K-State and Kansas Plan to Make the Madness Last

NCAA chances have always been predicated on match-ups. I know this because of the 45 or so tournament sites I’ve covered over the years. That’s not an exaggeration. Mostly because of the Jayhawks success, I’ve been lucky enough to cover about seven Final Fours. A Final Four means three tournament sites in three weekends. The algebra goes like this for why I’ve covered so many NCAA sites. A couple of quick exits times a few “Sweet 16’s” divided by an “Elite Eight” or three, multiplied by about two decade and half’s worth of coverage, and well…. you get to learn a thing or two about how to dance.

Let me give you my abridged version of how teams can find NCAA Tournament success. You need three scorers plus a wildcard who can lead in scoring, on a night when your stars can’t. You must win or hold serve through every four minutes of action between the eight media time outs. You must play defense like mad when you go into a scoring drought. Then you must survive a game you should have lost, and turn a game on a dime with a game changing play in a 50-50 situation.

So, let me put K-State and Kansas under the microscope.

Ninth seeded K-State plays eighth seeded Creighton at 5:50 on Friday at Charlotte, N.C. in the South Region. You’ll need to have your Cox Communications cable subscription in order because it’s airing nationally on TNT.

It’s winnable for the Wildcats because All Big 12 picks Dean Wade and Barry Brown will return from injury. K-State has also played well against high scoring teams like the Bluejays this season. Creighton has scored over 100 points four times, and has reached 90 in 10 different games.

Introductions are going to be awkward because Marcus Foster is averaging over 20 points for Creighton. Foster led K-State in scoring as a freshman and a sophomore before Coach Bruce Weber dismissed him.

K-State can beat Creighton because they can score enough to keep up. Unfortunately, they could go from NASCAR to bumper cars if they get top seeded Virginia next. I remember well watching Tony Bennett play point guard for his Dad’s Wisconsin-Green Bay bunch many years ago. The Fighting Phoenix beat a lot of good teams because they played unbelievable defense. It’s strange thinking the Cavaliers head coach could lead his school to the Final Four for the first time since 1984. But, they’ll have to get past K-State first, and the Wildcats should scrap like underdogs if they advance past the first round.

What’s strange is that the Wildcats will have to figure out a way to defend one of the nation’s best scoring offenses in Creighton, and if successful, will need to turn around two days later and try to score against Virginia, one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

“Now you have got to prepare,” Weber said. “You have got to take care of your body and get your mind right and then you have got to play with a big heart. Those are the things we have got to do this weekend.”

As for Kansas, earning a #1 seed is tremendous! The Jayhawks lived an “oh my” season by doing it against great odds. I don’t know why it doesn’t earn more than it does when the 68 teams are announced. Number one seeds do not earn a bye. They have to arrive at the arena two days before their game whether they are in nearby Wichita (or Anchorage) just like everybody else.

Of course, a 16 seed has never beaten a number one. But, everyone groans when pointing out how Kansas has been upset as a number one seed. I’m not an excuse maker, but Northern Iowa, Bucknell, and Bradley had a week off from their post-season tournament to get their legs underneath them and had enough experienced seniors to create a predicament for the Jayhawks.

What Penn has in addition to the week off following their post-season tournament, is an Ivy League character, and the number two ranked, 3-point defense, in all of college hoops. I should mention here that KU likes to shoot the tray. They are the 13th best team in the country shooting it up from behind the arc.

Wichita is going to love having the Jayhawks in town. It will be a tough ticket to get. There’s going to be plenty of fodder about how Kansas won’t come to the city to play the Shockers. That question is coming in the first news conference, and Coach Bill Self will handle that question with grace. I’m still curious to see how he does so.

By the way, the Jayhawks open tournament play on Thursday at 2 p.m. A win puts Seton Hall or North Carolina State in the way of heading to Omaha for the next round. The Midwest Region is interesting because Michigan State is the three seed, and Duke is the two seed. Either Hall of Fame Coach Tom Izzo of Michigan State or the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski could be on the same court as Coach Self if Kansas can advance far enough.

How about the players? The region has Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Miles Bridges…. And of course, starting at a guard from Kansas, and a legitimate National Player of the Year Candidate… Devonte’ Graham.

Kansas has two really good seniors in Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Neither played very well when it mattered most in last year’s tournament. Both, I believe are going to play lights out this season. In addition, it appears Udoka Azubuike, who sat out the Big 12 Tournament, with an injury is good to go. If all systems are indeed, go, then Kansas is in great shape.

“The biggest thing is we need to go play our best ball right now, “Self said. “This year is a little different in my opinion because there’s some teams that had unbelievable years. I’m not putting us in that group. Look at Virginia (overall No. 1 seed at 31-2) or Villanova (overall No. 2 at 30-4; KU is the third No. 1 seed; Xavier fourth). They’ve just been incredible from start to finish. There’s a lot of teams that have the potential to play incredible basketball.”

Only one team won the National Championship in 2008. That was the last year that Kansas won it all. It was staged in San Antonio. Ten years later, the event returns to San Antonio. That Final Four seems not that long ago, especially because, the Jayhawks have good reason to remember the Alamo.

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