Wichita — The hot shooting hand of guard Malik Newman and a resurgent Udoka Azubuike helped No. 1 seed Kansas get past feisty No. 8 Seton Hall, 83-79, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
But plenty more went into the Jayhawks’ survive-and-advance victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
Here are five statistics that helped send KU on to Omaha, Neb., and a spot in the 2018 Sweet 16.
No offensive missteps in final minute
The Jayhawks’ season could have ended ahead of schedule had they not handled their business at the foul line in crunch time, when their lead shrank to as little as three points.
As Seton Hall senior guard Khadeen Carrington did everything within his power to will the Pirates to an improbable comeback, scoring 13 points in the final 1:06 — no, that’s not a typo — KU guards Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman combined to make all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the game’s final 53 seconds.
Add a press-break out of a timeout that concluded with Graham finding Mitch Lightfoot for a two-handed slam and KU had just enough to move on.
Seton Hall outscored Kansas 16-12 in the final 1:06 thanks to Carrington’s heroics and a last-second Myles Powell 3-pointer. Had the Jayhawks turned the ball over or missed free throws, the game could have flipped.
Vick in rhythm in March
Lagerald Vick continued trending upward in the postseason in KU’s second-round victory.
For the fifth consecutive game — a stretch that began with the Jayhawks’ Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State — the junior guard provided double-digit scoring to the Kansas attack.
Against Seton Hall, Vick scored 13 points and, as he has in every Big 12 and NCAA tournament game this March, made at least 50% of his shot attempts, going 5 of 9.
Vick also made more than two 3-pointers for the first time since KU’s home romp over Oklahoma, knocking in 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Shutting down Rodriguez
Two nights after Seton Hall’s leading scorer, senior Desi Rodriguez, went for 20 points in a first-round win over North Carolina State, the 6-foot-6 senior never got rolling against the Big 12 champions.
KU stymied Rodriguez, who entered averaging 17.9 points per game, limiting him to 2-for-10 shooting and 6 points in 35 minutes.
Vick spent portions of the game defending Seton Hall’s typical double-digit scorer, but other Jayhawks checked him at times, too, as switches occurred within the half court.
Rodriguez went 2 of 7 in the first half and barely even found opportunities to take shots in the second, despite playing 18 minutes.
Surviving Seton Hall’s offensive rebounding
The Jayhawks have run into their fair share of strong offensive rebounding teams this season and they continued to escape the wrath of devastating second-chance points in their matchup with Seton Hall.
Although the Pirates grabbed 15 of their missed shots against Kansas, they only cashed in on 14 second-chance points in a tight, loser-goes-home game.
Senior center Angel Delgado often operated as he pleased within the paint, en route to 24 points and a career-best 23 rebounds (9 on the offensive glass). But the key for Kansas was handling the Pirates when someone other than the skilled 6-foot-10 big controlled the offensive boards.
When Delgado snatched Pirates misses, the ball found its way through the net on those possessions — either by immediate putback, eventual basket or free throws — on six of eight occasions.
However, when a different Pirate came down with an offensive rebound, Kansas repeatedly found its way to a stop. On six possessions, one of Delgado’s teammates got credited with an offensive rebound. The Pirates scored just one basket as a result.
More second-chance points could have swung the game in Seton Hall’s favor, but KU found a way to move on, despite finishing with only 23 defensive rebounds on 38 opportunities.
Graham in set-up role
KU star guard Graham wasn’t himself versus the Pirates, going 1 of 7 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-pointers and finishing with 8 points.
As the senior has shown in the past, though, an off shooting night didn’t get him down. Kansas needed Graham running the show and making plays that led to his teammates scoring. Throughout the second half Graham did just that.
KU’s leader assisted on 7 of his team’s 15 field goals in the second half to finish with 9 assists in the victory.
The Jayhawks built a double-digit lead in the second half, not only because of Udoka Azubuike’s presence, but also through Graham’s distributions.
His passes led to a Svi Mykhailiuk layup, an Azubuike slam, a Newman lay-in, a Vick 3-pointer, a Mykhailiuk 3-pointer, a 3 from Newman and the aforementioned Lightfoot jam.
And, after a 4-turnover first half by Graham, he only coughed the ball up once while playing the entirety of the second half.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Seton Hall
- Dominant Dok: Azubuike plays big role to lift Jayhawks past Seton Hall
- Tom Keegan: Nudge in right direction awakens Malik Newman
- Graham survives injury scare, breaks program record for minutes in a season
- Angel Delgado’s historic performance not enough to beat Kansas
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman shoots Kansas into Sweet 16, tops ratings
- KU’s supporting cast pushes Jayhawks past Seton Hall and into Sweet 16
Wichita — In order to get past Seton Hall and reach the Sweet 16, top-seeded Kansas will have to either thwart or survive one of the Pirates’ best offensive sources: rebounding their own misses.
Averaging 12.2 offensive rebounds per game (37th nationally), Seton Hall thrives at securing second chances due in large part to the presence of 6-foot-10 senior center Angel Delgado, who accounts for 3.7 offensive rebounds an outing.
