It seems fitting that in the hours following KU's 60-57, season-ending loss to Stanford in the round of 32 at the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, that snow is falling in Lawrence on a rather gray day.
After all, the end of the college basketball season — no matter when it comes — almost always brings a serious stretch of mourning to Kansas fans.
Given the inconsistent nature of this year's team and the fact that they were trying to survive and advance without their most important player — freshman center Joel Embiid — it's not all that surprising that the Jayhawks did not advance to this weekend's games in Memphis. What is surprising, though, is the way they bowed out. I'm still scratching my head and trying to figure out how the Jayhawks lost to Stanford and why they could not use their athleticism, quickness and a faster pace to run past the Cardinal into the Sweet 16.
I'm sure I'm not alone.
With that said, here's the final Day After blog of the 2013-14 season. As you surely know by now, just because basketball season has ended does not mean our coverage of the team will with it. Thanks to Gary Bedore's 24/7/365 dedication along with steady insight and stories from Tom Keegan, Benton Smith and me, you'll be able to find plenty of KU basketball news right here on KUsports.com as you wait for another season to arrive.
Now, onto one more look back at what brought an abrupt end to a wild season.
To me, the most glaring reason the Jayhawks fell to Stanford in the round of 32 was not the Cardinal's size or their experience or even the fact that the Jayhawks missed so many shots at and around the rim. To me, it was the product of the one thing that plagued the Jayhawks — at least at times — all season long. This team was full of nice, team-first guys who wanted others to succeed and did not necessarily have the cut-throat mentality to go out and kick somebody's butt. That's not a knock. I enjoyed this team a lot. It is, however, something that can hurt you in the NCAA Tournament, when other teams are gunning for you with every ounce of their fiber and you need that one guy to step up and carry you through a rough day. Tarik Black certainly tried to be that guy in his final game, and, had he not fouled out, I believe KU would have won. But he did. And Stanford made a few more plays. I'm sure that this was one of those games that KU's players would rather have lost by double digits. Because when you lose by just three after playing and shooting so poorly, it can take a long time to get over that whole, “if only I would've done this or that here or there” mindset. Give credit to Stanford for getting the job done, but that's a team that KU beats seven or eight times out of 10 if they played an extended series and I'm sure that, as much as anything, is what makes this one sting.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – It won't erase the pain of the loss, but you can't help but feel good about the way Tarik Black went out. Black played one of his best games and nearly single-handedly willed the Jayhawks into the Sweet 16. He was strong inside, smooth at the free throw line and tough on defense. As it turned out, the one thing that haunted him all season was his undoing, as the senior transfer fouled out with five and a half minutes to play in the game. Black's time at Kansas, though short, will likely be remembered fondly. Can you imagine what this team would have been without him?
2 – KU's full-court press was fantastic and it nearly stole the Jayhawks this game. Forget for a second about why KU coach Bill Self doesn't press more or didn't start doing it earlier in the season. He did it in this game, it was the right move and it nearly saved the day. Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason and Andrew Wiggins were sensational in the press and it sure sped up the game whenever Kansas used it. Self has his reasons for not using it more often, but if I'm coaching all of that athleticism, depth and talent, I'd definitely make it more of a staple of what I do. Again, though, he pulled it out when Kansas needed it and it almost worked brilliantly. It's important to remember, too, that part of the reason Stanford struggled with it was because they probably had not really seen it and could not prepare for it.
