As Selection Sunday gets nearer and the complete NCAA field comes into focus, I wonder if it's possible for the Kansas Jayhawks to do the unthinkable and REPEAT as National Champions.
Most NCAA basketball coaches admit that it takes a team that is peaking at the right time, has discipline to respect each opponent, and maybe gets a timely dose of “lady luck” to survive the grueling six game gauntlet that is the NCAA Tournament.
Additionally, the bracket is always littered with potential landmines…teams that pose difficult match-ups for a higher seeded opponent. Coaches know that despite their success during the season, there are particular teams with the right assets in place that can expose one of their team’s weaknesses.
Today we examine Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks and scan the field for potential land mines they may encounter on their quest to defend their National Title because as they say, “It’s all about the matchups.”
Arizona State (22-8)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are an enigma. They have had runs where they dominated their PAC Ten opponents and then within a few days look dead and lose to a weaker team.
How good are they, really? James Harden is the engine that makes this team run at its best. When James Hardin is having his way, the team as a whole is generally clicking as well.
Meanwhile, Jeff Pendergraph has stepped up his production and playing hot right now. The senior forward posted a double-double in five of his past six games and his overall shooting percentage is rising.
The Sun Devils' inside-outside game compliments what they generate off the fast break. Kansas would likely use the Morris twins to work Pendergraph outside and aggressively contest his shots there. They will not mind funneling him into the lane, where Cole Aldrich could provide help in the paint.
A potential problem is that the Morris twins might provide Pendergraph plenty of free throw opportunities because they are quite foul prone.
Louisiana State (25-6)
LSU will likely be undervalued by the selection committee. The Tigers fall on the S-curve as a potential six seed and might be a possible match up for Kansas in the second round. LSU sports a 37 RPI, 89 SOS and did not fare well against tourney teams during OOC play either.
However, the Tigers stepped it up in SEC play and won the regular season conference title without much threat from the rest of the field. The reason for this is the team’s grit and determination. LSU is a senior led team that plays well in tight ball games…a staple in the NCAA tourney.
As game pressure mounts, the confidence and experience in close games will most assuredly help the Tigers. The most talented player on this team is senior guard Marcus Thorton. He can light it up from almost anywhere. His three-point shooting is very respectable at 38.7 percent and he averages over 20 PPG.
He will likely be faced by an inexperienced Jayhawk defender. LSU will try to exploit that match-up the entire game. Kansas will counter with their bench depth and use frequent substitutions to make Marcus Thorton work extra hard for each basket. Marquette (24-8)
Marquette’s recent slide through the cut-throat Big East conference aside, the Golden Eagles will certainly be a difficult out in the NCAA tournament. Although they are obviously showing the effects of losing star guard Dominic James to a season ending foot injury, the Golden Eagles are still very deep and talented.
Even though James was a significant scorer, his leadership and situational awareness will be sorely missed along with his relentless defensive pressure. Nonetheless, Marquette still employs a dynamic backcourt duo in Jerel McNeal and Wesley Mathews.
This tandem gets after it, exerting great defensive pressure on their opponents which creates easy baskets in transition.
Kansas displayed problems with full court pressure at times this season and they have a propensity to turn the ball over. The Kansas guards will have to be patient negotiating the press, and protect the ball to keep the Golden Eagles from going on one of their runs that demoralize opponents.
Kansas will most likely lean heavily on Sherron Collins to break pressure, but he will need a confident ball handler from their stable to help. When Kansas is passing and protecting the ball well, Bill Self may allow the Jayhawks to use their own transition game to neutralize Marquette’s pressure.
Utah is a team that boasts an 11 RPI and 11 SOS. They have OOC wins against Gonzaga, LSU and San Diego State. The Utes will likely get a seed in the sixth to eighth range, and will undoubtedly enter the tournament with a chip on their shoulder, seeking an early round victim to make a statement and gain respectability.
The “no respect” card is one many teams will embrace to motivate themselves to unlikely wins in the tournament.
The Utes are an intriguing matchup for the defending champions. They get most of their production from their bigs with 7’ 2” four-year senior center, Luke Nevill, leading the way with 16.9 points a game.
He is a big body weighing in at 265 pounds, and he can run the floor well in transition. He is a decent defender with good shot- blocking skills. Nevill has also posted 12 double-doubles this year.
Kansas has not faced many big men of his size and skill. Although Aldrich is a fierce competitor, he will have to carry his lunch pail into work if these two teams should meet in the second round.
The Duke Blue Devils are likely to be a two or three seed, depending on how the final S-curve unfolds after the results of the conference tournaments this weekend. If Kansas obtains a two seed, the right conditions for a Kansas and Duke matchup in the first game of the Sweet Sixteen might materialize.
The challenge for the Jayhawks in this match-up will be perimeter defense. The Blue Devils have premiere three-point shooting with four shooters averaging over 34% from beyond the arc. Jon Scheyer in particular takes nearly half his shots from three-point territory.
The Jayhawks have been exposed in perimeter defense with hot handed teams lighting it up from beyond the arc. Texas Tech immediately comes to mind. When teams have more than one outside threat from beyond the arc, Kansas has trouble. One also has to wonder what their answer will be for Gerald Henderson’s ability to get to the rim at will.