“I always say it’s like he’s got a magnet in his hands,” Pirates senior Desi Rodriguez said. “The ball’s just attached to his hands when he’s rebounding the ball.”
Delgado, of course, has caught KU’s attention, sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot said.
“Obviously he’s a great offensive rebounder, knows how to wedge, and box out really well. We’ve got to figure out how to keep him off the glass,” Lightfoot began, before saying the guards around Delgado benefit from his presence, too, crashing and finding angles to track down misses. “They’re a load to box out.”
Player after player in the KU locker room at Intrust Bank Arena mentioned how much Seton Hall (22-11) reminds them of West Virginia, with their physical style of play and tendency to thrive on the offensive glass. WVU averages 14.0 offensive boards and rebounds 34.6% of its misfires. The Pirates’ offensive rebounding percentage of 32.2% ranks 36th in the country.
When KU senior point guard Devonte’ Graham watched video of Seton Hall, though, he saw a style similar to another Big 12 foe in the Pirates’ game.
“That’s a little bit of the physicality that we had to talk about, going ahead and rebounding. They go to the glass just as good as anybody in the country — kind of like Oklahoma State,” Graham said, “in how physical their guards can be and how big they are.”
The Cowboys, who beat Kansas twice during the regular season, average 12.6 offensive rebounds and come away with 32.5% of their missed shots.
The Jayhawks (28-7) have enough experience facing teams that make a living on the offensive glass to know how costly opponents’ second-chance points can be.
Senior Svi Mykhailiuk noted KU will have to play tough and put a body on someone on every defensive trip down the floor.
“And like the guards gotta help Mitch and Silvio (De Sousa) and just to box out, because I don't think everybody's on the glass like the point guards,” Mykhailiuk said, “so they just gotta come inside and just help him to rebound.”
With Udoka Azubuike on a minutes restriction, KU won’t have its most consistent defensive rebounder much of the game. But sophomore guard Malik Newman, who has come away with 5 or more rebounds 20 times this season, is more than capable of pitching in and making things easier on Azubuike, De Sousa and Lightfoot.
“I come into every game thinking that if I can get out and rebound then it will help the team,” Newman said, “because now we can start our break and we can play fast. That’s coach’s biggest emphasis. He always wants us to have fun, play with confidence and play fast.”
Throughout the season, Bill Self’s team has faced seven opponents that are similar to Seton Hall from an offensive rebounding standpoint.
KU went 1-2 against Oklahoma State, 3-0 versus West Virginia, 2-0 in matchups with TCU, 1-1 in meetings with Baylor and picked up non-conference victories over Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas A&M. That’s a 10-3 mark overall versus strong offensive rebounding teams.
7 (at OSU)
|19 (at TCU)
9 (at BU)
|14 (at WVU)
|2nd Chance Points
10 (at OSU)
|14 (at TCU)
14 (at BU)
|14 (at WVU)
|KU result||84-79 L
|79-68 W||76-60 W||65-61 W||70-67 W
Lightfoot said Delgado reminds him a little bit of both Sagaba Konate and Kenrich Williams in his pursuit of missed shots. So can the Jayhawks reference the success they’ve had in those matchups and others as they prepare to take on Seton Hall and Delgado?
“Yes and no,” Lightfoot said. “It’s kind of hard to say, ‘I played well against this guy, so I’m going to play well against this guy.’ I think that we’ve just got to learn from those games and just come out and play hard. If we play hard then we will be hard to stop.”
Wichita — The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks knew entering their NCAA Tournament opener against Penn that getting past the Ivy League champions would be no easy task.
With senior point guard Devonte’ Graham leading the way, the Jayhawks moved on to the second round of The Madness for the 12th March in a row.
Here are five statistics that fueled the Jayhawks (28-7) against the Quakers.
Penn entered the NCAA Tournament as a team built more on defense than offense. For Kansas it was imperative the Quakers didn’t get hot and gain confidence offensively.
Although the Quakers jumped out to a 21-11 lead early in the first half, the Jayhawks’ defenders settled in and limited Penn to 35.7-percent shooting in the first 20 minutes as the underdogs missed 11 of their final 15 shot attempts leading into the halftime break.
Kansas kept Penn leading scorer Ryan Betley in check (3-for-9 shooting, 8 points) and limited A.J. Brodeur, a 54.2-percent shooter entering the game, to 6-of-16 success from the field.
The Quakers only converted on 39.3 percent of the shot attempts. They were the first KU opponent to shoot under 40 percent since the Jayhawks won at Kansas State (though West Virginia shot exactly 40 percent in the Big 12 title game).
KU’s defense might be trending the right direction ahead of a Saturday matchup with Seton Hall, which scored 94 points against North Carolina State.
Lightfoot’s 2nd half
With Udoka Azubuike limited while recovering from a sprained MCL in his left knee, Kansas needed some interior contributions from either Silvio De Sousa, the unexpected breakout performer of the Big 12 tournament, of sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot.
Against Penn, the slightly more experienced Lightfoot came through after Azubuike played 3 relatively ineffective minutes in the first half.
Before halftime, Lightfoot played 10 minutes. He missed a baseline jumper, grabbed 2 defensive rebounds and blocked a shot.
