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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Final Four loss doesn’t take away from Jayhawks’ accomplishments

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) has a shot rejected by Villanova forward Omari Spellman (14) during the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) has a shot rejected by Villanova forward Omari Spellman (14) during the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

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San Antonio — The better team doesn’t always win. If it did, college basketball would be dreadfully dull and not worth watching, instead of a billion-dollar industry that draws 68,257 spectators to the Alamodome for a Saturday night game on the final day of March.

But the better team does usually win, and on Saturday night that clearly was the case.

Watching Kansas and Villanova on the same court left no doubt as to which was the more complete basketball team.

Sure, the Kansas players and coaches left the building quietly with sad dispositions, but they didn’t leave it kicking themselves for an opportunity lost. Villanova didn’t give Kansas any opportunities and left nothing to chance in hammering the Jayhawks’ first Final Four team since 2012, 95-79.

Moving the ball as if it were a hand grenade about to explode if touched by human skin for more than a few seconds, Villanova put the ball in the hands of wide-open 3-point shooters right from the jump and took a 22-4 lead.

“I thought if we could get it to single figures at halftime, maybe we could have a chance,” Kansas coach Bill Self said afterward. “And we didn’t. We’ve been down to good teams on the road by at least 15 or more. But we haven’t been down to Villanova by 15.”

The Big 12 advanced three teams to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four to earn consensus designation as the best conference in the nation in 2018.

Villanova knocked off the Big 12’s three best teams — West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas — by a combined margin of 40 points.

“I thought they were great,” Self said. “That’s as good a team as we’ve played against that I can remember.”

Armed with way less frontcourt depth than a typical Self squad, the Jayhawks grew smaller when Dwight Coleby transferred to Western Kentucky, where he was a key member of an NIT Final Four team, and again when Jack Whitman, a William & Mary transfer, didn’t last the summer and quit the program. Then Billy Preston, who sat in the stands Saturday, never gained eligibility after an investigation into the source of the money used to purchase his Dodger Charger.

Still, Kansas was able to come from behind to win the Big 12 regular season and then win the conference tournament playing without center Udoka Azubuike (sprained MCL).

Big 12 regular-season championship, Big 12 tournament title, Final Four appearance after winning a classic overtime game against Duke in the Elite Eight.

Those accomplishments will dominate the lasting memories of this team, not losing to a better team that played its best at the best time of year to do so.

Villanova proved it’s more than a band of great shooters in winning an Elite Eight game against Texas Tech despite making just 4 of 24 3-pointers.

Villanova’s 3-point shooting, a Final Four record 18 makes on 40 attempts, was the reason Kansas could never come within single figures, but not the only reason the Big East squad advanced to a Monday night title game vs. Michigan.

As national player of the year Jalen Brunson (18 points, six assists) said, if the Wildcats weren’t making so many shots they would have shifted into grinder mode, and in his opinion, would, “maybe win by one or two possessions.”

A big part of the reason the victors shot so well was that the shooters were so open in transition and in the halfcourt. Kansas’ plan to trap ball screens didn’t work in the game the way it did in practice and it was abandoned and never replaced by anything that worked a whole lot better, although the zone Kansas used for a first-half stretch slowed down the Wildcats temporarily.

When the better team wins, it’s tough to pin it on strategy.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Self, who no doubt is in lockstep with the Kansas fan base on that front. “We did not have the perfect roster in may ways to probably win 31 games and win the league in a great conference and (win the) conference tournament and get to the Final Four in a lot of ways. And to be honest with you, it felt like today it kind of just caught up with us.”

Much later than most expected. The season that revolved around the highly entertaining ball of feel-good energy, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham, sparkled with far more thrills than spills.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. Villanova


By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.

By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.

Comments

Tony Bandle 3 weeks, 1 day ago

After the 22-4 blitz, we played them plus 2 for the rest of the game. Michigan's center better at least have a game similar to his game against Loyola for Michigan to have a chance.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Tom, I disagree with you when you say the better team doesn't always win. I heard it best from Jim Rome - In the history of sports, the better team always wins. The more talented team doesn't always win, but whoever wins the game was the better team on that night.

I do agree with you, though, when you say that this loss should not take away from the accomplishments of the season. This motley crew of Jayhawks, with a depleted roster, a super-thin front court, and three bad losses at home, still found a way to win the Big 12 for the 14th straight year (and won it outright), won the Big 12 Tournament with Udoka sidelined by injury, and finally broke Bill Self's Elite Eight hex with that crazy victory over Duke. Most teams that had the issues we had could only dream of doing what we did and would kill to be playing in college basketball's final weekend.

That we made it to the Final Four at all is a testament to so many things - to Devonte Graham's leadership, to Malik Newman's emergence, and most of all, to Bill Self's coaching and finding a way to do more with less. Despite last night's sorry showing, I will always remember these Jayhawks in a positive light. You did me proud, Kansas. You proved me wrong most of the year. Congratulations.

Here's to redemption in 2019 and cutting down the nets in Minneapolis!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

P.S. I hate Villanova.

Bob Bailey 3 weeks, 1 day ago

THANK YOU PEORIA FOR THE MOST RELXED COACH IN THE TOURNAMENT!

Tis year, 4 for 22. Before 0 for 11..

The team sure relaxed before the last game. Am I the only one who knows pot throws your spatial orientation off? Many of our shots were off 3" in 17 feet! Most of them hitting the front edge of the rim. Better luck next year.

Dillon Davis 3 weeks ago

Love that last bit. Bill admitting we didn't have a super talented roster but still we went farther than anyone including he expected. Next year, if we don't win it won't be because of personnel. And with KC hosting the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 again, we have a great chance of making it to back to back Final Fours for the first time since 2002-03.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks ago

I hope you're right. I don't want to wait six years before our next Final Four appearance.

Michael Mitchell 3 weeks ago

Very proud of these guys...hated watching that game last night, but only because we could never get back in it. Hats off to Villanova for keeping the pressure on the entire game. Would have been interesting only if 'Nova shot 40% from three instead of 45%...12 points off the board might have made a game of it. As coach said, they never suffered and game pressure. We had a few moments (very few), where a big make would have let them know we were there, but we really never hit even one of those! I can't remember a game where there was absolutely nothing to cheer about after Dok's first shot. One good thing though, scream therapy must work, as I am very docile today. After all of that, reflections of this team are all good. They really fought and somehow pulled off another Big 12 Championship! Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Go K U!!!

Tony Bandle 3 weeks ago

This season's unexpected Gems:

1] Getting to the Final Four.

2] Dok seeing and playing in front of his Mom for the first time in 5 years.

3] Silvio giving us a preview of the monster he will become in the not too distant future.

4] Beating Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke all in the same year.

5] Gaining on Kentucky for All-Time victories [only 12 behind].

6] Extending our lead for All-Time victories over North Carolina [12 ahead].

7] The 14th!!

8] Devonte Graham out doing Frank Mason.

9] Grayson Allen missing the game winning shot in the Elite Eight.

10] Maybe not so unexpected, but looking like next year's team will be even much more talented.

Corey Sparks 3 weeks ago

If Malik and Dok stay we have a shot at a final four next year , otherwise it's not gonna happen. Experience > young talent, this year's team proved it.

Pius Waldman 3 weeks ago

Most of us realize that the success this year was far beyond expectations. Yes it is disappointing but appreciate what success we had. As for next year it appears going to be great. Recruits coming are going to be great. Udoka shouldn't be leaving and he has competition to play the post. Garrett needs to become a scoring player rather than a simple passer. The transfers will be big factors. Newman might leave but Vick should remain at KU.

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