3 – How about a tip of the cap to Conner Frankamp, who played another solid game and gave the Jayhawks a chance. Forget the three-point stroke or the steady job he does with the ball in his hands. For my money, the young man's mental toughness is one of his best attributes. He goes from averaging around 6 minutes a game to being one of the key players relied upon to save the season on the biggest stage in the world and looks like a champ doing it. That finish should be huge for his confidence and development heading into his sophomore season.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It's definitely tough to watch Andrew Wiggins go out the way he did, but I think it's wildly unfair if the young man is remembered for his flop in his final game. Wiggins, as you know, scored just four points on 1-of-6 shooting and committed four turnovers in what figures to be his final game as a Jayhawk. It certainly was not the kind of game we've seen from him of late and nothing close to what was expected of him when he signed with KU last May. Just the other night he was pretty quiet overall and still led all scorers with 19 points. Not only were his shots not falling, Wiggins wasn't really looking to take them. He had trouble off the bounce, could not find room to finish over Stanford's front line and looked a little frantic when he had the ball. Tough night and a tough-luck ending for a guy who had a fantastic season and was one of the more pleasant young men to be around.
2 – With all that size out there, you can't help but wonder what Joel Embiid could have done offensively had he been able to play in this one. While Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor struggled to go up and over Stanford's trees and shot just 4-of-18 combined because of it, it's worth imagining how many of those shots would have gone to Embiid had he been able to play. At least half would be my guess. And instead of the 6-foot-8 Ellis or Traylor trying to go into and over guys, the 7-foot Embiid may have been able to go above and drop shots down behind them. We'll never know, of course, because the back injury that kept him out of action from March 2 on made Embiid a non-factor down the stretch.
3 – The round of 32 loss to Stanford marked the fourth time in 11 seasons under Self that KU has lost during the first weekend of the tournament. While he's reached at least the Elite Eight in five of those seven other seasons (and the Sweet 16 in the two others), most fans still have a hard time digesting the early exits. There are very few people out there who would not admit that the KU fan based has been spoiled by an incredible amount of consistency and success and that's probably what makes losses like this so tough for them to take. It's definitely worth noting, though, that this isn't just some kind of KU thing here. All of the other major programs have had their ups and downs, such is the nature of the NCAA Tournament, which may very well be the toughest event to win in all of sports. Heading into this year's tournament, only KU and Florida had been in three straight Sweet 16's. And Self has 26 NCAA Tournament wins in his 11 seasons at Kansas, just eight fewer than Roy Williams had in four more seasons.
One thought for the road:
KU's season-ending loss to 10th-seeded Stanford:
• Ended Kansas’ season at 25-10, giving KU its first double-digit loss season since going 24-10 in 1999-00.
• Made Kansas 11-9 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 5-3 on neutral floors).
• Changed the Kansas-Stanford series to 8-3 in favor of Kansas.
• Made the Jayhawks 96-42 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 8-2 in NCAA Tournament games played in St. Louis.
• Marked KU’s first loss to a No. 10 seed (4-1) and moved its record to 19-6 as a No. 2 seed.
• Made head coach Bill Self’s record to 325-69 while at Kansas and 532-174 overall. Self is now 36-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (26-10 at Kansas).
• Moved Kansas to 2,126-822 all-time. With Kansas and North Carolina now out of the NCAA Tournament, only Kentucky remains as a top three program that can still add to its win total this season. Kentucky leads with 2,137 all-time wins. KU is second. North Carolina is still third with 2,114 while Duke (2,027) and Syracuse (1,902) round out the top five.
The countdown to Late Night 2014 is on... (according to a KU spokesperson, no official date has been set yet)
The Kansas University basketball team survived an opening-round NCAA Tournament scare on Friday afternoon in the form of an 80-69 victory over 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
In all actuality, that final score should probably read a little closer, as this one had the feel of a one- or two-possession game most of the night. That's when KU wasn't digging itself out of a hole that suddenly got very deep thanks to some hot EKU shooting and 13 first-half turnovers by the Jayhawks.
In the end, KU's depth, size and a man named Andrew Wiggins proved to enough to advance to the next round. Freshman guard Conner Frankamp, a man who many people thought would and should red-shirt the season — remember that? — bailed the Jayhawks out with steady point guard play, which set the stage for the Jayhawks' big men to dominate when it counted most.