In the second half, though, Lightfoot gave KU far more, scoring all 9 of his points and, even more importantly, putting in work on the glass, with 2 offensive boards and 7 more rebounds on the defensive end of the floor.
His 11 boards gave the 6-foot-8 fill-in starter a new career high. And Lightfoot played solid defense, finishing with 3 blocked shots.
Vick’s efficient offensive outing
In one of his more effective scoring outings of his junior season, Lagerald Vick only needed 7 shot attempts to provide KU with 14 points.
Vick nailed 2 of his 4 3-point tries and both of his free-throw attempts to help his cause. But he also found low-risk, high-reward looks.
The springy guard got open for one score at the rim in each half and put in another easy basket in the paint.
The productive NCAA Tournament opener gave Vick his fourth consecutive game in double figures for the first time this season. Even when he was routinely hitting the 20-point mark in November and December, Vick never scored 10 or more points in more than three consecutive outings.
His 14 points were the most since he went for 17 in KU’s home win over Oklahoma.
The upperclassmen from Memphis didn’t force many bad shots and Kansas handled a pesky Penn team as a result. Moving forward, Vick can make an even larger imprint on the game with offensive rebounds or an assists — he finished with 0 in both categories.
Points off turnovers
Penn was by no means sloppy with the basketball, committing 11 turnovers, right around its season average. But when the Quakers gave the ball away, the Jayhawks often pounced.
In a 16-point victory, Kansas scored 15 points off Penn’s 11 miscues.
The Jayhawks turned the ball over only 8 times (1 away from their season low) and Penn only forged 4 points off of those slip-ups.
KU’s 11-point advantage in points off turnovers was the most since a plus-17 margin at Iowa State.
A postseason victory on the glass
Benefiting from a more athletic lineup, KU oftentimes looked faster than Penn. But the Jayhawks also utilized their advantage on the glass.
Lightfoot obviously made the biggest impact, with his 11 rebounds, but he got plenty of help as Kansas won the battle of the boards, 41-33. It marked KU’s fifth rebounding victory in the past eight games.
Starting guards Graham and Malik Newman each chipped in 6 rebounds. Freshman Marcus Garrett came in off the bench to add 5 more, and backup big De Sousa delivered 4 rebounds in just 10 minutes.
On 34 misses, Penn only came away with 5 offensive rebounds and 3 second chance points.
Kansas scored 14 points as a result of its 8 offensive boards.
Wichita — In the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament it seemed that not one discussion of Kansas versus Penn could go by without someone referencing the success of the Quakers’ second-ranked 3-point defense.
Penn opponents, anybody who follows either team closely could surely recite, only made 29.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc before Thursday’s first-round game at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Jayhawks didn’t rely upon 3-pointers in defeating Penn, 76-60, but they did prove more effective with their long-range looks than most foes of the Ivy League champs.
In knocking down 7 of 17 from 3-point distance, Kansas (28-7) moved on to the second round having converted more 3s than 17 previous Penn opponents. Only six Quakers foes all season shot more accurately than the Jayhawks (41.2 percent).
KU’s first successful 3 came on its first attempt, off the fingertips of junior Lagerald Vick, less than three minutes in. But seven consecutive Kansas 3-point misses — from Malik Newman, Devonte’ Graham (3), Vick (2) and Svi Mykhailiuk — followed over the course of the next 10-plus minutes, contributing to a 21-11 Penn advantage on the scoreboard.
Nerves might have contributed to the 1-for-8 start, but senior Mykhailiuk credited the Quakers (24-9) for executing their game plan, as well.
“They wanted to run us off the 3-point line, and they did a pretty good job of that today,” Mykhailiuk said after hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers. “Sometimes when Devonte’s going downhill, or Malik or Lagerald or me, they’ve definitely got to help. And then if they help we’re just trying to find the open man.”
Amid KU’s string of misfires, Graham (29 points) told his teammates to keep the 3-pointers coming.
“We can't keep missing,” he figured.
A Mykhailiuk 3-pointer from the right corner 3:51 before halftime, when he baited Caleb Wood into the air and then took a hard step to his left to rise up and fire, seemed to put KU’s shooters back on track. Including that open make, the No. 1 seed made 6 of its final 9 from downtown.
Penn’s relative success in defending the arc came in not allowing KU guards to attempt as many 3-pointers as they’re used to. In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks averaged 9.4 makes a game on 24.7 tries, and hit 38.2 percent.
KU coach Bill Self said his team bailed Penn out early by taking too many contested shots.
“Defensively, they don't pressure, but they make it hard to get all the way to the basket, and then they do do a good job of contesting the 3-point line,” Self said.
Only Mykhailiuk, Graham (3 of 8) and Vick (2 of 4) made 3-pointers against Penn. Newman missed both of his looks. Considering KU entered the tournament with a 40.3 percent 3-point shooting mark and averaging 10.1 makes a game, Quakers coach Steve Donahue actually applauded his players’ perimeter defense in defeat — pointing to the fact KU only led by eight with less than seven minutes to play in a pro-Kansas building.
