Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tom Keegan: Kansas up to challenge of playing in toughest region

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) pulls in Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) for a chat as he checks into the game for the first time during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) pulls in Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) for a chat as he checks into the game for the first time during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Sure, the Midwest is easily the toughest region in the NCAA tournament. True, Duke is the best No. 2 seed in the field, Michigan State the top No. 3. And next to Virginia Tech, there isn’t a tougher No. 8 seed on the board.

Five days ago, I would have wondered at the relevance of the strength of the Blue Devils and Spartans because I would not have been confident of the Jayhawks’ chances of advancing from Wichita to Omaha.

Then three days in Kansas City changed everything.

The Jayhawks have the toughest path to San Antonio of any of the four No. 1 seeds, and if and when Udoka Azubuike returns, he’ll be slowed by a sprained MCL of the left knee. Those are factors, but not strong enough ones to dent KU's confidence.

Mitch Lightfoot captured the mood of the team in the locker room after Kansas won the Big 12 tournament with an 81-70 victory over West Virginia.

“Why not us?” Lightfoot said of the possibility of winning it all. “We’ve defied all the odds. It’s just another odd to defy, and I’m pretty sure that as a team, that if we play our best ball, we can do it.”

The financial situation of Billy Preston’s car led to him never joining the team, which seemed a good reason to look elsewhere for a Big 12 regular-season champ.

Udoka Azubuike was scratched from the Big 12 tourney by a sprained MCL of the left knee, and Kansas again didn’t seem like the wise pick.

“Udoka goes down and everyone thinks the house is burning down,” Lightfoot said.

Kansas responded with three consecutive double-digit victories and looked awfully good doing it.

How far can this team go?

“I think really far, especially when we get Dok back,” Mykhailiuk said. “We know that we have guys in the rotation who can step up. Silvio (De Sousa) showed everybody he can really play.”

De Sousa’s emergence means Azubuike can come out of the game more frequently, which should reduce his fouls, many of which come when he runs short of breath.

Malik Newman shed the baggage that comes with trying to figure out how to fit in on a talented team, let it fly, and shot his way to Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 tournament.

“Malik did what we all wanted to see,” Mykhailiuk said.

If Kansas plays well, it can play with anybody in the country. In a region so loaded, Kansas also could play well and lose.

The good news for the local cagers: If the Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight, they won’t have to play both Duke and Michigan State, just one or the other, barring a sleeper coming out of the bottom of the Midwest bracket.

For KU, the first tough test arrives in the second round in the form of either Seton Hall or North Carolina State.

Seton Hall shapes up as the tougher matchup for Kansas, thanks to 6-foot-10, 245-pound senior center Angel Delgado from the Dominican Republic. A handful in the post and on the boards, Delgado is tied with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III for fifth in the nation with 21 double-doubles. He averages 13.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

As does potential Sweet 16 foe Auburn, Seton Hall does a terrific job of hammering the offensive boards, and Kansas at times has had trouble keeping teams off the offensive glass.

Tough matchups populate the Midwest region, but it pays to look at the flip side as well: There isn’t a team in the nation that doesn’t view Kansas as a tough matchup.


Jonathan Allison 4 years, 5 months ago

In my opinion the toughest region talk is stupid and a little embarrassing. Every year we say that Kansas got the toughest region... let's just stop.

Sure Duke and Michigan State both were considered title favorites throughout the year by many pundits, but we will only have to face one of the two.

Seton Hall may or may not be the toughest 8 seed in the bracket... but they're an 8 seed for a reason and it's because they lost a lot of games. Clemson and Auburn... well Auburn has been pretty good in the SEC this year, but honestly I could see both of them losing to New Mexico State as well.

I wasn't too happy to see Penn on the 16 line. I'm of the opinion that you never want to face the Ivy League winner in the opening round. They tend to keep the game low scoring and close most of the time and seem to be tough to knock out because they play a good game plan and execute.

As for the toughest region, well I don't think that I'd trade our region for Virginia's region.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 5 months ago

J.A., I totally agree. I was thrilled to see our draw and, quite honestly, I think KU got the best draw to the Elite Eight among all the #1's. Best case scenario will be that Duke and MSU beat the crap out of each other and the winner barely survives thus leaving a weakened opponeent for KU!