Here's a quick look back at Friday before we start to look ahead to Sunday, when KU will take on 10th-seeded Stanford with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Two things were abundantly clear during Friday's 80-69 survival victory over Eastern Kentucky: When the Jayhawks played with great energy, passion and even a hint of desperation, they were damn good. When they got lazy, sluggish and content, they paid for it. The recipe for the rest of this postseason run — however deep it winds up being — sure would seem simple, then, and it might have a lot to more playing time for a couple of KU's less heralded players. Jamari Traylor and Conner Frankamp were sensational in this one. Had either player failed to show up the way he did, the Jayhawks might have gone home. But that's one of the luxuries you have when you're a team with quality depth like Kansas. And, boy did it come up big when Bill Self and company needed it most.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Despite coughing it up 13 times in the first half and looking generally careless with the basketball while digging a nine-point deficit, the Jayhawks tightened things up at halftime and finished with just one turnover in the game's final 25 minutes. EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said after the game that the more teams played EKU this season, the more comfortable they got against their aggressive pressure defense. That certainly was true for KU, albeit in the same game, and, most importantly, should really make the Jayhawks appreciate facing Stanford on Sunday, which does not play the same kind of nasty defense.
2 – Tarik Black did exactly what the Jayhawks needed him to do. Possibly overlooked because of the huge games from Jamari Traylor (17 points, 14 rebounds), Conner Frankamp (10 points, 4 assists) and another big, if not quiet, scoring night from Andrew Wiggins (19), Black's contributions, particularly early, helped KU hang around and really set the tone for KU's dominance up front. Black finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks while shooting 6-of-6 from the floor. Four of his six field goals were no-doubt dunks (KU had 11 of them in all) and his blocks were critical in establishing KU's edge in the paint, where the Jayhawks outrebounded the Colonels 43-19.
3 – For the most part, the game went exactly the way the Colonels would have wanted it to go if they could have scripted it themselves, yet KU still won. EKU opened the game on fire, forced a bunch of careless turnovers by Kansas and built a nine-point lead and had the building behind them. But Kansas was patient and seemed to know — or at least believe — that it's advantage inside would ultimately win out. It takes toughness and pride to play through such a poor start and although there were plenty of times where KU was terrible during this one, they fought through a rough night and still won by double figures. Sloppy or not, that's impressive.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It could go down as a reason to smile (I guess) but it's still really weird to me that KU won this game without making a three-pointer. The Jayhawks were 0-for-7 from three-point land, with Wayne Selden and Frankamp missing twice and Ellis, Wiggins and Tharpe missing their only attempts. The 0-for-7 night snapped a streak of 36 games in which the Jayhawks had made at least one three-pointer. The last time it happened? In the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament against Western Kentucky when KU misfired on all six three-point attempts.
2 – KU's starting backcourt had a pretty off night. Not only did Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden combine for just six points on 2 of 8 field goal attempts, but the Jayhawks actually looked like a much better team when these guys were on the bench. Selden salvaged his night with some nice assists and strong drives to the rim late in the second half and Tharpe hit a big jumper in the second half, as well. But both lacked energy, intensity and passion in the first half and KU is going to need both guys to start their next game the way they finished this one if it hopes to advance.
3 – KU missed too many free throws. For the game, the Jayhawks connected on 16 of 24 free-throw tries, good for 67 percent. At this time of year, those free points are absolute must-haves and on Friday four different Jayhawks missed twice from the charity stripe.
One thought for the road:
KU's hard-fought NCAA Tournament victory on Friday:
• Improved Kansas to 25-9 on the season, giving KU 25 victories for the ninth-straight season.
• Handed KU its 29th NCAA Tournament first-game win in the last 31 years, dating back to 1978.
• Made Kansas 11-8 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse (5-6 in true road games, 6-2 on neutral floors).
· Changed the Kansas-Eastern Kentucky series to 2-0 in favor of Kansas.
