LAWRENCE — Bill Self will often point out that Kansas' 2008 national championship team lost three of five games during the middle of Big 12 play, and players from that team have philosophized that they may not have had what it took to win it all without that down period.
So as the top-ranked Jayhawks (23-1, 9-0) embark on what they hope to be a perfect run through the conference and an eventual national title — beginning tonight at home against Iowa State — the question must be asked: Do great teams need battle scars? And, if so, what happens to KU if it does run the table until the Big Dance?
Certainly, there would be no need for a players-only meeting over turkey club sandwiches and hot wings at Henry T's Bar & Grill in Lawrence as there was after the Jayhawks' third loss in '08.
Here are the facts: Indiana in 1976 is the last team to go undefeated (and it can only be assumed that the Hoosiers had their own kind of adversity being coached by Bob Knight). And N.C. State in 1974 is the last team to win the championship with one loss (the heartbreaking 1997 Kansas team is one of the many one-loss casualties of March).
It's an interesting idea, losing now so that you can win later.
"I love our record," Self said, "but the objective is not to have a great record. The objective is to have a great team."
Self believes there's no right way to throw a bunch of players into a fire and weld them into one. The '08 team just happened to have to learn from some tough road losses to figure itself out. Self hypothesized that it's possible the 2010 team will have had to learn just as much from its self-induced embarrassments off the court earlier this season.
"I think that, in our own way, we created enough situations daily through our little family that we created some adversity," Self said. "I think there's been some negative things that have happened with our players before the season started that created some adversity. The Tennessee (loss) created some adversity. Sometimes, adversity is not just about getting beat. Sometimes you can fight through it different ways."
A quick recap of KU's blunders: The fights between football and basketball players in September, Brady Morningstar's arrest for driving under the influence in October and Tyshawn Taylor continually going to his Facebook page to air his feelings.
Then there are the things that nobody can control, like Cole Aldrich playing through the pain of watching his grandmother, Ann, slowly die from lung cancer. You can bet that the Jayhawks grew closer by being there for Aldrich, who was clearly emotional about the loss.
It would be easy to say KU hasn't had to play through much adversity in its games, but then that would ignore that the Jayhawks made plays in crunch time against Memphis, Cornell, Baylor, Kansas State and Colorado to avoid upset defeats.
"I do think that we've shown that as a group collectively we can play pretty tough on crucial possessions, which I think is why you want to create adversity," Self said. "I think we've taken negative things that happened and taken them to be positives in our favor for the most part."
KU forward Marcus Morris wanted nothing to do with this idea that the Jayhawks could benefit from losing a couple down the stretch.
"I think we faced adversity against Tennessee," Morris said, "and I kind of think we have woke up since then. I wouldn't want to lose. If it was up to me, I would rather not lose a game and still have confidence. The thing about us, we're not gonna get a big head about winning. We're gonna go out and try to get better and better and improve at practice every day."
The Jayhawks do have the benefit of living up to the expectations bestowed upon them in the preseason. They know that a trip to the Final Four, having that shot to win the big one, is the only acceptable outcome. To do that, they have to be self-critical, and KU players appear to be accepting that responsibility. They know they have not all played their best on the same night to this point.
"That's one thing I'm really excited about," Self said. "I think our ceiling hasn't been reached or come close to being reached yet. It's getting to the point it needs to start happening more consistently. Our team has showed some toughness, but I still don't think we've put it all together yet."