“Defense was awesome,” Donahue said. “Got them to shoot 18 hard 2s, something we preach. Got seven 3s for a team that makes 10.”
Kansas connected on just 1 of 5 2-point jumpers outside of the paint in each half but found 28 points off layups and dunks in the victory.
“They pack it in so well,” Graham said, “it’s hard to actually get into the paint. And the bigs, they switch up how they guarded off the ball screens, so they keep you thinking and keep you on your toes. We was just trying to keep getting downhill and make plays.”
It took some effort, but the Jayhawks drove with persistence and eventually found the open looks — sometimes inside, sometimes outside — they needed to advance.
KU will face No. 8 seed Seton Hall on Saturday. The Pirates held North Carolina State to 11-for-30 3-point shooting in a 94-83 win. Seton Hall entered the tournament with a 33.4 percent 3-point defense (98th nationally).
Whenever Udoka Azubuike returns to the Kansas basketball rotation — whether it’s Thursday against Penn, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, or in the days that follow — the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region will essentially roll out an updated version of itself, with noticeable upgrades both in the paint and on the perimeter.
The Jayhawks that won the regular-season Big 12 championship barely used freshman big man Silvio De Sousa.
The KU team that captured the league’s postseason tournament crown in Kansas City, Mo., didn’t benefit from one second of Azubuike.
The Kansas team trying to navigate its way to the 2018 Final Four should be able to throw Azubuike, De Sousa and a suddenly-high-scoring Malik Newman at opponents, possibly as soon as the first round.
Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham said De Sousa, who went for 16 points and 10 rebounds in KU’s Big 12 title game win over West Virginia, and Newman, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, broke through at just the right time.
“Now on the scouting report it’s not just going to be me, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Udoka (Azubuike), Malik,” Graham said. “It’s going to be Silvio — they’re going to have to guard everybody. When you’ve got five guys out there that can be in attack mode it’s hard to guard that. It’s perfect timing and the perfect time for them to get hot.”
Newman, a sophomore guard who transferred from Mississippi State, enters his NCAA Tournament debut (1 p.m. Thursday, on TBS) having just averaged 24 points per game on 15-for-22 3-point shooting at the Big 12 tournament.
His explosive three-day-long performance followed back-to-back single-digit scoring games to close the regular season. Now those ineffective outings seem as if they transpired months ago, instead of occurring in the previous two-plus weeks.
“I feel like I’m playing at a very high level,” Newman said. “That’s just thanks to my teammates and the coaching staff. Those guys had confidence in me throughout the year, no matter if I was at my lowest or at my highs. They’ve just always said, ‘Be aggressive and things are going to be fine.’ So credit to those guys for rallying around me and keeping me high.”
Similarly, De Sousa’s teammates always trusted he eventually would bloom and begin playing to the potential of a five-star prep prospect — even though he arrived in Lawrence during the middle of the campaign, in late December, as an early high school graduate.
“He’s been working so hard in practice,” Graham said of the 6-foot-9 backup forward, who played sparingly for KU in January and February, “and going through ups and downs. Learning all the plays in two months is extreme for him. He’s just been battling and it’s starting to pay off.”
Graham could see it coming. It just so happened everything began clicking for De Sousa when KU needed him most, with Azubuike out of the lineup in Kansas City, due to a left-knee injury. Even before De Sousa averaged 10 points and 9.7 rebounds at the Big 12 tournament, KU’s team leader witnessed the young big “grinding” at practices, arriving early and spending extra time studying video with assistant coach Norm Roberts.
“At any point in time we knew he was going to have a breakout game, and it was the perfect time with Dok being out,” Graham added, “so his confidence should be high. Sky high.”
Newman left K.C. this past weekend impressed with De Sousa the player and the man, praising the freshman’s character and speaking of the way he seemed to respond to any and all adversity with a smile and positive attitude.
“Each day he just tried to learn. Whenever he messed up he would just go ask coach. ‘Coach, what do I need to be doing? Did I do this right?’ Things like that. We knew sooner or later he was gonna turn the corner,” Newman shared. “Not too long ago in the regular season I remember saying that Silvio, he was on the porch, but he’s not in the house yet, as far as him just being comfortable. But I think this tournament, I think it really helped him and let him know that we’ve got confidence in him to go out and play.”
De Sousa brought energy to KU’s frontcourt in the Big 12 championship game, and made impactful plays to help the Jayhawks win without their starting 7-footer, Azubuike. In doing so De Sousa looked completely different from the freshman whom coach Bill Self hesitated to keep checked into games for more than a minute or two as recently as a month ago.
“I’m not gonna lie, when I came here out of high school I knew it was going to be hard,” De Sousa said. “And I just believed in myself and just tried hard during practices. Now, months later, I’ve actually got my confidence up. Today I finally can play a lot better than I used to.”
When Azubuike returns to the floor, Graham thinks Kansas (27-7) will have an even more dynamic team to unleash in the NCAA Tournament, now that De Sousa has proven he can produce and play with confidence.
Whether March brought out the best in De Sousa and Newman or the emerging Jayhawks just have impeccable timing, Newman isn’t ruling out the idea of another KU player stepping to the forefront soon.
