5 Biggest Questions for Kansas in NCAA Tournament Third Round vs. Stanford
It was a closer-than-expected start to the NCAA tournament for South Region No. 2 seed Kansas on Thursday night, but it outlasted No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky for an 80-69 victory in St. Louis.
The Jayhawks (25-9)—without star big man Joel Embiid—trailed by as many as nine points after an early three-point shooting barrage from Colonels guard Glenn Cosey. The game was tied at the half, but Kansas pulled away late to advance to the third round, where it will meet No. 10 seed Stanford Cardinal.
The Cardinal (22-12) may have done the Jayhawks a huge favor by eliminating No. 7 seed New Mexico in the second round. The Lobos presented a potentially nightmarish matchup due to their size and the presence of stud forward Cameron Bairstow. But, for the second tournament in a row, they couldn't get past their first game.
Stanford started fast, opening a big first-half lead, and finished strong, led by its dynamic guard Chasson Randle with 23 points to secure a 58-53 upset and advance to this matchup with the Jayhawks.
The winner advances to the Sweet 16, and these are the five X-factors that will decide who moves on to Memphis.
Will Kansas' Big Men Step Up Again?
In the absence of Embiid, the Jayhawks got solid contributions from their other big men in Thursday’s win over Eastern Kentucky.
Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis each had double-doubles, and Tarik Black contributed four blocks on the defensive end, an area where the Jayhawks were expected to struggle without their stud freshman big man.
Traylor in particular was highly effective, scoring 17 points and snagging 14 boards. More importantly, seven of those boards came on the offensive glass, helping the Jayhawks to a 17-6 edge in second-chance points and their margin of victory.
For the game, Kansas out-rebounded Eastern Kentucky by an absurd 43-19 margin, but then again, the Colonels were one of the worst rebounding teams in the known universe this season.
Things are bound to get tougher on the boards—how could they not?—against Stanford.
The Cardinal are not a particularly good rebounding team either, but compared to Eastern Kentucky they look downright dominant on the glass. They have two big men—Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis—who are more than capable of snagging rebounds, and the Jayhawks are going to need to step up in order to fight for those second chances.
Traylor, Ellis and Black combined for 43 points, 32 rebounds and five blocks on Thursday. If they can step up to anywhere near that level again, the Jayhawks should be on their way to the Sweet 16.
Can the Jayhawks Contain Chasson Randle?
Like in their second-round matchup, the Jayhawks find themselves up against a foe with an absolute stud in the backcourt.
And this one is even better than the last one.
Randle, a 6'2" junior guard from Rock Island, Ill., is without a doubt Stanford's best player, and he gives it a real shot to bust a lot of brackets by knocking off Kansas on Sunday.
Don't believe me? Just take a look at what he did against New Mexico on Thursday.
Randle scored 23 points and grabbed five boards while playing all 40 minutes against the Lobos. He likes to slash to the basket, and with the Jayhawks missing their best rim protector, he could be primed for another big game.
Andrew Wiggins will likely draw the assignment of matching up with Randle on defense, and he'll need to keep him on the outside and away from the basket.
Randle likes to drive and get to the line. He's a 77 percent shooter from the stripe and averaged just a shade under 19 points per game this season.
If he goes off, the Jayhawks could be in some trouble.
How Will Andrew Wiggins Follow Up in His Second Tournament Game?
Wiggins, the Jayhawks' leading scorer and a surefire lottery selection in the upcoming NBA draft, made his NCAA tournament debut on Thursday night, and after a few early jitters, turned in a pretty solid game.
The likely one-and-done freshman contributed 19 points, including eight in the final six-plus minutes of the first half, helping the Jayhawks erase an early deficit.
There's not a ton to complain about—at least if you're being fair—from Wiggins' first tournament performance. Sure, he didn't go off and drop 40 on the Colonels, but he didn't need to. He did what he had to do in order to help his team win.
Wiggins was efficient, consistent, shot over 50 percent from the field and made all the shots he needed to make down the stretch. He needs to remain that way in this game if his team is going to win.
March Madness is often defined by tremendous, storybook individual performances. Wiggins is certainly capable of having that type of game and that type of moment.
Now that Wiggins has the jitters of his first foray into March Madness out of the way, Stanford will need to be particularly attentive to him on defense. If not, he could put the Cardinal in a bad way real quick.
On the other hand, if the streaky, often disappearing, Wiggins resurfaces, this could be a possible upset.
Can Stanford Stay out of Foul Trouble?
Stanford gets a lot out of a few players, and it doesn't have a very deep roster.
In fact, it's not very deep at all.
Both Randle and his backcourt mate Anthony Brown played all 40 minutes in the Cardinal's win over New Mexico, and Powell and center Stefan Nastic saw their playing time limited after getting into early foul trouble.
That reveals a huge problem for Stanford, and one of the biggest reasons that it will struggle to win this game.
It just doesn't have the depth to compete with the better teams in the nation, particularly if the starters find their way into early foul trouble.
Offensively, the Cardinal are very thin and rely heavily on only four players for nearly all of their offense. Once you get down to the bench, there really isn't much there that can hurt you.
If the Jayhawks can drive to the basket and draw a few early fouls against Powell and/or Nastic, they would gain a huge advantage.
How Do the Jayhawks Limit the Three Ball?
One of the biggest continuing vulnerabilities the Jayhawks have displayed this season is their inability to defend the perimeter and prevent teams from getting open looks from three.
That was on full display in the opening minutes against Eastern Kentucky, as Colonels guard Glenn Cosey connected on three triples for nine points before the game was five minutes old.
For the game, Eastern Kentucky connected on 12 of 31 triples, good for 39 percent, right on its season average.
Stanford isn't as good a three-point shooting team as EKU, but it has a couple of guys who can shoot from long range.
Randle and Brown are both over 40 percent shooters from behind the arc and if left open can put up quick points.
The Cardinal are a 38 percent shooting team from three on the season, and given the Jayhawks' known inability to defend out there, they might want to think about throwing a few more long-range bombs up in this game.
The Kansas Jayhawks are going to the Sweet 16, and they're going to do it without Joel Embiid.
That's the kind of thought that must scare the hell out of a lot of teams.
Kansas just has too much depth, too many people able to score and will prove too good for an overachieving Stanford team.
The Jayhawks have a lot to be thankful for in this matchup. If it were New Mexico, they could be in some trouble, but the Cardinal just don't have the horses to really trouble them too much.
Randle is a stud, but he can't win this game alone. If Stanford finds itself in any sort of early foul trouble, this one could get ugly in a hurry, because it doesn’t have any scorers on the bench.
Expect a big game from Wiggins, some more solid play from a Kansas frontcourt that will be brimming with confidence from their performance on Thursday, and another Jayhawks double-digit victory.
Prediction: Kansas 78, Stanford 65
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