Kansas Basketball: Keys to Jayhawks' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run
After the last two NCAA tournament runs by the Kansas Jayhawks ended in disappointment to inferior opponents, the eight-time defending Big 12 regular season champions will hope to get back to the championship game for the first time since their triumph in 2008.
Kansas has been a No. 1 seed four of the last five seasons, but the Jayhawks don't need a top seed to progress deep in this tournament. As it is, they're a No. 2 seed in this year's tournament and will start in the Midwest Region.
The Jayhawks are as good defensively as they've been in quite some time, and they are well coached by The Sporting News' coach of the year Bill Self.
Let's look at five keys to the Jayhawks' 2012 NCAA tournament run.
Take Every School Seriously
This shouldn't be an issue for a program like Kansas, but there is no excuse for the team's poor play against inferior schools the last few seasons.
Last year, the Jayhawks were defeated in the Elite Eight by 11th seed VCU, and the season before that, they were beaten by 14th seed Northern Iowa in the second round.
Kansas must make sure they take every team seriously, because these mid-major teams have nothing to lose.
The Jayhawks must match these team's energy and level of intensity from the opening tip, because these games are very dangerous if they're close at the end.
Defend the Perimeter, Contest Outside Shots
A lot of teams, especially the mid-majors, use the three-point shot as a very effective weapon. Kansas must do a good job of eliminating open looks from the perimeter and contest all outside shots.
Kansas has the athleticism and strength to defend opposing guards well, but doing that starts with making a commitment to give a strong effort on defense.
Bill Self spoke about his team's perimeter defending on Monday, saying via CBS 13:
We could be as good defensively on the perimeter as we have (ever) been, but we just don’t play that way all the time. It is a mindset that you get; it is something that you work on and emphasize. Those guys have it in them to become better individual defenders without question.
Kansas allowed its opponents to shoot 34.7 percent from three this season, according to TeamRankings.com.
Thomas Robinson Must Shine at Both Ends of the Floor
Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson has been spectacular this season, and his ability to score in the post has really furthered his offensive talent.
Robinson averaged 18 points and 11.9 rebounds this season, which helped him unanimously win the AP Big 12 Player of the Year award.
Not only must Robinson continue to be one of the Jayhawks' best scorers in the NCAA tournament, he also needs to be a real force at the defensive end. That includes being a solid one-on-one defender and dominating the boards by grabbing all the rebounds that come his way.
Robinson has a huge chance to help Kansas win a national title and greatly improve his NBA draft stock with a solid tournament performance.
Jeff Withey Must Dominate Defensively
Jeff Withey had a tremendous season this year and was voted Big 12 defensive player of the year. Coach Self talked about Withey's season on Monday, saying:
I don’t know if anybody in our league blocks or alters as many shots as he does. For the most part, Jeff has been consistent for the whole year on the defensive end; defensively, he has been a presence the whole year. One reason Thomas has had such a great year is because Jeff guards the other team’s best post player. Jeff has been great for us, he has had a terrific year.
Withey must use his 7'0", 235 lbs to his advantage in the tournament because, if he can dominate the rebounding battle and block shots, then Kansas will be extremely tough to beat. He makes everyone else's job easier on the defensive end of the floor.
So much of the Jayhawks' success the last few years has been because of their big men, and in this year's tournament run, that will again be the case.
Be Confident: KU Is 5-1 in Last Six Games vs. Ranked Teams
After losing their first two games against ranked teams this season (Kentucky and Duke), the Jayhawks went 5-1 the rest of the way against ranked opponents, including two wins against Baylor.
Kansas' recent success against ranked teams over the last two months of the season should make them confident about their ability to beat top programs in the NCAA tournament.
There will be pressure to succeed for the Jayhawks, but they cannot put too much stress on themselves. They have defeated some great teams this season and should use that success to give them confidence heading into March Madness.
Biggest NCAA Tournament Hurdle
The Jayhawks are looking at a potential matchup against top-seeded North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
The Tar Heels are a team that would be problematic for Kansas. Their outstanding frontcourt would make life tough for Robinson, and their high-scoring offense is a problem for every team in the field, not just Kansas.
A North Carolina vs. Kansas matchup would be great, but the Jayhawks should hope that North Carolina gets upset somewhere along the line. Just to be safe.
Last-Minute NCAA Tournament Prediction
Kansas is a team that's heading into the NCAA tournament with unfinished business, as the Jayhawks' last two trips have ended in disappointment.
That's not going to happen this year.
Kansas has been placed in a tough Midwest bracket, but the Jayhawks have enough talent to make a run all the way to the Final Four, and they certainly have enough desire.
In the end, Kansas will make it to the Final Four. Believe it.