Oct. 15, 2016
Is This FINALLY The Year Kansas Makes A March Impact?
Until their win over TCU last night and giving them another share of the Big 12 title, the last four games for Kansas have been something of that to a rollercoaster. Go to rival Kansas State and edge the Wildcats by 3 after a stinging home loss to Iowa State. Okay, I thought. Maybe March came early for the Jayhawks this year. Then they go to Lubbock against an improved Texas Tech squad. They had a few times to close out the game and failed, but still managed to eek out a 1 point victory against the Red Raiders. 2 days later, they are in Allen Fieldhouse and are down by 14 with 3 minutes left. And they win. Great comeback by Kansas or epic choke by West Virginia. Then Saturday rolls around against #4 Baylor.....surely they can't win. Instead almost down nearly ten by half, the Jayhawks make a statement by coming back and beating Baylor in Waco.
So it makes me think, is this the year Kansas finally nets all the pieces right and get back to the top of the mountain since 2008?
The knock on Kansas has really gone back since when Roy Williams manned the Jayhawks. They're always near the top of the heap alongside Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina when you talk about basketball's blue bloods. And honestly, the Jayhawks have never really had a year where the program is either having an "off-year" or a "rebuild mode." Only Duke has really avoided it, but even they have a few hiccup years. The truth is Kansas from November through February is the best team in the nation. But when March comes? Crash & burn.
Yes, the Jayhawks won in the 2008, 20 years after they won it with Larry Brown. However, the 3 other teams since 1988 I mentioned? Duke (5 titles), North Carolina (3 titles), and Kentucky (3 titles) have won more. Adding on, UConn (4 titles) has also been a March threat over this time period. While the Jayhawks do have an impressive resume, they have had difficulties getting to the Final Four as well. They have made it to five Final Fours since the 1988 championship, but to put it in perspective, North Carolina (7 times), Duke (10 times), Michigan State (7 times), and Kentucky (8 times) have been been there more. And when Kansas is bounced, it is an early out. And it does give some fuel to these bracket guys that maybe Kansas is going to be the first team to be a #1 seed to fall to a #16 seed.
So what is the issue that makes Kansas falter in the tournament? People can really try to point on one thing or another. But I think in a way that the Jayhawks are so zeroed in on the tough Big 12 conference (and contrary to my view on Big 12 football, Big 12 basketball is sick), they have their challenges with teams they are unfamiliar with in March, especially these mid-major schools. Bucknell, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Wichita State, and Rhode Island have claimed early victories over the Jayhawks in March while if Kansas does escape into the Sweet 16 rounds, they then often lose to their fellow blue-bloods such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Michigan State. Last year, Villanova did them in.
And maybe this year is going to be the same as previous years where they are expected to run the table only to fall off the wagon, but seemed why I picked against the Jayhawks last year was really they were too reliant on the three pointer and one off-game will doom them or going against a team that may be on it the whole time. This year, however, I don't see that from the Jayhawks. The balance as they have shown in this run has been solid and strong. Yes, you do have a couple of guys who are 3-point assassins but for the most part, Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, and a few others rely on getting those hard baskets which creates major issues for the opposing squads. And it also gives a bevy of weapons for Kansas to do some damage.
I admittedly am hesitant on choosing the Jayhawks into the Final Four this year because of the previous history. But I think this team is different than the ones in past where they have to rely on the three. If they are able to avoid living and dying by the three, the Jayhawks have a great chance to prove all doubters such as myself wrong in March and cut down the nets as the last team standing in early April.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat