We've all heard HCBS talk about the NCAAs being a series of three, two-game tournaments. KU's first bracket breakdown includes a first-round matchup against the North Dakota State Bison, with a possible tilt against West Virginia (out of the vaunted BEast Conference) or the Dayton Flyers. First, let's look at ND State, which tips against Kansas at 11:30AM on Friday.
The Bison, 24-6 on the season (not including 2-0 vs. non-D1 teams), are a senior-laden team, including the Summit League POY, PG Ben Woodside. Averaging over 22 ppg, he scored 60 in a game earlier this season. Only non-senior starter is sophomore F Michael Tveidt. Two key reserves are juniors Josh Vaughan and DeJuan Flowers.
Woodside is susceptible to turnovers. Sherron should be easily motivated to defend him. Should be a great matchup, but hopefully doesn't turn into a Collins vs. ND State as he has at times this year.
The key to this game should be the Cole Train. The Bison typically play man-to-man defense; it will be interesting to see if, or how often, they go to zone that Baylor employed in OK City. I see the 'Hawks committed to getting the ball inside early and often Friday. Couple that with the fact that Cole is "going back" to Minnesota....you can see where that is going.
The perimeter defense is going to be key. Bison quickness versus Kansas size advantage. We have a deeper bench. If we dedicate ourselves on the defensive end of the floor, we win the game going away.
Next up, number 6-seeded West Virginia, 23-11 on the year, out of the Big East Conference. Last year, WVU put together a nice run in the tourney. While not as young as Kansas, they have three freshmen (one starter) who see significant playing time. They play a stifling brand of defense. Not a great shooting team, they are 3-9 when scoring less than 65 points. If KU matches up with WVU....
It will be a defensive struggle. WVU runs the popular spread motion that can get lazy defenders out of place for easy scores. Again, the 'Hawks must commit to playing hard on defense, really the one key for the team that they have absolute control over.
Another team that hoists the trey. Does it seem that KU has been defending the three a little weaker in the last two weeks? Probably only appears that way when you run into the streaky shooters we did down the stretch.
Obviously, WVU played in the toughest conference this season, but HCBS's Kansas team can play a just as physical, ugly game as the Mountaineers. Could possible motivation be supplied in the thought that the Big East is sooo superior to the Big XII this year? I think so....talking heads already looking at Huggy Bear's second straight trip to the Sweet 16.
Now, Dayton, at 26-7, comes from the A-10 Conference. Here's a great thought on the Flyers I read on ESPN: "The Flyers have been leaking oil down the stretch and are no match for the toughness of West Virginia. This first-round game might get ugly." Here's why they play the game, ladies and gents. With only two players who average more than 10 ppg, the Flyers are no doubt team-oriented and feature a balanced attack. They play up-and-down, trying to create turnovers to dictate tempo. The weakest of the four teams in regards to three-point shooting. WVU take note: if Dayton can create turnovers defensively, they may find themselves on the wrong end of an upset especial.
They have a similar size makeup to the Bison. However, a second 6'-10" on the bench gives them size to throw at Aldrich, should Kansas and Dayton meet.
Undefeated at home, it should be interesting to see how the Flyers fare on a neutral court. In that same vein, Kansas needs to use this first weekend to prove that they can do the same (1-3 this year at neutral sites).
While it's interesting to note how a team has played in the final week or weeks leading to the tournament, all it takes is a half, a game, heck, even sometimes just a play to snap out of a "funk." Kansas is 2-2 since the Missouri game in Lawrence where they looked arguably the best they had all season. They ran into two HOT squads. Baylor, if I'm not mistaken, was picked in the upper third of the conference preseason polls, and grossly underwhelmed this year. The 'Hawks need to assert themselves early. No more of this having to climb out of a hole. It is inexcusable to get down big right off the bat to a lesser opponent. Look for KU to come out red-hot, fired up on Friday and win by 15+. Hopefully, the start of another great March / April run.