“Svi could’ve stepped up, Lagerald (Vick) could’ve stepped up and did what I did,” Newman said of carrying the offensive load this past weekend. “Or instead of Silvio playing how he played, Mitch (Lightfoot) could’ve played like that. I don’t think it’s just me and him. It was one man goes down, one man step up.”
It’s not that uncommon for a team to come out of nowhere and reach college basketball’s biggest stage, the Final Four — think No. 7 seed South Carolina a year ago, 10th-seeded Syracuse in 2016, No. 9 seed Wichita State in 2013 or 11th seed VCU in 2011
But every once in a while one of those teams actually cuts down the nets at the completion of the Big Dance as national champions.
Kansas coach Bill Self wouldn’t exactly be floored if this year’s NCAA Tournament concluded with such mayhem.
Appearing recently on Andy Katz’s podcast, March Madness 365, Self’s conversation with Katz included some discussion of the 2014 tournament, when senior guard Shabazz Napier guided seventh-seeded Connecticut, a team that finished third in the American Athletic Conference, to six straight wins and a national title.
Katz wondered whether this might be a year when some under-the-radar team outside of the top five, or even the top 10, catches fire and surfaces as the NCAA champion.
“There’s no question that can happen,” Self replied. “And when you say may not be in the top five, you could talk about in the country or you could talk about in the seeds. There may be a six seed, or a seven, or an eight or a nine, whatever, that could challenge and get hot at the right time. That has happened in the past — it’s been rare.”
Self correctly recalled UConn faced a No. 8 seed, Kentucky, in the 2014 title game. The Wildcats, who had lost three of their last four regular-season games, recovered for a postseason run with a typically youthful-yet-talented lineup, led by freshmen Julius Randle, James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
“That could happen again. I don’t think that’s far off,” Self continued, “if the right players get hot at the right time. You would still think the percentage play would be the ones that have shown consistency throughout the year, but as we’ve all found out, you know, 1988 Kansas won it on Danny’s back. It’s just a six-game tournament. They had 11 losses that year.”
As KU’s 15th-year coach referenced, 30 years ago Naismith and Wooden award-winner Danny Manning carried the sixth-seeded Jayhawks to glory, highlighted by a regional final victory over No. 4 seed Kansas State and Final Four wins against No. 2 seed Duke and No. 1 seed Oklahoma.
“I think it’s very possible that this could be a year that somebody like that could do it,” Self said.
Among the country’s top candidates for player of the year, most are not in position to pull off something as miraculous as Manning and KU back in 1988, or even as unexpected as what Napier and UConn did four years ago.
Between the 10 Naismith Trophy semifinalists (listed below), only two of them play for teams currently projected by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi as heavy underdogs to make a lengthy March run toward San Antonio.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona — No. 4 seed
Marvin Bagley III, Duke — No. 2 seed
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State — No. 4 seed
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier — No. 1 seed
Miles Bridges, Michigan State — No. 2 seed
Jalen Brunson, Villanova — No. 1 seed
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech — No. 4 seed
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas — No. 1 seed
Jock Landale, St. Mary’s — No. 9 seed
Trae Young, Oklahoma — No. 10 seed
Assuming the Sooners make the field when it is announced in a little more than a week, it would take a string of remarkable performances by freshman point guard Trae Young as well as some vastly improved defense by OU as a team to pull off a Final Four run.
Similarly, while 6-foot-11 St. Mary’s senior center Jock Landale has overmatched opponents inside, averaging 21.5 points and 10.2 rebounds this year, the Gaels also would need to bolster their team defense to do real damage in the tournament.
Still, plenty of other Cinderella candidates for 2018 exist, including:
Nevada, a projected No. 6 seed led by junior forward Caleb Martin (19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 43.8% 3-point shooting)
Houston, a projected No. 7 seed featuring senior guard Robert Gray Jr. (17.7 points, 4.7 assists)
Creighton, a projected No. 7 seed powered by senior guard Marcus Foster (20 points, 2.7 assists, 43.4% 3-point shooting), a transfer from Kansas State, and junior wing Khyri Thomas (15.2 points, 2.9 assists, 41.4% 3-point shooting), who is considered a first-round talent by NBA scouts
Arkansas, a projected No. 7 seed with two productive senior guards, Jaylen Barford (18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 43.5% 3-point shooting) and Daryl Macon (17.3 points, 4 assists, 44.3% 3-point shooting), as well as a potential first-round draft pick inside with freshman Daniel Gafford (11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks)
Butler, a projected No. 8 seed led by senior forward Kelan Martin (20.7 points, 6.4 rebounds)
Missouri, a projected No. 9 seed featuring senior guard Kassius Robertson (16.6 points, 2.4 assists, 43.2% 3-point shooting), senior forward Jordan Barnett (13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 41.1% 3-point shooting) and — possibly (?) — soon-to-be NBA lottery pick Michael Porter Jr.
Alabama, a projected No. 10 seed with the services of a likely top-10 draft pick, freshman point guard Collin Sexton (18.1 points, 3.5 assists)
Middle Tennessee, a projected No. 12 seed led by senior forward Nick King (21.3points, 8.3 rebounds)
No one ever claimed emerging from the madness of March as the NCAA Tournament’s champion was easy. But some paths are more difficult than others.
