A week ago Saturday, Bill Self sat at the breakfast table at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott, wondering what Tennessee roster he'd face the next week. Four Vols had just been arrested a day earlier and were sitting in jail, their fate as basketball players still a long way from being decided. Self glanced at the Tennessee stats and saw that the players in question -- Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins -- were all substantial contributors.
Selfishly, Self said he wished Tennessee would have its full complement of players, looking for as many bonus points that his Kansas team could score for a tough game on the road. But the KU coach also was well aware of another thing: There's nothing more dangerous than a team with a home crowd and adversity to rally around.
Now here's the proof. Days after Bruce Pearl kicked Smith off the team, the Volunteers sent Kansas tumbling from its No. 1 ranking and its place among the undefeated with a 76-68 loss.
When Self was in Philly, he said his biggest concern was his team didn't have an identity, or at least the identity it had wasn't one he was pleased with: Namely KU players fancied themselves as a team that relied on offense more than defense. The Jayhawks silenced their coach's worries against Temple, swarming and stifling the Owls. But against the Vols, Self's concerns were evident: Tennessee shot 48 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the arc.
I'm not a big believer in teams "needing a loss," but I have a feeling this one will come in quite handy for Self. He'll be able to point to the box score, point to the scoreboard and remind his Jayhawks that if they want to be the last team standing in April, their identity will have to be made on the defensive end of the floor.