WOW!! Somebody on that committee doesn't want to see Virginia in the Final Four. It seems obvious to me that this Region is by far the nastiest based on how the teams are playing right now!!!

Michael Leiker 4 years, 5 months ago

Agree, you only have to play one team from the bottom of the bracket if you get that far, so who cares how many good teams are on the other side of the bracket.

David Serven 4 years, 5 months ago

One game at a time boys, one game at a time. The sky is not falling. We have continued to defy Chicken Little all year. There is no panic in our team, only in our fans. RCJHKU!

John Fitzgerald 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't get the talk about Penn having a chance against KU. Even Ken Pomeroy tweeted:

"Stop predicting Penn will beat Kansas. It won't happen if people keep predicting it."

I have a few problems with this. 1.) Are people really picking Penn over KU? Or even considering it? How is this a conversation? 2.) Obviously Ken would like to see it happen judging by his pleading for people to stop predicting it.

All year this team has heard "you can't" and all year they've proved people wrong. I really hope they keep on this same path.

John Fitzgerald 4 years, 5 months ago

It's also fair to note that Penn lost to Toledo by 12 points, who we beat by 38 points. Granted that could have been a really bad game for them, but there's no reason we shouldn't win by 20 or more.

Tracey Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

No one thought Princeton could beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament. No one thought Cornell could beat Temple or Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament. No one thought Harvard could beat New Mexico or Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament. Guess what? Princeton, Cornell and Harvard won those games.

It is a mistake to ever overlook an Ivy League team in the NCAA tournament. Penn has the SECOND BEST 3-point defense in the entire nation. If KU can't get open looks at 3-pointers, that's a major problem.

Do I expect KU to lose? Of course not. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is a close game.

John Fitzgerald 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm not saying Penn is a bad team, but if you're an intelligent person and look at the stats they don't have a chance. They're a 16 seed for a reason.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 5 months ago

"Penn has the SECOND BEST 3-point defense in the entire nation."

Great statistic, absolutely meaningless. They played in the Ivy League. Their stats are made up of from games in the Ivy League.

Kansas will not lose to Penn.

Tracey Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

Penn plays nonconference games...just like every D-I team does. Non-conference opponents shot 31.1 percent from three-point range against the Quakers. Which is a lower percentage than non-conf foes shot against KU (.326)

I grew up in Philadelphia and have been to a lot of Big Five games in my life. Penn has a long tradition of basketball excellence. It is not a good idea to overlook the Quakers. When teams did that back in 1979, they made it all the way to the Final Four. In 2001, when Penn was overlooked, they made it to the Sweet 16, defeating North Carolina in the round of 32.

Now, the 2018 team isn't the 1979 or the 2001 squad. But it's still a mistake to dismiss them just because they play in the Ivy League.

Tracey Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

For some reason, this site won't let me edit my commnt. I realize I was looking at the wrong school in 2001 -- that was Penn State that beat UNC, not Penn.

But the overall point of my post still stands

Bryce Landon 4 years, 5 months ago

Seems like everyone says we'll be the #1 to lose to a #16, They said it about Niagara in 2007, Western Kentucky in 2013, and UC-Davis last season. None of those teams won.

Moreover, who has Penn played that was noteworthy? Only Villanova, ranked #4 at the time - and, as someone pointed out, Nova won 90-62. Now here they are running into a Kansas team that is white-hot, blazing with confidence, and fresh off winning the Big 12 Tournament without Udoka.

All this talk about Penn being the 16 to upset a 1 is nonsense.

Tracey Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

Who did the #15 seeds play before upsetting #2 seeds? Who you played in the regular season doesn't really matter. If that was the case,, the team with the strongest strength of schedule would win the NCAA Tournament every season. But they don't.

Is it unlikely that Penn will beat KU? Yes. But is it nonsense to suggest they could do it? No. KU is not a great team. They have lost several games they "should" have won. In fact, none of the #1 seeds, with the possible exception of Virginia, is a great team. All the #1 seeds could lose early in this tournament and I wouldn't be surprised.

