Kansas will play their first, and please for the love of all that is holy, not last tournament game for the year today. If you’re reading this, I assume you know that Kansas is the 1 seed in the West Region, facing off against the 16th seeded Howard Bison. Howard got here by winning the MEAC conference tournament in a one point victory over Norfolk State (shoutout 2012 Norfolk State!) after also winning the regular season conference title.
Going by Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Howard was the 3rd best team in the MEAC this year, albeit with little difference between them and the top two. He ranks them 216th nationally, with the 205th ranked offense and 213th ranked defense. That, along with a point spread fluctuation between about 20 and 22 points, should tell you that this is, as one would expect, a drastic mismatch.
Howard’s statistical profile really only shows one thing that could keep them in this game, but we’ll get to that in a moment. For the most part, it’s hard to find much about this team that would scare a team with the level of talent Kansas has. They have a terrible turnover problem, turning it over on both 22.9% of possessions outside of conference play and within the MEAC. Part of that is likely due to starting a pair of sophomore guards, which means this is not one of those teams with poised, battle-tested seniors handling the ball, a trait that is at least anecdotally one shared by many teams who make surprising tournament runs. Howard does have some height, unlike most teams at this level of D1 basketball. Jordan Wood and Steve Settle are 6’9 and 6’10, which will actually make them the two tallest players on the court to start the game. With that said, it hasn’t made this team good at the types of things one would expect from a small conference team with two trees to throw at smaller frontcourts. They’re pretty bad on the defensive glass, ranking 309th there nationally. They’re outside the top 200 teams in block rate. Their offensive rebounding initially looks impressive, grabbing 33.8% of their misses for the year, but upon closer inspection, you can see that those numbers are largely driven to grabbing over 37% in conference play, going up against MEAC level competition. They still grabbed a fair amount of their own misses in non-con play, but it didn’t typically keep them close when faced with good competition.
I mentioned one skill the Bison have that could be troubling, and that’s their three point shooting. Howard hits 37.2% of their threes, good for 32nd nationally. With that said, they generally don’t make it a focal point of the offense. They’ve taken 36.1% of their total shots from three, which is just 231st in D1 basketball. That number did go up a bit in MEAC play, but not to where they were freely gunning away from behind the three point arc. They could potentially come out firing against Kansas as a way to try and neutralize the athletic disparity, but coaches tend to prefer leaning on what they know in tough situations like this, rather than switching up the gameplan that got them here. However, while Kansas doesn’t have great rim protection, they do play very good two point defense, and Howard ranks 200th in making just under half their two point attempts. They’re mediocre in terms of drawing fouls and getting to the line, so short of a hot day shooting the ball from three, nothing really suggests that this team should be scoring many points on the Jayhawks
Kenny Blakeney has had the Bison trending up from a very bad spot in the last few years, and this year he even snagged 3 star freshman win Shy Odom, who starts for Howard and is third on the team in scoring. Odom may not be a household name, but he chose Howard over offers from Georgetown, Penn State, and even USC. This is a level of player who doesn’t typically land in the MEAC, and while his freshman numbers don’t suggest he’s a threat to torch Kansas, he could be a sign of further improvement for this program. However, unlike many teams that make cinderella runs this time of year, the Bison start just one senior. This may be more of a mid-major program on the rise than one ready to contend for tournament wins, especially against a battle-tested team like Kansas. As much as my anxiety wants to focus on this team’s three point shooting and the potential for them scorching the nets on their way to the second-ever 16 seed upset...nah. This team won’t be able to guard players like Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson, or get their offense going against Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar.
Kansas 83, Howard 60