· Made the Jayhawks 96-41 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 8-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in St. Louis.
· Bettered KU’s record to 19-5 as a No. 2 seed and made the Jayhawks 6-0 against No. 15 seeds.
· Upped head coach Bill Self’s record to 325-68 while at Kansas and 532-173 overall. Self is now 36-14 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (26-9 at Kansas).
· Moved Kansas to 2,126-821 all-time.
With their victory today over Eastern Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the second-seeded Jayhawks (25-9) will face No. 10 seed Stanford (22-12) at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.
While we put the final touches on our preparations for St. Louis, where we'll dive even deeper into both sides of the KU-Eastern Kentucky match-up that will kick off this year's NCAA Tournament, I figured another quick-hitter blog would help some of you kill time while you're waiting for Friday to arrive.
With that in mind, here's an A-to-Z guide to KU's postseason run, which focuses on everything from key players and moments to fun facts and what the Jayhawks will have to do to keep playing through the end of the month.
Andrew Wiggins has shown during the past few games that he can carry a team on his back offensively. That's gotta continue.
Bill Self likely will have to win KU a game by himself. Whether that's a particularly strong game plan, an in-game adjustment or an intense halftime speech, this is Self's time to shine.
Crowd support is always a huge advantage for the Jayhawks in March and that trend should continue this year, with the Jayhawks landing in a region that sends them to to the two closest sites to Lawrence should they advance. St. Louis for the second and third rounds, at 287 miles, is by far the closest site to the KU campus, and Memphis for rounds four and five is 41 miles closer to Mt. Oread than Indianapolis, which will host the Midwest regional semis and final.
Defense, with or without freshman center Joel Embiid, has to be better than it's been in the past few games or the Jayhawks may go home early. While Self's 2013-14 squad has not lived up to the incredibly high standard he has for his teams defensively, it has had moments where's it's been pretty darn good. The challenge now is to take those halves or 6-10-minute stretches and make them the rule not the exception.
Elite company. KU's 43 NCAA Tournament appearances rank fourth nationally behind only Kentucky (52), North Carolina (45) and UCLA (44). Kansas sports an all-time NCAA Tournament record of 95-41. The Jayhawks’ 95 wins are tied for fourth with UCLA and trail Kentucky (111), North Carolina (109) and Duke (99). Friday's game will be the 137th NCAA Tournament game in KU history. The Jayhawks’ 136 games in the event rank fourth all-time in NCAA history behind Kentucky (157), North Carolina (151) and UCLA (141).
Free throw shooting could be huge for the Jayhawks this postseason, particularly Andrew Wiggins. The KU freshman playing in his first and last NCAA Tournament is so tough off the dribble that he can pretty much get to the free-throw line whenever he wants. In his past four games, Wiggins is averaging 10 trips to the charity stripe per game, including 10 each in the Big 12 tourney and 19 in the regular season finale at West Virginia. More of that means more good news for Kansas and takes some of the pressure off of the half-court offense.
Greene, as in Brannen, played significant minutes in both of the Jayhawks' Big 12 tournament games and he delivered plenty of good moments and bad. When comfortable, he's a capable offensive weapon and his defense is not yet quite as natural. But if the Jayhawks choose to go small from time to time, he'll be a factor and his ability to play loose and let it fly could help the Jayhawks through scoring droughts or foul trouble.
Home away from home? Although they have never played at the Scottrade Center, this weekend's games will mark the fifth time KU has played NCAA Tournament games in St. Louis and the Jayhawks are 7-1 in four previous trips. Their most recent appearance came in the 2012 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, where they knocked off NC State and North Carolina en route to the Final Four and national runner-up finish.
