A decade of hegemony is the gift that keeps on giving. Maybe, when Jayhawks families sit down for Christmas dinner Thursday, Kansas's past 10 years -- when they've reigned over 10 successive Big 12 regular-season conference championships -- can keep the conversation from turning grim.
If those fans chose to politely focus on the not-so-distant past, well, who could blame them? Because here's how the present stands up: In Self's first 11 seasons, his teams lost by more than 25 points exactly one time. In the first five weeks of the 2014-15 season, they've already done it twice.
The second of those blowouts came Monday night, a putrid 77-52 thrashing at Temple. Kansas never led, never got close, and never looked competent against a team that began the night ranked outside the top 100 in adjusted efficiency. The second half played out like a routine blowout, one team so unable to score or get a stop that the lead began to spiral inward on itself. Rushed shots led to bad defense, which led to more rushed shots. In a vacuum, you would have assumed Temple was the top-10 team mopping up some lowly cupcake opponent at home, and have been puzzled over the fans rushing the court at the final buzzer. What's all the fuss?
"They were so much better than us," Self said afterward.
And he was right.
The good news is that it probably doesn't matter.
Before the Kansas panic-o-meter switches from "mild" to "full-blown" - and judging by KU basketball's Facebook comments, we might already be too late -- it's worth noting just what an abberation Monday night really was. After all, it's not like Kansas hasn't played well in the nonconference thus far. The Jayhawks arrived in Philadelphia on the back of an eight-game winning streak pocked by solid wins over difficult opponents, including an impressive win over a Utah team with one of the nation's best guards in Delon Wright. And it's not like Kansas hasn't traveled to a major metropolitan area in the northeastern corridor to play in a hostile NBA arena, as it won at Georgetown on Dec. 10.
What the Jayhawks did Monday night was a mixture of unusually cold shooting, atypically lights-out offense by its opponents (more on that in a second) and some good old-fashioned lethargy.
Perry Ellis, the team's lone reliable go-to scorer -- the one guy Kansas clears out for when it really needs a bucket -- finished a frustrated 1-for-10. The Jayhawks shot 32.1 percent from the field as a group. When Temple opened an early lead, you kept waiting for the Jayhawks to knock down a few perimeter shots and tighten things back up. Frank Mason was the only player who delivered, making four of Kansas's seven 3-pointers. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Brannen Greene (the key player in the Georgetown win) and Wayne Selden combined to go 3-of-11.
Defensively, Kansas might have been worse, or at least -- to use a technical term -- more obviously bad. Throughout the past month, Self has consistently praised his team on two fronts: first-shot defense and toughness. Kansas had neither Monday night. It was tired and slow, as Self put it after the game: "Like we were a half step slow or even a full step slow." Maybe that's the promise of an impending Christmas break. Maybe it's the post-final exam malaise. Whatever it was, it looked nothing like Kansas's typical performance.
Is lethargy a bad sign? Maybe. Is playing at 70 percent of your ability on Dec. 22 a portent of doom? Probably not.
None of which should minimize Temple's role in the blowout. The Owls might not have faced Kansas in top form, but they still had to make the shots. Did they ever: Temple went 21-of-28 from inside the arc. Will Cummings was a force on the perimeter, driving on KU's guards at will, finishing with ease, and expertly controlling the pace as the lead widened in the second half. When Temple boarded the Philadelphia Subway en route to the arena Monday night, it ranked 340th in the country in field-goal percentage. Cummings & Co. showed none of those woes against the Jayhawks.
"I think we played about as well as we possibly could have," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It was our night."
The "& Co." bit is especially important. Monday night was just the second game of the season for transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman. Morgan finished with 17 points on 10 shots; Coleman contributed 14 mistake-free minutes off the bench. But the duo, Morgan especially, added more than that: They provided the room and the support to make Cummings a truly lethal one-on-one player.
In other words, if Temple 77, Kansas 52 matters, it matters for Temple. And not just the win (though that is a nice bonus for a team that had yet to snag anything resembling a NCAA tournament-worthy victory). This performance hinted at the promise of Dunphy's team -- a good defensive group that might not be so awful with the ball after all.
As for Kansas, look at it this way: Whatever issues Self's team had before the game -- the stop-start emergence of Kelly Oubre, the stalled contributions of Cliff Alexander, shaky perimeter shooting, lack of fluidity in its half-court offense -- exist now. Whatever strengths the Jayhawks previously displayed will likely emerge again in the next week, when Kent State and UNLV come to Allen Fieldhouse.
And if the Jayhawks fail to maintain that fabled Big 12 title streak in a few months, it will probably have as much to do with the butcher shop that is the 2014-15 Big 12 as with anything Kansas did or didn't do in Philadelphia. It was, in every sense of the word, just one of those nights. The only sweeping conclusion to be drawn here is a resounding: Meh.