KU Hoops: A Fine Weekend

I hate it when my favorite team makes me look dumb.

I pick this as the year KU’s Big 12 title streak ends and they go out and win the conference by two games.

They lose their only effective big man going into the conference tournament, and have to play a team that dominated them twice, so I figure they’re either one-and-done or maybe win Thursday and lose Friday. So of course they cruise on Thursday, fight through a sloppy game Friday, and play their best game of the season Saturday to wrap up the tournament title and secure a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the process.

Thanks a lot, Jayhawks.

Last weekend was a fine weekend of hoops for my boys. That Saturday championship game against West Virginia was fantastic, one that will not get deleted off the DVR for awhile. And while it came with the usual caveats of small sample sizes, their three-game run erased a lot of questions about this team.

Malik Newman was amazing all weekend. He finally, consistently showed the talent that made him one of the best players in the country his senior year of high school. He was barely touching rim on his shots over the weekend. Hell, the ball barely touched his hands between pass and shot. He was locked in. It’s unrealistic to expect that performance in every game going forward. But he’s playing with a massive amount of confidence and if KU plays long enough, he should have another game like that in him.

Silvio De Sousa’s performance was a potential season-changer. We were all worried about how KU would do without Udoka Azubuike down low. Mitch Lightfoot had mixed results all weekend. But De Sousa, especially on Saturday, suddenly looked like a legit rotation player that can be counted on to play significant minutes in the NCAA tournament. The kid struggled so much to find his comfort zone since his arrival in late December. Even on the nights when he could stay on the court more than a few minutes, he often looked lost and uncertain. Suddenly this weekend KU was running plays for him, and they were working. He was getting rebounds no one on KU has gotten all year. He was the toughest player aside from Devonté Graham KU has had all year.

Like Newman, you can’t expect De Sousa to go 8–8 from the field and grab 12 rebounds every night. And I think he benefitted from already having prepared for and played against West Virginia twice. He may not look as comfortable against NC State or Seton Hall Saturday with only a day to watch film.[1] But he is a guy you can now expect to play 10–15 minutes. If he can stay on the high end of that range, and be effective on the boards, he’s a game-changer for KU, shoring up one of their biggest weak spots.

Throw in another wonderful weekend from Devonté Graham, including a career-defining sequence late in the championship game,[2] and suddenly I was feeling awfully good about my team’s chance in the NCAAs. Before I was just hoping they could survive the first weekend. Now I was thinking if they play smart they should be in the Elite 8 for a third-straight year at minimum. Play at even 85–90% of what they played Saturday and they were a Final Four team.

All that assumed that Azubuike will be ready to play by Saturday and came before seeing the brackets.

After seeing the brackets, I think KU has a pretty good draw on their half of the Midwest Region. I woke up today to a bunch of talk about Penn being the best 16 seed in years. I’m sure they’re a fine team, but they’ve played one team anywhere near KU’s quality this year, Villanova, and lost handedly. It being March, I’m sure they’ll ugly up the game and make it closer than it should be. But Devonté isn’t ending his career by being part of the first #1 seed to ever lose to a #16.

In the second round both Seton Hall and NC State represent threats. Seton Hall can be really good when they’re on. They have two players that will pose big threats to KU. And NC State is a really solid team that has a lot of great wins this year.

But Devonté isn’t letting Seton Hall get the best of him, and he’s not ending his career by losing to his hometown team.

In the Sweet 16, both Auburn and Clemson ended their seasons on cold stretches, and both lost extremely important inside players in recent weeks. Both teams, if they make it to the second weekend, are certainly capable of beating KU. But I would much rather play either of those teams with their flaws than have to face Arizona. Arizona as a four seed is ridiculous. And the last time KU played Wichita State was also in Omaha and that game did not go well for the Jayhawks.

Baring major injury, KU really should be in the Elite 8. And then you take your chances with Duke or Michigan State. For the record I’d rather play Duke. I don’t think KU can guard Michigan State’s inside guys at all. Duke doesn’t really guard anyone, so KU could turn that game into a shootout and hope they hit shots at the end to pull it out. Either way, there would be no shame in losing to either of those teams, which are both far more talented than KU is. Hell, maybe that’s the way for Bill Self to get over his Elite 8 issues for the first time since 2012. It was playing a loaded North Carolina team in that year’s Elite 8 that produced the best-ever performance by a Self team in that round.

All of this make me really nervous. I haven’t felt this good about a KU bracket in a long time. Given how this year has gone, KU is probably about to make me look dumb again. I’m sure I’ll be a complete mess Thursday afternoon, when game time coincides with school pickup time. I anticipate Penn leading by five at halftime as I’m forced to follow the game on my phone.

Some other notes from the weekend:

  • Man, Sagaba Konate is the biggest punk to come through the Big 12 in a long time. He was a mess in the championship game Saturday. There wasn’t a dead ball when he didn’t put a shoulder or elbow into a KU player. He leg swept Mitch Lightfoot early in the game. Somehow he gets away with being more demonstrative than Draymond Green. The refs must be afraid of him. On KU’s final basket of the night, an alley-oop from LaGerald Vick to Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Konate ran under Svi and pushed him, again with no call. It’s one thing to be physical. Konate seems like a guy that is intentionally trying to hurt people. Which is a shame because he’s a great player.
  • Speaking of that, once again West Virginia’s offense went to shit late in a tight game. When KU started raining 3s in the final four minutes, instead of throwing the ball to Konate, who KU literally could not stop, the Mountaineers started chucking hero-ball 3s. Once Daxter Miles finally missed one, I knew the game was over. I said it last month: KU is all up in Bob Huggins’ head.
  • Seriously, if Makol Mawien can drop 29 on KU Friday, there should be no possession when Konate doesn’t touch the ball.
  • That was as enjoyable a Big 12 title game for me since the classic 2008 one between KU and Texas, which played out similarly. That day both teams traded shots all day until KU, led by Mario Chalmers, went on a devastating run to close the game out. Both games were ones, with 4–5 minutes left, I said to myself, “This is a great game. I’m fine losing it because we are playing so well.” Back in ’08 my pledge for the NCAA tournament was to remember that team based on the Big 12 title game, when they played nearly perfectly. I’m going to try to do the same this year. Maybe things will turn out as good as they did in ’08!
  • S was out of town over the weekend, so it was just the girls and I. I ordered pizza and disappeared into the basement when the game started Saturday. That was as much yelling as I’ve done all year. Once, I think after De Sousa’s dunk to end the first half, I yelled so loud and long that all the noise upstairs stopped momentarily. I don’t know if they thought I was in distress, or that I was yelling at them to knock off whatever they were doing.

I’ll have more thoughts on the tournament as a whole tomorrow.

  1. Assuming KU wins Thursday, of course.  ↩
  2. Yanks off his arm sleeve, which had been pulled out of place by a West Virginia defender, and throws it into the crowd. Then drives Jevon Carter deep into the lane, throws two little head fakes, and hits a tough-ass 15’ baseline jumper. Next time down, he surveys the defense, gets a switch onto Esa Ahmad, and then drills a step-back three that pretty much ended the game.  ↩

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