In the polls: Kansas is ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll released March 17. The Jayhawks were in the AP top 10 in each of the first five polls of 2013-14 and 14 times total. KU also is No. 10 in the March 17 USA Today Coaches’ poll. In the Bill Self era, this is the 170th week Kansas has been ranked in the AP top 25, which includes 121 times in the Top 10. KU has been ranked in each of the last 104 polls dating back to the 2008-09 season. In the coaches’ poll, Kansas has been ranked 197 times, including 145 in the top 10 in the Self era. KU has been listed in each of the last 108 coaches’ polls.
Jamari Traylor's rise. With Embiid sidelined, Traylor has received an opportunity to play more and make more of an impact. The sophomore big man has responded nicely, playing a career-best 27 minutes against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals and tying a career-best with nine rebounds in that same game. Traylor also had nine boards against Florida earlier this season in Gainesville, Fla.
Kurtis' reunion. It's been a while, but 10-year KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend was an assistant coach at Eastern Kentucky for the 1997-98 season. The EKU position was his second assistant coaching stint in the college ranks. He also coached at California from 1994-97. From EKU he went on to be an assistant at Michigan (1999-2001), USC (2002-03) and Miami (Fla.) (2003-04) before coming to Kansas.
Loaded schedule should have the Jayhawks ready for the postseason. It's no secret that KU played the nation's toughest schedule, but let's take it one step farther. During the 2013-14 season, the Jayhawks played 20 games against 12 teams who earned NCAA Tournament bids. KU was 12-8 this season against that competition — Baylor (2-0), Colorado (0-1), Duke (1-0), Florida (0-1), Iowa State (2-1), Kansas State (1-1), New Mexico (1-0), Oklahoma (2-0), Oklahoma State (2-1), San Diego State (0-1), Texas (1-1) and Villanova (0-1) — and the average seed of those 12 foes is 5.3.
Match-ups could definitely favor the Jayhawks the deeper they go in this one, especially if Embiid can play at some point. As was the case in the 2013 tournament with Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks, with Embiid and Wiggins, would be able to put two players on the floor that no other team has. There are other top-tier wings and other solid big men, but no one else has the combination of Embiid and Wiggins.
Nine-point-one points per game. That's how many the Jayhawks outscored opponents by during its first 33 games this season, 2,627 for Kansas to 2,325 for its opponents. KU's scoring margin ranked second in the Big 12 Conference, one of seven offensive categories that the Jayhawks ranked in the Top 4 in the Big 12 this season.
Open practice set for 2:15-2:55 p.m. on Thursday, March 20 at the Scottrade Center. You won't get an inside look at Self's game plan and probably won't hear too much yelling or screaming, but if you happen to be in St. Louis for the tournament, you will get the chance to see your team in a light practice designed to entertain the fans. The event is usually capped off by a brief dunk contest, but don't expect Andrew Wiggins or Tarik Black to be involved. Senior Justin Wesley most likely will be the star of that show.
Point guard play. More than any other factor — even more than whether Joel Embiid returns or not — KU's point guard play will determine how far the Jayhawks advance this postseason. If Naadir Tharpe finds his shot, limits his turnovers and leads the team, KU has a great shot to play deep into the bracket. If he struggles, so might Kansas.
Quotable: Bill Self on landing in St. Louis with fellow Sunflower State schools Wichita State (1 seed Midwest) and Kansas State (9 seed Midwest): “That will be one of the hottest tickets ever for the first two rounds because K-State, Kentucky, and Wichita State and us, I mean — it's going to be hard to get tickets. Our fans need to be creative in figuring out a way.”
Rematches a real possibility. Should they advance, the Jayhawks could face teams they already have played this season in four of the six rounds. The only two rounds where it's not possible? The opening round, where they'll face Eastern Kentucky and the Sweet 16, where they would play either Syracuse (3), Western Michigan (14), Ohio State (6) or Dayton (11).