In Lawrence, the 1988 title captured by “Danny and The Miracles” will live on forever not only because national championships are in their very nature elusive and memorable, but also because Larry Brown and Danny Manning guided KU to that glory as a No. 6 seed. It was one of the more improbable and formidable runs in college basketball lore.
Where does it rank among the most demanding roads to a championship? Well, according to a study from Luke Benz of Yale University’s Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group, KU’s 1988 ascension stands out more than most since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Per the breakdown, the 2014 Connecticut Huskies are the champions of grueling title runs, after winning it all as a No. 7 seed. And only the classic, Cinderella-esque 1985 Villanova Wildcats (a No. 8 seed) also rank ahed of the ’88 Jayhawks.
Interestingly, the data used to compile the list takes into account more than a given team’s seeding in the year it won. The research involves NCAA Tournament history and the frequencies with which a specific seed beats a team from another particular seed line.
Here’s how the author, Benz, explains it: “For example, since 1985, 5 seeds have beaten 12 seeds 63.5% of the time, meaning a victory for the 5 seed in the game would net a Game Difficulty Rating of 0.365. Finally, I computed the total difficulty of a team’s championship by summing all of its Game Difficulty Ratings en route to the title.”
The analysis emerged in response to current tourney buzz surrounding Gonzaga’s first trip to the Final Four, with many arguing the Zags had far too easy a road to navigate. So the list includes projections for this year’s national semifinalists and where they would rank all-time should they cut down the nets this coming Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. As it turns out, Frank Martin’s seventh-seeded South Carolina team, with two more victories, would dethrone 2014 UConn.
Anyway, back to the KU angle of this thought-provoking examination of tournament feats. You might be somewhat surprised to learn KU’s 2008 championship ranks as the fifth-easiest on the list.
The Jayhawks had to beat a pair of No. 1 seeds in North Carolina and Memphis to raise another banner in Allen Fieldhouse, but Bill Self’s Jayhawks beat teams seeded 16th, eighth, 12th and 10th prior to reaching the Final Four.
Studying the list from another angle, some KU teams played a part in other programs’ arduous routes to the NCAA championship. Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony topped Kansas in the 2003 title game, and the Orange just behind the 1988 Jayhawks. Melo’s crowning achievement comes in one spot ahead of Arizona’s 1997 run, when the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 knocked out a two-loss KU team that included future NBA lottery picks Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce.
What’s more, Villanova’s 2016 championship, which included an Elite Eight victory over Kansas, ranks as the eighth-most difficult championship to date.
— Check out the complete list and breakdown from Yale’s Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group: NCAA Championship Difficulties
Kansas City, Mo. — As has become the norm for the reserve big man during his debut season with Kansas, Dwight Coleby’s numbers Thursday night against Purdue didn’t jump off the final stat sheet and leave anyone in awe.
But his top-seeded Jayhawks needed everything they got out of Coleby’s 13 minutes off the bench at Sprint Center, where KU limited the Boilermakers’ powerful front line and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 beating of fourth-seeded Purdue.
The 6-foot-9 Coleby and sophomore guard Lagerald Vick, one of the night’s numerous stars for KU in a Sweet 16 rout, gave a couple starters a breather less than five minutes into what evolved into a Kansas track meet late.
“I expected to play a big role,” Coleby said at the end of a night when his two points and two rebounds didn’t tell the full story of how he battled inside with massive Purdue bigs Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, “but I had no idea I’d be the first off the bench or something like that. I just take it as it comes and I’m always ready.”
That showed less than 30 seconds after the big man checked in, when Coleby handled a difficult pass from Josh Jackson and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Devonte’ Graham for one of the junior guard’s five successful 3-pointers.
Just more than a minute later, Coleby benefited from a Vick post-feed and scored easily inside.
Initially, though, Landen Lucas’ fill-in wasn’t matching the starting center’s defensive prowess. The Boilermakers’ massive backup big, 7-2 Haas, pinned Coleby in the paint within arm’s reach of the rim and scored over him easily.
When Coleby subbed out, though, he received some more positive reenforcement than scorn.
“Just play better defense. Just do your work early and you should be fine,” Coleby related of the message, a reminder of KU’s game plan to stop Swanigan and Haas.
The junior from Nassau, Bahamas, didn’t feel satisfied with his seven first-half minutes because of his defensive lapses. But Coleby said he got a second wind for the second half, when he, Lucas, Jackson and Carlton Bragg Jr. helped keep Haas scoreless and limited Swanigan to three two-point field goals on six attempts — Purdue’s star big stepped outside to knock down two 3-pointers, which Coleby said KU could live with.
“He was huge,” Kansas junior guard Devonte’ Graham said, when asked about Coleby’s contributions. “We have been telling him, ‘Be ready when your number is called,’ and he's been doing a great job in practice. He's been looking ready since the tournament started and we're going to need him to keep playing like that.”
