I had a bad feeling about Purdue. I thought their ability to shoot the three well would kill us, and their ability to keep from turning the ball over and the fact that they eschew offensive rebounding to cut down on the number of fast breaks would supremely limit Kansas's ability to score, and that spelled upset. Nearly all of that happened: Purdue shot 44.4% from three, the game was just 57 possessions, the only KU game in the 50s this year, and Purdue turned it over on just 17.5% of their possessions. The only thing that deviated from their plan was a good deviation, as they grabbed 34% of their misses. Yet, somehow, Kansas won. It was a game they had no business winning, but they won.
I'll admit that at halftime, after Purdue shot roughly one billion percent from the floor (a conservative estimate) and Robbie Hummel was absolutely unconscious, yet still only led by six, that Kansas would win rather handily via a second half run. But that run never materialized. What Kansas did instead was perhaps even more impressive. Bill Self switched to a triangle and two and Kansas mostly shut down Hummel in the second half, forcing the rest of the Boilermakers to beat them.
To be honest, I don't really pay attention to or notice many coaching moves in NCAA tournament games involving Kansas. I'm usually too emotionally invested as a fan to think about anything else. But I noticed how Bill Self coached a masterful game last night, not just with the switching of the defense but how he managed the foul trouble of Tyshawn Taylor and Travis Releford, who were perhaps the two most important players on the floor last night thanks to Releford's defending. Though it was tough to not have him out there for his free throw shooting and ability to protect the rim, Withey sitting out was probably the right move. And it must be said that he managed to coach around a pretty poor performance and effort by his best player.
With a game against NC State, who is at first glance the exact type of team Kansas would want to play, and either Ohio or a not at full strength North Carolina, Kansas is probably the favorite to make it to New Orleans. But things seemed even more opened up for a Final Four berth last year, and we unfortunately saw how that happened.
For now though, let's not worry about the future. Let's celebrate a win over a very good Purdue team who had a great game plan that was executed about as perfectly as could be. And a special hats off to Robbie Hummel on a great year and great career. I was always a fan of his and him going down to an ACL injury not once but twice is one of the more terrible things imaginable (in a basketball sense) and he fought back to have a hell of a year this year and cap off a great career. He deserved to go out in a better fashion, and if they had been playing anyone else I would have cheered for him to do so.
- Much like we saw the emergence of Tyshawn Taylor earlier this year, we are seeing Elijah Johnson ascend into stardom. He has always been a guy who was content to sit in the background and contribute as needed (in a good way), but now that he is needed to do more he is doing just that. He went 4-6 from two, 3-8 from three and grabbed 4 rebounds, had 3 assists and 2 steals, including the key steal and score to put Kansas ahead for good. In a game marked by spotty play by the team in white he was a steady presence and there's no way we would have won without him.
- Tyshawn went 0-4 from three, but outside of that had a really nice game. He went 4-7 from three and had a team high 4 assists. He also played tough defense, especially in the second half, and made both of his free throws. Not a classic "I don't want this to be my last game" type of performance, but a good one nonetheless.
- Someone who didn't have one of those games in any way is Thomas Robinson. I don't want to excoriate the kid too bad, especially in a win, but he was awful. I don't know if he was nervous or was thinking he'd have an easy time inside or had one foot in the NBA Draft already, but he showed no interest in playing defense and had a tough time posting up Robbie Hummel and Purdue's two "posts" who are 6'9". He shot just 2 of 12 from the field, and hopefully this is his one stinker of the tournament because Kansas isn't going any further with that type of effort from him in subsequent rounds.
- Kevin Young provided some solid minutes off the bench, grabbing 5 offensive rebounds and providing a blocked shot.
- Conner had a tough day from beyond the arc, but his 2 threes were big ones, and he played better defense than I think I have ever seen him play before.
- Travis Releford got hit in the head twice, once by Robinson, but went 4-5 from two and had 6 rebounds in another very good all around game for him. He also played his customary defense (again, mostly in the second half. Sensing a theme?)
- THARPE WATCH: Tharpe provided 4 minutes off the bench, had a rebound and made just the 5th three of his career.