Seeds matter. KU's in a pretty good spot and got a pretty good draw in this year's bracket. But it's important to remember that No. 2 seeds have been vulnerable during the past few decades. Seven 15 seeds have pulled the first-round upset — Florida Gulf Coast knocked off Georgetown in 2013 and Norfolk State beat Missouri and Lehigh beat Duke on the same day in 2012. In fact, only once in the last 15 years have all four two seeds reached the Sweet 16. What's more, the tourney winner has been a top four seed every year since 1989, with the national champion being a No. 1 seed in 16 of the past 23 tournaments.
Ten the magic number. According to Men's Health Magazine, the average total of the Final Four seeds since 1985 is 10.8. So when you're finalizing your bracket, be mindful of that fact and if you believe in the factoid and you're picking No. 2 seed Kansas, make sure the other three seeds in your Final Four add up to eight or nine.
Under-the-radar guards Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp could play crucial roles for this team in the next couple of weeks given how important good guard play is in the NCAA Tournament. Frankamp is one of the best shooters on the team and he could get hot on any given night. Mason has played big roles at times throughout the season and his toughness, speed with the ball and ability to knife through the paint could come in handy if KU's shots aren't falling.
Victories happen when KU reaches 80. The Jayhawks have topped the 80-point mark in 8 of their last 11 games. For the season, 18 of KU's 24 victories came when Kansas scored 80 or more. Given the inconsistency of their defense, the Jayhawks' best bet for a deep run might be trying to outscore their opponents.
Within striking distance. KU freshman Andrew Wiggins is 16 points away from breaking Ben McLemore's record for most points scored by a KU freshman in a single season. Wiggins' 574 points currently rank second, behind McLemore's total of 589 from last season, which eclipsed the 28-year-old record owned by Danny Manning (496). Wiggins’ 17.4 points per game is ahead of McLemore’s KU freshman-record average of 15.9 ppg and Wiggins already owns the KU freshman record for free throw attempts (220) and free throws made (169).
X-rays of Joel Embiid's back injury will be as talked about as any ailment in the past decade. Good news on the scan equals great news for KU's chances.
Youth a problem? Six players in KU's regular rotation are true freshman, meaning each tournament game will be a first for Wiggins, Embiid, Selden, Mason, Frankamp and Greene. All six guys have settled into their roles on this team, but there's no question that even the most experienced seniors have been rattled by the pressure of the postseason from time to time. Will these young guns remain poised or will the stage and stakes get to them?
Zone defenses — 1-3-1, 2-3, triangle-and-2, whatever — could be part of KU's postseason run if the Jayhawks' man-to-man defense doesn't get the job done. It's not likely that you'll see a total overhaul, but jumping into a zone for a few possessions here and there along the way could help Kansas and keep opponents off rhythm. Self has proven in the past that he's not afraid to do things like this when the it's win-or-go-home time, so thinking he might throw it out there is not completely crazy.
Now that the bracket is set and the Kansas University basketball team knows its path, it's time to look a little closer at what the second-seeded Jayhawks will have to do to advance in this year's NCAA Tournament.
The following is a list of five things to consider as Kansas attempts to find the right recipe for a deep postseason run:
• Bill Self alluded to this on Sunday evening in his press conference after the bracket come out, but it's important that the Jayhawks focus on this year's run with the cliché one-game-at-a-time mentality. Although KU got tossed into a tough regional with top-tier squads Syracuse and Florida and a host of solid mid-range seeds, things definitely could be worse. It absolutely does no good to worry about facing No. 1 overall seed Florida today because KU is still a few games from even getting that chance and, if the match-up does happen, it'll mean the Jayhawks reached the Elite 8, which would likely be viewed as very good news. The one-game-at-a-time thing is particularly important for the young guys on this roster, who have never been here before and could get overwhelmed by all that's at stake. Taking the focused approach and emphasizing scouting report, defensive assignments, offensive identity and all the little things like those will give the Jayhawks their best shot at advancing.
