Kansas’ Kryptonite: Five Teams That Can Cause Problems for the JayhawksPosted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2017
Monday night’s memorable comeback win over West Virginia effectively sealed Kansas’ record-tying 13th straight Big 12 title — if not mathematically, then symbolically. Yes, Baylor could topple the Jayhawks on Saturday in Waco to pull within a single game in the standings with two weeks left, but the Bears also must face the same Mountaineers team that steamrolled them last month and travel to Hilton Coliseum. Even if Baylor were to beat the odds and win out, Kansas’ finale in Stillwater represents the only other remaining game it could foreseeably lose, as its other three match-ups are home tilts against TCU and Oklahoma and a road game against Texas. And even if the improbable occurs and Kansas drops its final game along with Baylor winning its last five, the Jayhawks would still be in possession of a share of the conference title. So while the confetti may not officially fly in Lawrence for a couple more weeks, the gameday crew can start stocking up on cannons and CO2 without much apprehension. As far as March is concerned, Kansas’ status as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference may cement its standing as a #1 seed no matter what happens at the Big 12 Tournament.
We know that Kansas has a National Championship ceiling because it boasts three-point shooters all over the floor, one of the game’s best coaches, a one-and-done wing who is becoming more impressive by the day, and a penchant for closing out tight games in preparation for single-elimination basketball. On the other hand, though, those close games have revealed some weaknesses that opponents can exploit to send the Jayhawks home early. With their fate as a top-two NCAA Tournament seed all but assured, it’s not too early to look around the rest of the field and identify a handful of teams that could give Kansas some serious headaches when the brackets are revealed 24 days from today.
- Villanova. We’ll start with an easy one. We know Villanova can beat Kansas because the Wildcats did it last year with much of the same roster en route to the National Championship. Not only would Kansas have to once again deal with the crafty talents of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, but sophomore Jalen Brunson (38.4% 3FG, 88% FT) has stepped up to replicate the highly efficient production of graduated Ryan Arcidiacano.
- UCLA. The Bruins’ offense is one of the best of the last 15 years. They can score inside and outside the arc, both in transition and against half-court defense. On the other end of the floor, UCLA isn’t nearly as impressive, but they do thrive in a couple of areas that could still frustrate Kansas. The Bruins rank 25th in the country in defensive assist rate, which is good enough to disrupt the Jayhawks’ efforts to create open looks in catch-and-shoot and dump-off scenarios. UCLA also ranks among the top 60 in limiting transition shots, a trait that would come in handy against Kansas’ potent running game. Additionally, 6’6″ point guard Lonzo Ball would have a distinct size advantage on Frank Mason, who, for all his ability, can be prone to stretches of hero-ball.
- Purdue. The Boilermakers’ unique combination of size and shooting would give Kansas all kinds of trouble. Big man Caleb Swanigan may be the best power forward in college basketball this season, proficient at all three levels of offense plus the free throw line (77.5% FT). Meanwhile, Isaac Haas finishes at the rim exactly how you’d expect from a talented 7’2″ center while drawing an astonishing 8.4 fouls per 40 minutes. Around the arc, Purdue boasts a mind-boggling six regulars (including Swanigan) who are shooting between 35 and 49 percent from deep on no fewer than 59 attempts each. Projected as a #4-seed by TeamRankings.com, Purdue is a team that would test the limits of Kansas’ bend-don’t-break style, most likely in the Sweet Sixteen.
- North Carolina. The Tar Heels are a familiar March opponent for the Jayhawks, so it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Roy Williams again square off versus his old school during the second weekend in Kansas City. While Bill Self has gotten the better of the Tar Heels in their last three NCAA Tournament matchups, this isn’t a traditional Kansas team. There’s been no shortage of opposing big men who have successfully exploited Kansas’ stark lack of inside depth this season, and between Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson, North Carolina would have a clear advantage on the front line.
- Marquette. Iowa State snapped Kansas’ long home winning streak with the high-variance strategy of firing three-pointers at will, and to the Cyclones’ credit, it worked. The Golden Eagles are on the wrong side of the bubble as of this writing, but if the best three-point shooting team in the country can sneak into The Dance, Kansas could find itself in a possible Round Of 32 trap game. Marquette beat Villanova last month despite shooting just 59 percent from the foul line and forcing eight turnovers because they went 9-of-19 from beyond the arc.