The reserve helped KU survive a night when Lucas had to navigate four fouls and played just 20 minutes, in part because the Jayhawks blew Purdue out down the stretch.
Like Coleby did earlier in the week, in KU’s second-round win over Michigan State, he left his teammates impressed with his preparedness.
“We never know,” Frank Mason III said, “when guys are going to get in foul trouble or something like that, so they have to be ready and he did a great job of coming in and being confident and being ready to play.”
Now just a win away from KU’s first Final Four trip since 2012, coach Bill Self credited Coleby’s role in the team’s latest tourney rout.
“Obviously, Dwight bought us a ton of minutes whenever Landen was in foul trouble,” Self said. “But I thought Carlton came in and did a good job, too. You add those guys together you get 23 key minutes out of that position when Landen can't be in the game. So I think they both kind of bailed us out.”
Though one might assume Coleby is riding the excitement of two productive March Madness outings in a row, at the tail end of a season in which his minutes usually varied between sparing and none, the steady big man isn’t getting carried away.
“I feel great. But we can’t worry about this game,” Coleby said, minutes after KU reached a regional final and a Saturday night (7:49) matchup with Oregon. “This game is over. We’ve just got to move forward and try to win the next one.”
Kansas City, Mo. — A finite number of games remain in Josh Jackson’s college basketball career. And although his first 33 in a Kansas uniform have included a 31-point show, 11 double-doubles, 50 dunks and countless examples of the kind of floor vision one just doesn’t expect out of a 6-foot-8 freshman, we have not yet seen the best of Jackson.
That’s what the projected top-three pick in this June’s NBA Draft told reporters Wednesday, on the eve of the Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 showdown with Purdue.
Jackson conceded he has had his share of performances he would grade as “good games” in specific areas, “whether it be scoring or playing defense or passing the ball,” KU’s latest basketball prodigy said. “I don’t think I’ve had a game yet this season where I’ve put it all together in one game.”
That might initially come across as an absurd statement, but it’s an example of what Jackson expects from himself and what he knows top-seeded KU (30-4) needs from him in order to do something extraordinary during this NCAA Tournament.
Be honest. Do you really remember anything in particular about Jackson’s 31-point game at Texas Tech in February? That’s a big number and it’s basically forgettable at this juncture because the first-year (or: one-year) perimeter star has so much talent in so many aspects of the game. You know he’s capable of far more striking outings and so does he.
Jackson enters Thursday night’s game against the fourth-seeded Boilermakers (27-7) averaging 16.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists, with a 51.7% field-goal percentage and 38.6% accuracy from 3-point range (43.5% in Big 12 play). While Jackson’s free throws (56.7% on the season) have been one relative weakness, he has led KU in scoring nine times, in rebounds 11 times and in assists four times.
His defensive impact — as witnessed when Kansas lost to TCU at Sprint Center two weeks ago while Jackson served a one-game suspension — is just as key. Fourteen times this season the freshman has led KU in steals, a number one better than the occasions when he finished as the team leader in blocks (13).
When asked what makes him so effective as a basketball player, Jackson referenced his basketball I.Q., height and athleticism after first naming his greatest intangible, his competitive drive. Those qualities combined make it easy to visualize Jackson out-doing himself against Purdue, and improving upon his 23-point outing against Michigan State this past weekend, when he only grabbed three rebounds and shockingly passed out zero assists.
KU couldn’t have picked a better time to see Jackson’s confidence continue to grow, and it’s coinciding with the Jayhawks peaking as a team, according to him.
“I think we’re playing the best defense that we’ve played all year,” Jackson said, “and I feel like it’s getting better and better every game. I feel like it’ll be even better (versus Purdue).”
In the past four games with Jackson on the floor, Kansas held Oklahoma to 34.9% shooting, Oklahoma State to 42.3%, UC-Davis to 33.9% and Michigan State to 43.9%. The Jayhawks defended the 3-point arc admirably in those wins, too: OU shot 28.6%, OSU 33.3%, UCD 20% and MSU 34.8%.
A reporter asked Jackson Wednesday if Kansas is the best team in the Sweet 16. He didn’t hesitate to answer: “In my opinion, yes.”
“We have a lot of things that other teams don’t have. Well, for one, we have Frank Mason,” Jackson began, with a chuckle. “Two, we’ve got guys who know their role and are really good at doing their role and we’ve got an amazing coach. We’ve got a coach who really knows basketball, trusts his players and gives us a lot of freedom.”
Indeed, Bill Self has equipped Jackson to do it all for this Kansas team, and the trust the freshman has earned from his coach and teammates makes it possible for him to overshadow other moments in his dazzling season every time the ball is tipped.
More news and notes previewing Kansas vs. Purdue
- Star players illustrate contrasting styles in KU-Purdue, Sweet 16 showdown
- Tom Keegan: Passing key to Kansas running game
- Notebook: No extra motivation necessary for Jayhawks in Sweet 16
- Boilermakers bracing for KU-friendly environment at Sprint Center
- Kansas set to face Caleb ‘Biggie’ Swanigan — or Mr. Double-Double
- Former Gene Keady players wearing suits and ties on both benches of Purdue-Kansas game
- Most player of the year votes counted before Mason and Swanigan tip off
- Gameday Breakdown, Sweet 16: KU vs. Purdue
Throughout the Kansas basketball team’s second-round NCAA Tournament showdown with Michigan State, it seemed the game would not be decided until the final few possessions. Then, over the course of the last seven minutes, it went from a two-score game to a 90-70 Jayhawks victory.