• Tarik Black has to play big for the Jayhawks early on. In its opening round game against Eastern Kentucky, Kansas will have a big-time size advantage and should be able to pound the ball into Black, Perry Ellis and even Jamari Traylor. In a potential Round of 32 meeting with New Mexico, the Jayhawks will need Black to deliver on both ends of the floor against the Lobos' quality big men. What will it take for him to do that? The most crucial thing is for him to stay out of foul trouble. In the Jayhawks' Dec. 14 meeting with UNM, Black played just two minutes, recording one foul and two turnovers during that short time. He's a different, more confident player now, and, with this being his final act as a college basketball player, it seems like a safe bet to guess that Black will be ready to bring it for the Jayhawks during the next couple of weeks. He doesn't have to be as good as he was against Texas Tech on Senior Night at home, but he can't be as bad as he was at West Virginia in the regular season finale either. Something like he gave in the Big 12 tourney quarterfinals against Oklahoma State would probably be enough to get KU to the Sweet 16.
• KU can't worry about the return of Joel Embiid. If the big man can come back and play at some point this postseason — be it in surprise form next Sunday or the more expected target date of the Sweet 16 — that will be gravy for the Jayhawks. But even if he does return at some point, don't expect him to be a dominant force right out of the gate. Let's say the Jayhawks make it and Embiid plays in the Sweet 16. That game will take place on March 27, which will mark 26 days since Embiid last played in a game. I know he's been working out in the pool and doing some things to keep himself in decent shape, but there's no substitute for game shape and almost a month off will create problems for even the most finely tuned athletes. Embiid averaged just 23 minutes per game this season in the first place, and if he is able to return at some point during the Jayhawks' run, expect him to contribute fewer minutes than that initially.
• Don't be surprised if we see the Jayhawks turn to a smaller, quicker lineup for significant portions of the NCAA Tournament. With Embiid out, the Jayhawks still have some legit big men inside who can make up for his absence. But this team is and always has been at its best when it has been running and gunning and getting out in transition. Because of that, I think it's very possible that we'll see a lot of small lineups in the NCAA Tournament, particularly in the first game against Eastern Kentucky, which is a perimeter-oriented team. This could mean a couple of different things, but one of the lineups we could see playing some serious minutes together might include Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis. That's not to say Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor and Brannen Greene won't be involved. Clearly they will be. But if KU has to go small to match up or considers throwing in a zone defense from time to time, Wiggins is definitely capable of playing up a position because of his length and athleticism.
• Three-point shooting could be the most important factor in determining whether the Jayhawks survive St. Louis or not. All three of KU's potential foes in the second and third rounds (Eastern Kentucky, New Mexico and Stanford) made more three-pointers than the Jayhawks this season and two of the three (EKU and UNM) made a substantial amount more than their opponents this season. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, made 23 fewer three-pointers than their opponents this season. Obviously, the match-ups and the strengths and weaknesses that go along with them, will determine how important KU's three-point shooting will be. For example, in the opening game against EKU, the Jayhawks' size advantage might keep them from relying too much on the three-point shot. Regardless of KU's offensive advantages, though, KU's three-point defense will be a factor. And if the Jayhawks give up the kinds of open looks they gave to Iowa State and West Virginia, things could get dangerous in a hurry if the KU opponents are knocking them down. Expect Andrew Wiggins to be called on to lock down each foe's top three-point threat, thus increasing the odds of KU advancing.
