Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

Strengths

Bill Self is Headed to His Third Final Four at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  • Veteran Leadership. It is quite clear that this team belongs to its senior point guard, Graham. His energy and love for the game feeds into his leadership style, as Self noted after the Elite Eight victory over Duke: “He’s one of the best leaders — if not the best leader — that we’ve ever had.” Considering all the great players that have played at Kansas over the last 15 years, that comment is very high praise indeed. It must also be noted that fellow senior Mykhailiuk is a two-year starter and someone who his coaches and teammates speak very highly of whenever the opportunity arises.
  • Star Power. While this might be one of the least talented rosters Self has had at Kansas, there are still some stars in the fold. Graham was named a first-team AP All-American on Monday, which was a fitting honor for the Big 12 Player of the Year. Mykhailiuk had been fairly inconsistent throughout his collegiate career, but he has really come into his own during his senior season. He now owns the single-season school record for most three-pointers in a year. And since the start of the Big 12 Tournament, Newman has been playing on another level. He has topped 30 points twice — including 32 against Duke — and has scored fewer than 17 points only once. There is no player remaining in the NCAA Tournament who has been on a heater like Newman over the past month.
  • Scoring Ability. Kansas has had one of the best offenses in the country this season. All of the starters average more than 10 points per game, and each of the five have taken a star turn at one point or another this season. The Jayhawks also average a robust 81.4 points per game as a team — they are a dynamic offensive unit with enough weapons on that end to keep any defense working throughout the entire game.

Weaknesses

  • Depth. For all the offensive firepower Kansas has in its starting lineup, the Jayhawks do not have very much depth. In Sunday’s Elite Eight victory over Duke, only reserve guard Marcus Garrett and reserve forward Silvio De Sousa saw any minutes from the bench. While forward Mitch Lightfoot and guards Clay Young and Sam Cunliffe have also seen some time in reserve roles this season, all indications are that they are not currently in the Jayhawks’ normal rotation and will likely only be seen in cases of serious foul trouble.
  • Defensive and rebounding inconsistency. The Jayhawks have not been an excellent defensive or rebounding team this season. While there have been some bright spots from time to time, it has been mostly average. Kansas allows 71.3 points per game (149th in the country), collects only 35.7 rebounds per game (162nd in the country), and ranks 42nd nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Jayhawks will need to be better than those averages if they want to make some noise in San Antonio, but considering how well they defended and rebounded against Duke, it is certainly possible for Kansas to succeed in those categories again.

Go-To Scorer

Devonte’ Graham Has Waited Four Years For This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Devonte’ Graham (17.2 PPG). Newman might be Kansas’ hottest player – but with the game on the line, the ball is going to be in Graham’s hands. The Big 12 Player of the Year had a remarkable senior season and is one of the most clutch players in the country. If there is an instance this weekend where the Jayhawks absolutely need a basket, they will more than likely give the ball to Graham and let him create. The senior point guard can shoot it from the outside (40.3% 3FG) and is very adept at getting to the rim.

X-Factor

Udoka Azubuike (13.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG). At 7’0″ and 280 pounds, Azubuike serves as the anchor of Kansas’ offensive attack. Often the Jayhawks look to get him involved early to establish a threat in the middle. A major key for Kansas is for Azubuike to avoid foul trouble, as the Jayhawks are very thin in front line depth. If Azubuike can stay on the floor, he represents a mismatch on the interior for Villanova, and if Kansas beats the Wildcats, he would certainly cause problems for either Loyola-Chicago or Michigan.

Outlook

Kansas arguably played its best game of the season in Sunday’s Elite Eight win over Duke. Who is to say the Jayhawks cannot play that well again? They will probably need to, as Saturday’s semifinal matches them up with a Villanova team that enters the Final Four as the favorite to take home the national title. If Kansas can find its way past the Wildcats, it will be the favorite in Monday night’s title game against either Loyola-Chicago or Michigan. It will be difficult, but the opportunity is certainly there for the Jayhawks to cut down the nets Monday night for the program’s fourth National Championship.

WCarey (283 Posts)


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