Kevin Studer 4 years, 5 months ago

The entire tournament this year is pretty wide open. There is no dominant "it" team, and the and the gaps between #1 and #20 are pretty narrow. We have had years past when multiple teams seeded 8 and lower make the Final Four, and this could easily be one of those years. As cliche at is it, everyone needs to focus on the "one game at a time" approach and not sweat the brackets.

Tracey Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

I haven't seen anyone other than Tom K claim that the Midwest is the toughest region.In fact most analysts are saying the South region is the toughest.

But all the regions are tough. Any or all of the #1 seeds could lose in the Sweet 16, if not in the Round of 32. None of the #1 seeds are indestructible. This is one of the weakest groups of #1 seeds in a long time. That doesn't mean none of them will get to the Final Four. I expect at least one, and probably two, of them to make it. I don't expect all 4 of them to make it, mainly because all 4 #1 seeds almost never make it to the Final Four.

Marcia Parsons 4 years, 5 months ago

Last night following the "announcing of the teams" show, the analysts went through all the brackets and declared the Midwest to be way the most difficult. So it wasn't just Tom.

Brad Farha 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm mostly poking fun b/c I love both schools, but don't take the oxymoronic Fighting Quakers lightly! :)

David Robinett 4 years, 5 months ago

Easy bracket never helps us. We usually perform better playing tougher teams, possibly because we feel less pressure of choking. I would like to see Tom or Matt or Benton check that for me.

Marc Frey 4 years, 5 months ago

We hit our 3s like we did last year vs Purdue and we win the NC. We miss our 3s the next game vs Oregon (as they hit theirs) we go home. Sometimes it is as simple as a matchup. Stanford's height one year. It can not be our night (too many times to remember). And sometimes a better team beats us. Nova a few years back.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm already getting wound up and its over 3 days away.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 5 months ago

I know our region has challenges but does anyone on this site want to trade places with Virginia? I didn't think so.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 5 months ago

Correct, Tony. They have Kentucky and Arizona on their side of the bracket, and given that Jay Bilas called Ayton perhaps the next Wilt Chamberlain last night on ESPN, Virginia didn't catch any breaks.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 5 months ago

No Virginia didn't. Ayton has a talented supporting cast too with Trier and Alkins, et al, who are playing at a very high level.

I watched Ayton three times this season and I see he can be very athletic. But is the $100,000 (alleged) man as good as Embiid and Anthony Davis were? I didn't see it in those games but my sample size is small. He isn't as freakish as Ralph Samson who was a point guard in a 7"4" body and his best team mate was Jeff Lamp.

And none of the above were Wilt level. Wilt ran 400 meters as fast as Jim Thorpe, and no one in basketball could challenge him at all. As far as I know Wilt had it a lot rougher than Ayton and had the attitude and cunning that came with it.

Brad Watson 4 years, 5 months ago

Arizona has 2 space heaters...The Ristic kid is a beast as well.....they look like one of the better teams...if they do play Virginia...that's must see TV.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 5 months ago

Udoka should be okay by sweet sixteen. we can get there without him but not as easily. Maybe he is okay by Thursday who knows. I saw how gingerly he climbed up on the step ladder but maybe that was for other reasons. He will be in a brace and they get better every year but again who knows. NC doesn't scare me and as much as MSU is a size matchup and rebounding matchup problem we can be okay with Udoka and our no fear guys. You can get ahead of us but you better not let up or else.

Last year and the year before we played scared in our last game. IMO only Svi, Frank and JJ weren't intimidated. This years team doesn't give a damn what you throw against us. As a matter of fact we thrive on it. Udoka, Silvio, Svi and Lagerald are very dangerous when you piss them off. I can't see Marcus playing any thing but harder and we know how hard he is already playing. Doesn't seem like a freshman very often.

Will Malik be hounded like Svi has been the last 10 or 12 games? Maybe, but pick your poison other teams. I dare you.

Maybe i'm crazy, and I am losing it a bit, (I know, right?), but i don't see the Vamp do anything less than what we saw in KC.

DeVonte is already a FT AA and when it's needed most he leaves no doubt in your mind.

Mitch will have an impact just as he has all year, with blocks, lobs and put backs.