Now that we've outlined a few of the keys for the first weekend of this year's tournament, here's a quick look at how online gambling sight Bovada.lv sees the odds of winning the entire thing and each region:
2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship - Odds to Win
Florida #1 11/2
Michigan State #4 7/1
Louisville #4 13/2
Arizona #1 9/1
Virginia #1 10/1
Wichita State #1 10/1
Kansas #2 10/1
Duke #3 12/1
Wisconsin #2 20/1
Villanova #2 20/1
Michigan #2 20/1
Syracuse #3 20/1
Creighton #3 20/1
Iowa State #3 33/1
Kentucky #8 33/1
Oklahoma State #9 40/1
UCLA #4 40/1
North Carolina #6 40/1
San Diego State #4 50/1
Pittsburgh #9 66/1
VCU #5 66/1
Cincinnati #5 66/1
Ohio State #6 66/1
Tennessee #11 66/1
Connecticut #7 66/1
Iowa #11 75/1
Oklahoma #5 100/1
Gonzaga #8 100/1
Memphis #8 100/1
Saint Louis #5 100/1
Baylor #6 100/1
UMass #6 100/1
New Mexico #7 100/1
Oregon #7 100/1
Texas #7 100/1
Kansas State #9 200/1
Saint Joe's #10 250/1
Nebraska #11 250/1
Providence #11 200/1
George Washington #9 250/1
Colorado #8 250/1
Stanford #10 250/1
NC State #12 300/1
Xavier #12 300/1
Harvard #12 500/1
BYU #10 500/1
Arizona State #10 500/1
Dayton #11 500/1
SF Austin #12 500/1
North Dakota State #12 500/1
Tulsa #13 1000/1
New Mexico State #13 1000/1
Delaware #13 1000/1
Manhattan #13 1000/1
Western Michigan #14 1000/1
UL Lafayette #14 1000/1
NC Central #14 1000/1
American #15 1000/1
Wofford #15 1000/1
Albany #16 1000/1
Mount Saint Mary's #16 1000/1
Weber State #16 1000/1
Coastal Carolina #16 1000/1
Cal Poly #16 1000/1
Texas Southern #16 1000/1
Eastern Kentucky #15 1000/1
UW-Milwaukee #15 1000/1
Mercer #14 1000/1
— 2014 South Region - Odds to Win —
Florida #1 9/5
Kansas #2 15/4
Syracuse #3 5/1
UCLA #4 9/1
VCU #5 9/1
New Mexico #7 12/1
Pittsburgh #9 14/1
Ohio State #6 14/1
Stanford #10 40/1
Dayton #11 50/1
SF Austin #12 50/1
Colorado #8 66/1
Tulsa #13 66/1
Western Michigan #14 100/1
Eastern Kentucky #15 100/1
Albany #16 200/1
Mount Saint Mary's #16 200/1
— 2014 West Region - Odds to Win —
Arizona #1 2/1
Wisconsin #2 4/1
Creighton #3 4/1
San Diego State #4 9/1
Oklahoma State #9 12/1
Baylor #6 14/1
Oregon #7 14/1
Oklahoma #5 16/1
Gonzaga #8 18/1
Nebraska #11 40/1
New Mexico State #1 350/1
BYU #10 66/1
UL Lafayette #14 75/1
North Dakota State #12 50/1
American #15 100/1
Weber State #16 100/1
— 2014 East Region - Odds to Win —
Michigan State #4 5/2
Virginia #1 11/4
Villanova #2 15/4
Iowa State #3 6/1
North Carolina #6 12/1
Cincinnati #5 16/1
Connecticut #7 16/1
Memphis #8 25/1
Providence #11 33/1
George Washington #9 50/1
Saint Joe's #10 50/1
Harvard #12 50/1
Delaware #13 100/1
NC Central #14 100/1
UW-Milwaukee #15 100/1
Coastal Carolina #16 100/1
— 2014 Midwest Region - Odds to Win —
Louisville #4 8/5
Duke #3 7/2
Wichita State #1 4/1
Michigan #2 11/2
Kentucky #8 12/1
Saint Louis #5 20/1
Tennessee #11 25/1
Iowa #11 25/1
Texas #7 33/1
Kansas State #9 33/1
UMass #6 40/1
Arizona State #10 50/1
NC State #12 66/1
Xavier #12 66/1
Manhattan #13 75/1
Mercer #14 100/1
Wofford #15 100/1
Cal Poly #16 200/1
Texas Southern #16 200/1