*This is the second edition in a four-part series this week where we will have four writers arguing the national championship credentials for the only NCAA teams left in March Madness: Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville. Yesterday, we brought you Ohio State. Today, it’s Kansas.*
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For the second time in the last five seasons, Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks will be heading to the Final Four, looking to repeat their National Championship run of 2008. Self led the Jayhawks to a 27-6 record (16-2 in the Big 12) before falling to Baylor in the conference tournament and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Midwest Region. Coming off a big win against the bracket’s top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight, Rock Chalk is heading to New Orleans to face off against Ohio State this Saturday.
The contest is a rematch of a game played in Kansas back in December, with the Jayhawks besting a Jared Sullinger-less Buckeyes squad, 78-67. Led by forward Thomas Robinson and point guard Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks are hoping to run through Ohio State yet again for another shot at the college basketball crown. Here’s what to expect heading into this weekend’s festivities.
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Why Kansas will win it all…
Simple: Thomas Robinson. The first unanimous AP All-American selection since 2009 is a semi-tamed beast out on the hardwood, working the low-post and running the floor like a man possessed for 30-plus minutes a game. He averages 17.7 points and 11.8 boards, shooting over 50 percent from the floor and even draining seven of his 14 attempts from beyond the arc this season. He seems to run on pure adrenaline and emotion most of the time, earning a handful of buckets and rebounds each game on sheer determination alone. At one point during the Elite Eight matchup with UNC, I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to score on Tyler Zeller or force him to curl up in the fetal position, stricken with fear. Robinson is the straw that stirs the drink for the Jayhawks, the team’s most (and at times, only) consistent player over the course of the year. As long as Kansas keeps feeding the ball to the 6-10 junior, they will have a chance to cut the nets down.
Why Kansas won’t win it all…
Lack of depth. The Jayhawks have only seven guys that average double-digit minutes, only three that score in double figures, only two that score consistently and only one that Jayhawk and college basketball fans seem to fully trust (more on this in a bit). If Robinson, Taylor, Elijah Johnson or Jeff Withey get into foul trouble or Robinson and Taylor have an off night, it could get ugly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams like Ohio State and (potentially) Kentucky use their depth and size to attack guys like Robinson and Withey on the inside and make Bill Self go deeper into his bench than he is accustomed to. Robinson has only fouled out twice this season, but he will likely need to be on the floor for at least 35 minutes a game in the Final Four if Kansas wants to keep dancing.
Tyshawn Taylor. The senior point man for the Jayhawks has been on a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde trajectory since he came to Lawrence as a freshman. His stats look good on paper this year, averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 assists while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and almost 40 percent from deep. But Taylor has also had his fair share of moments when his concentration seems to lack, and it’s reflected in his performance. He’s struggled in big games, too, going 3-for-13 from the floor in the early loss to Kentucky, committing 11 turnovers in a loss to Duke, and shooting 4-for-11 with five turnovers in defeat against Davidson. The Jayhawks need Taylor to play a strong second banana to Robinson if they want to advance. So who will show up? The 22 points (10-for-19), six rebounds, five assists, five steals Tyshawn from the win over UNC, or the six points (2-for-14), five turnovers Tyshawn from the narrow Sweet 16 victory over NC State?
If he plays well, look out…
For the Jayhawks, this could be either Elijah Johnson or Jeff Withey. Johnson has been the most reliable third option for Kansas of late, averaging exactly 10 points a game for the season. He’s come up big in the tourney, dropping double-digit point totals in all four games thus far, including a big 18-point outburst in the 63-60 win over Purdue. Withey will be key on the interior for Rock Chalk nation. If the 7-footer can duplicate his performance in the UNC game (15 points, eight boards, three blocks) against Ohio State’s Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, Kansas’ title game prospects will look much brighter.
How things will shake out…
The 11-point December victory over Ohio State is rendered pretty moot at this point, especially when the Buckeyes were without their leading scorer and rebounder. I would expect OSU to use their frontcourt depth to attack the Jayhawk big men and try to put Thomas Robinson on the bench. The Jayhawks will need to counter with strong guard play from Taylor, Johnson and Travis Releford, while doing their best to funnel Robinson the ball on offense and keep him out of harm’s way on the other end. Beyond that, the Jayhawks match up well with the Louisville Cardinals and not-so-much with the Kentucky Wildcats (although no one does). Ultimately, the output from Robinson and Taylor will determine how far this team goes, regardless of who they are going up against. When those two are on their game, the Jayhawks can take down anyone.
What is the key for Kansas this weekend?
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