With Silvio's astonishing improvement and a healed Udoka, where's our weakness? --- Defensive effort is the only one that we cannot be sure of for a whole game.

Ben Kane 4 years, 5 months ago

interior defense and rebounding. even with Doke he struggles to defend down low without picking up fouls.

that being said i like our draw. so we have to beat MSU or Duke, i think the boys will be up to it.

Brad Watson 4 years, 5 months ago

Who cares who is in our doesn't matter...all we need to do is focus on Penn....that's it........nothing else matters......blinders game at a time......we are not in a region......its one game.....that's it......then one game...then one game...etc........if you get distracted.......guess what? get beat.......forget about the other 60 plus teams......only Penn matters......that's the John Wooden philosophy.......that Coach should embrace....... 6 one game Woodens' era it was its 6........Every game is a championship game......because in reality..... IT IS !!!

Eric Eakins 4 years, 5 months ago

Maybe it's considered the toughest bracket because Kansas is in it.

Actually, we only have to play 4 teams, not 15, and the two toughest have to play each other and narrow it down to one before we get to them (if we get to them).

Really at the round of 32 you are pretty much guaranteed to be playing a team who is competing at the highest level most of the season and anyone can lose to anyone on a given night. Best 32 can beat anyone in a one game tourney. Put the top 15 teams in our bracket, doesn't matter. Just win 6 - 1 game tournaments.

I'm pretty excited about the draw and hope we see Puke in the final 8. We can beat them and I always love when we do.

The boys play with fire like the last 3 games and we are the toughest draw in the tournament. They play like last game at OSU and we will be dreaming of next year.

As a side note, those who say the Big 12 tourney is useless, this years tourney probably did more for our self esteem (especially after OSU) then any in recent memory. I'm so thankful they got a chance to prove their stuff without one of their best players and take that momentum into the tourney. It could carry them to the final 4.

Blake Brown 4 years, 5 months ago

Sorry to place this here, but ..... Is anyone else having issues with the screen jumping back and forth and returning to the top of the page and not allowing for one to read an entire article? It took a few minutes just to get here.

I do not know how to communicate this to the website managers.

Meanwhile, Rock Chalk!

Brad Watson 4 years, 5 months ago

sometimes the site is slow...because they are loading a lot of ads that pay for it...patience helps.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 5 months ago

I've had that issue come up (so to speak() a few times, but it was usually fine when I got out of the site and then back in.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 5 months ago

I've learned the hard way over the years not to get overly excited if one of the powerhouses loses (VCU, anyone?). On the other hand, all the upsets certainly helped KU in '88. So I'll still root against MSU and Duke, but if KU does end up playing one of the "lesser" teams in the Elite 8 I'll be nervous about a KU letdown.

Let's face it, I'll be nervous as hell no matter WHO KU plays. That's both the great thing and the terrible thing about KU being in it every year: every game has the potential to be another devastating loss.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 5 months ago

The Arizona situation comes down to one basic question, was Sean Miller caught on an FBI wiretap or wasn't he? It has been reported as fact, but given all the fake news that exists in the world, we can only guess.

Your analysis of Ayton, Kent, is very accurate. Living here in Tucson, we see his performances all of the time. He is a remarkable athlete, whom we wanted badly, but there never has been anyone in Wilt's category, contrary to what Jay Bilas may think.

Kent Kossoy 4 years, 5 months ago

I love this team. They remind me alot of the 1988 team. Everyone laughed at them until the Final Four. This team has reached unexpected levels. So they can play for fun and relax. Unlike the tense 2008 team who almost lost to Davidson and Memphis, these guys should be loose!! RCJH!!

Mike Greer 4 years, 5 months ago

The 2008 tournament was / is the only time all four number 1 seeds made it to the final four. So odds are definitely in favor of not all the number one seeds making it that far.

The guys can do it, but only if they hit on all cylinders like they did in the Big XII tournament. It's a V-8, eight guys right now and they all need to be at the top of their games. The last couple of years the guys got stopped either because the opposing team took one player out of the game, or a couple of guys had an off night. It's going to be difficult this year to take one guy out with a double team and not have another shooter open and firing.

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