Jayhawks Survive First Test… and now, it’s K-State’s Turn

Of course, you knew it wouldn’t be easy. Kansas vs. Penn had all the earmarks of a “Hoosiers”. Big 12 Champs vs. the Ivy League overachievers. Sure it was predictable. But, when the Quakers shook the earth (not related to oil fracking, I’m sure, but Wichita has a lot earth quakes these days) with a 10-point lead (21-11, 7:59) in the first half, there was more than just a notable bit of unease that circulated not only throughout the arena, but throughout the nation as the Crimson and Blue faithful collectively squirmed.

No top seed has ever lost to a number 16 seed. It was Devonte’ Graham who made sure that the Jayhawks didn’t get their wings clipped around what would have been an ugly piece of history. Thanks in large part to his 29 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds, Kansas marched on with a 76-60 victory.

“We didn’t play well offensively the first half. We stunk,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It’s hard for us to play well offensively if we don’t make shots because we don’t have a big guy to throw it into right now. The way they defended us, we needed a guard to take it on himself to get downhill.”

Advancing in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of style points, is not a negative outcome. Of course, there are concerns. And, there are good things, too! Let me summarize it briefly. There is plenty to worry about. Seven footer Udoka Azubuike looked far less than healed from his sprained left knee, and played only three minutes. Both Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk scored 10 points apiece, but didn’t provide enough to give Kansas the right jab it will need to go with the left hook provided by Graham. The Jayhawks also got only a couple of buckets from its bench.

There are also a ton of positives. Kansas won its 12th consecutive NCAA opener. Kansas missed a lot of early 3-pointers but ended up hitting a respectable 7 of 17. Graham was terrific despite the enormous amount of pressure on him. Mitch Lightfoot nearly got a double-double in replacing “Doke”, and the supporting cast have successfully dipped their toe in the dance, and have avoided a nasty blister.

KU, which is 5-0 all-time in tourney games contested in Wichita, next will face (the winner of the North Carolina State-Seton Hall game) on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena.

Meanwhile… the picture that stands out from K-State’s upcoming game with Creighton is that first team All Big 12 selection Dean Wade is walking, away from the floor, in a protective boot. That foot issue may indeed be a bigger deal than had been hinted. Wade has reached double figuring scoring in 20 straight games. The Cats may not be able to win without him, or even with him if he’s not at full strength.

The health status of the man K-State fans have nicknamed “Dean Wolf”, and Creighton’s Marcus Foster, who played in Manhattan before he was booted from the team following his sophomore year, will no doubt dominate the commentary.

What’s important though is that K-State’s basketball program needs this win badly. The Cats have danced in the post-season, but Bruce Weber hasn’t taken the Cats past the round of 64 since his arrival six years ago.

It’s time to play, and Wade puts its best. “It’s kind of like the real thing now, coming out and playing great competition like Creighton,” Wade said. “It would be great to get one win and keep building off that. It’s March, anything can happen.”

Tune in to “Eye on the Alamo” on YurView for March Madness NCAA news previews and predictions.

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