How, exactly, does that happen?
“It didn’t seem like it,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said of the vibe on the court ahead of the final 20-point margin, “and the scoreboard didn’t show it, but as a team we felt pretty confident about what we were doing.”
Essentially, KU’s collective will to advance didn’t falter when the Spartans repeatedly challenged the Midwest’s top seed with runs of their own and answers to Kansas scores for the first 30 or so minutes in Tulsa, Okla.
The Jayhawks (30-4) not only remained steadfast in coach Bill Self’s plan, but also cranked up their intensity for the stretch run. MSU cut the KU lead, which already had poked into double-digit territory three times, to five with 7:16 to play. From there, Kansas outscored the Spartans 21-6, held its foe to 2-for-8 shooting and advanced on to the Sweet 16 by converting eight of its 10 final shots.
Several sequences keyed the win for the Jayhawks and they’re the exact types of plays they’ll have to replicate in bunches Thursday at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., to move past an even better Big Ten challenger — No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7) — on the path to the Final Four.
The Boilermakers’ personnel obviously differs from the makeup of the MSU roster, particularly when it comes to experience and the paint presence of Purdue’s double-double machine, Caleb Swanigan, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. But the types of plays Kansas made in crunch time against Michigan State should not be forgotten, because many of them had more to do with effort than matchups.
Here are six concepts and standout moments from KU’s final eight minutes of Round 2 that the Jayhawks need to keep in mind moving forward.
- Opponents can get caught up paying too much attention to stars
Josh Jackson (23 points, 9-for-16 shooting) gave MSU headaches all game, so as the end approached, defenders zeroed in on Jackson even more.
On one possession, the star freshman made a cut from the left wing to the paint, then moved on out to the right wing, while Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham exchanged a hand off on the perimeter. With the Spartans worried about those three stars, backup Lagerald Vick made a hard backdoor cut for the paint and Graham sent a pass toward the hoop for a thunderous alley-oop before Vick’s defender had a shot at reacting and recovering.
- Trust your seniors
Just after MSU made it a five-point game, Mason and Lucas worked a variation of the pick-and-roll to perfection. The big man set a screen for his point guard just after Mason caught a pass on on the left side of the floor. When Lucas’ man took a step too far to help on Mason, Lucas bounded toward the paint and met a lob above the rim for an easy slam.
The two seniors will need to assert themselves on both ends of the floor when games get tight. Their ability to execute will ease tensions and increase KU’s chances of moving on.
- Get it and go
This is an idea these Jayhawks have thoroughly embraced and there’s no need to change it just because the lights are brighter, the competition is stiffer and the score may be close. Mason, Graham and Jackson love throwing the ball ahead for potential numbers every time Kansas takes the ball away or snags an opportunistic defensive board.
When backup big Dwight Coleby came away with a steal and got the ball to Jackson late in the second half, the freshman knew what to do. About four seconds after Coleby secured the turnover, Jackson had zoomed up the the floor in four dribbles for a fast-break layup.
- Embrace the moment
Kansas didn’t miss many shots down the stretch, but when Jackson released an unsuccessful 3-pointer with his team up 10, seldom-utilized backup Coleby secured the offensive rebound to extend the possession. A couple passes later, Graham buried a 3-pointer.
Role players tend to find their way into the spotlight during critical junctures in March. Whether it be Coleby, Vick, Carlton Bragg Jr. or even starter Svi Mykhailiuk, the Jayhawks need their less heralded players to step up when opportunities present themselves late in games. Often that’s the only way to advance.
- This is why you brought Jackson to KU
Accurately, Self will tell you any number of his perimeter players are capable of bursting out and fueling offensive runs that alter the outcomes of games. Mason might be the national player of the year for that very reason. But there is no denying the most talented, potentially dominating presence on the floor wears No. 11.
The NCAA Tournament stage hasn’t looked too big for Jackson — he just took over for stretches versus a MSU program filled with friends and a coach who heavily recruited him to become a Spartan. During the game’s final six minutes, Jackson made two free throws, scored a layup, grabbed a defensive rebound and threw down a vicious one-handed jam after driving in from the top of the key in a half-court set.
Jackson has the competitive drive of Mason but also operates with the advantages of existing in a 6-foot-8, NBA-ready frame. He can carry a team to a Final Four if he needs to.
- Defend like it’s only thing that matters
It will take prolonged defensive focus for the Jayhawks to extend their season from here on out. Lucas explained how they turned a five-point game into a massive gap by the final buzzer against Michigan State.
“We knew that the reason that it was so close was because we weren’t executing the keys that the coaches were talking about: stopping in transition, easy buckets here and there,” Lucas explained. “And as soon as we talked about that and tightened those things up, we knew that we were gonna extend the lead. And we did that, and next thing you know it was pretty out of hand.”