Kansas tips off on Friday night in Kansas City as they begin their quest for a Final Four trip to Atlanta
The brackets are out, the path is somewhat determined. Kansas has now been a number one seed in five of the last seven years. That is quite an accomplishment, but it most certainly doesn't guarantee success. As Bill Self says every year, this is about matchups. Sometimes Kansas has been on the right side of those matchups, other times they have found themselves caught by the upset bug. Twice the Jayhawks have reached the Final Four during that stretch, both times Kansas has played in the National Championship game and of course Kansas won the title in 2008.
How does the path lay out this year? It starts with a no. 16 seed in Western Kentucky. The Hilltopers have been a tournament threat in years past even finding their way into the tournament with an at large bid. This year they needed the Sun Belt title to get in and they are definitely one of the bottom four teams in the tournament. That's not to say lighting can't strike, it just hasn't happened yet. The Hilltoppers are an average offensive team that does a solid job attacking the glass, but they are small and they aren't great defensively. If history holds, Kansas should find little difficulty in dispatching Western Kentucky, but it would always be in the best interest of the team to focus one game at a time.
Round two will put Kansas against either Villanova or North Carolina. This will mark the third time in six years that Kansas has played North Carolina if Roy Williams and his team can get past the Wildcats. North Carolina is a team that has come on strong late in the season reaching the ACC tournament final before losing to Miami. The Tar Heels are athletic, they possess high ceiling talent, and they have several players that can stretch the floor and hit the three. Sound familiar? It could be a challenging matchup for Kansas, but at the same time this is an up and down team.
On the other side of the coin you have Villanova. The Wildcats pressure and that could be a concern for the Jayhawks who have struggled with ball control and turnovers throughout the season. Villanova also has one heck of a resume in terms of wins. The Wildcats have beaten Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette this year so they are certainly capable of beating North Carolina and Kansas. Villanova isn't great offensively, but they are a top 25 defensive group and they can challenge anyone in the country.
Looking beyond the first weekend of action you get into projecting wins and who will beat who to meet Kansas if the Jayhawks should manage to advance. The no. 4 vs no. 5 matchup is VCU and Michigan and both of those team are very dangerous in this tournament. Trey Burke is perhaps the player of the year and the Wolverines can spread the floor and light it up from outside. They have struggled on the inside and they definitely seemed to peak early in the year, but they can make noise in this tournament.
VCU seems to be the hot name at the moment. The Rams feature a top 20 offense from an efficiency standpoint and a top 15 offense from a scoring standpoint. They are solid defensively and like to get up and down. Kansas has been able to win games playing fast, they've also done well playing slow, but this wouldn't be easy because the Rams force plenty of turnovers and challenge you every step of the way. Turnovers have plagued Kansas at times and this matchup might be the biggest test in that regard.
Moving to the bottom of the bracket the South features Georgetown, Florida and UCLA as the potential favorites. UCLA sustained a pretty key injury during Pac 12 play and hasn't been consistent enough to feel like a major threat. Florida has looked great at times, then again they've looked pretty average at times. They are a team that has struggled in close games and when they aren't hitting from outside it can mean a loss. They are however big inside and they have the perimeter players to do some damage if things start to roll. At their best, this team appears to be the favorite in the minds of many coming out of the South.
Georgetown is the no. 2 and Otto Porter has a chance to elevate his star depending on how this tournament plays out. The Hoyas won the Big East, they have beaten good teams all year and they are tough defensively. Offensively they leave something to be desired, but they also have perhaps the regions best player in Otto Porter and he is someone who can carry his team a bit if necessary.
Overall it's definitely not the easiest path that Kansas has ever faced. Then again the Jayhawks have sometimes done better with their backs against the wall. The reality is you're going to have to beat good teams to get to the Final Four. Relying on all those teams to lose doesn't always ensure success so you might as well put your money on the best coach in the nation and see what happens. It takes some luck and some talent, hopefully Kansas can find a bit of both.