  Don’t you remember last year?  27-0 with eight irrelevant games.”

I wonder if KU head coach Bill Self thinks it’s irrelevant.  How about his players?  Do they think it’s irrelevant, too?  And the fans – if it’s irrelevant, why bother flooding message boards and talk radio other than to confirm their denial.

I’ve always had great admiration for Kansas Jayhawks basketball.  Attending a game in Allen Fieldhouse is an unforgettable experience.  A cauldron of noise punctuated by the haunting “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.”  More than anything, I was struck by the fans when I went there: Smart, passionate and gracious to opposing fans in conversation. 

To see and hear the reaction of so many KU fans tonight, I’ll just assume they’re the irrelevant ones.

photo credit: Tennessee Journalist

Filed Under: College BasketballTennessee Volunteers

About the Author: Christopher serves up sports on 940 ESPN in Fresno with a good deal of pop culture, films, music and the quirky side of life mixed in. Distinguished guests and contributors from across the nation and around the world regularly join the program. He tackles the most complex stories to ones slightly off the radar delivering depth and humor with a thoughtful perspective. When he was in Fargo, the city not the movie, the program was nominated for Best Radio Show in the region in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by readers of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. As a writer, Christopher's work has been been published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Sun-Times Network publications, Reuters, USA Volleyball and Team USA, the Official Website of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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  1. Christopher, bravo on this column from you, a former college basketball player, who has ventured inside of Allen Field House, it is sobering to hear how fans look at winning and losing without casting an eye to the team’s future or how they won or lost a particular game. Great win by the Vols AAU-looking team of 6 tops and 3 flops! It may be the most satisfying win from a four decade Vols fan’s perspective.

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    Christopher Gabriel Reply:

    Well, almost a player Tux. I was recruited, offered, asked to redshirt, transferred, walked on and then chose to stick with my major instead of continuing. A wild ride, indeed!

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