NCAA Tournament: Early Thoughts On Kansas' Road To The Final Four

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 12: Josh Selby #32, Markieff Morris #21, Marcus Morris #22,Tyshawn Taylor #10 and Brady Morningstar #12 of the Kansas Jayhawks stand on the court against the Texas Longhorns during the 2011 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament championship game at Sprint Center on March 12, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Three days to analyze, re-analyze and over-analyze every matchup before the full blown tipoff of the NCAA tournament on Thursday.  Yes Tuesday provides four games to tease your tournament appetite, but it still feels like Thursday is the official kickoff for the big dance.

Kansas, Ohio State, Duke and Pitt are the four top seeds and compared to last year when the Jayhawks had a very difficult draw, there seems to be a bit more optimism as to the path for the Jayhawks this March. Obviously it boils down to how you play on gameday, and if Kansas can come out motivated with a chip on their shoulder for the rest of the run they can be tough. 

As for the matchups and the path, here's a few early thoughts after looking at Kansas in the NCAA tournament.

Round 1(now referred to as Round 2): Boston

Round one is obviously an expected win.  With the balance that exists in college basketball this is about the only sure thing when the brackets role out on Selection Sunday, that of course being the no. 1 seed going undefeated against the no. 16's.  As for the Jayhawks this is the 22nd consecutive tournament appearance which is currently the longest active streak without an interruption.  It also marks the 10th time that the Jayhawks have been a no.1 seed which ranks third in college basketball since seeding began in 1979.

As for the no. 16 Boston University, well they are the America East Conference champion and enter the game with a 21-13 overall record.  The one telling roster note worth mentioning is the seven upperclassman on the roster.  The Terriers have experience and that's big in March.

 

Round 2: Illinois/UNLV

Obviously there are a few notable storylines here.  Kansas had to go through UNLV during their 2008 National title run and the Rebels are coached by a Kansas State WIldcat alum and former coach Lon Kruger.  In addition to that Lon Kruger was the head coach at Illinois prior to Bill Self being hired upon Kruger's departure for the NBA. 

That of course brings us to the obvious possibility that Bill Self might have to face his former employer in a game against Illinois.  Now it's been eight years and none of these players have any recollection of it but as Kansas fans know from their Final Four win over North Carolina in 2008, revenge for a fanbase can certainly be sweet. 

All in all these two teams provide matchups that a Kansas team that is playing well should be able to manage and they are matchups that a Kansas team should be able to negotiate even if they prove to be slightly off their game.  There is certainly that underlying uneasiness based on the storylines involved, but having two teams with some name recognition rather than a under the radar Cinderella puts some of that to rest.

 

Sweet Sixteen: Vanderbilt, Louisville, Richmond, Morehead State

A Richmond run wouldn't be completely unexpected but if Morehead State turned up in a Sweet 16 matchup for the Jayhawks their would certainly be some surprise. As for the two favored here, Vanderbilt and Louisville, both can be dangerous but compared to some of the 4/5 matchups in other regionals, it's not all bad.

Vanderbilt has wins over Nebraska, North Carolina, Belmont, Marquette, Georgia and Kentucky.  The fell to the Missouri Tigers and Tennessee twice which might give some hint to the style they struggle to play.  Sophomore guard John Jenkins is the leader but the Commodores go eight deep with four players averaging double figures. A tough game? Sure, but not as scary as what others have.

Now Louisville on the other hand is a little more intimidating.  25-9, finished 4th in a tough Big East conference behind Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse.  Losses on the season include Kentucky, Villanova, Providence, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, West Virgina, UConn and Georgetown. That's a battle tested team.  Wins; Uconn, West Virginia, St. Johns, Pitt, Notre Dame.  They are a team that can go 8 or 9 deep and they are very balanced in doing so.  Peyton Siva is a sophomore point guard that has had a very nice season and his play would be important in this one in matching up with the Kansas guards.

 

Elite Eight: Notre Dame, Purdue, Georgetown, A&M

If Kansas can manage what appears to be a fairly favorable draw and get to the Elite Eight, things could get a little tougher in terms of making that final step.  Of course when you step on the court this late in the tournament you expect a difficult contest. 

Obviously Kansas has seen A&M and as the no. 7 they are not the front runners to come out of this group.  But Mark Turgeon is a good coach and if he can get the Aggies to a game in the round of eight against Kansas it could be interesting. Still I don't see Kansas playing an off game against the Aggies like they did in Lawrence and A&M was 0-3 against Texas which seems to suggest that maybe they just aren't on that same level.

Georgetown and Notre Dame are intimidating opponents because of the leadership and experience that they put on the court at the guard position.  They are teams that probably overachieve a bit when compared to their talent level based on that experience and that's always a recipe for a tough out in March. 

For Georgetown to make it, they'll have to go through Purdue and the Boilermakers might be one of the more intimidating possibilities for the Jayhawks.  The Big 10 is a league that plays physical, but they also seem to play smart.  What that means in March is that they can adjust, whereas it seems teams from the Big East can struggle depending on the officiating.  JaJuan Johnson is a player on the interior that can matchup with Kansas and give the Jayhawk bigs trouble.  E'Twaun Moore is a guard and a scorer that gives the Boilermakers an outside threat.  Those two themselves make the Boildermakers a tricky matchup and when you throw in some decent depth and experience across the board it makes Purdue the team that I think gives Kansas the most trouble in a potential regional final.

 

Final Four: ???

At this point the possibilities are numerous and what direction this tourney takes is anyone's guess.  The reality is that if Kansas makes it to this point all bets are off.  You expect great teams in the Final Four, you expect tough competition and that last step is sometimes the toughest step in what amounts to a very tough tourney to win.  But then again, isn't that why we love it?

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