And now for the mighty Jayhawks.
Sunday was everything this year’s team is about, compressed into 40 minutes. Moments where they looked completely brilliant. Moments where they faced a serious personnel issue and eased past it with no problem. Moments where they looked totally dominant on the glass. Moments where they could get, and make, any shot they wanted.
And then the moments where they played entirely too fast without any poise. The moments they seemed only mildly interested in playing defense. Moments when they took great scoring chances and turned them into the most difficult plays possible. Moments where they seemed to get more wrapped up in out-macho-ing their opponent than in actually beating them.
But that last 10 minutes…whoooooo boy…that wiped out any bad moments. Playing a significant chunk of that time without Landen Lucas on the court, they absolutely trounced Michigan State. They out-Izzoed the Izzos in March. They stepped on the gas and kept the pedal planted until the final horn.
In some ways, it was Frank Mason’s worst game in a long time. He seemed to get too wrapped up in the “banter” with the MSU players. There was a stretch in the second half where he seemed to give up on his teammates and played a little out-of-control. He didn’t hit a 3-pointer. And yet, he was still right at 20 points, had a few huge drives for scores when KU took the game over, and found Devonte Graham, who was hitting from 3, for two huge treys late.
Oh, and how about Josh Jackson? Way too sped up early. But once he settled… As I texted to some friends during the second half, he was fucking filthy in the second half. The step-back three he hit was a thing of beauty. He hit several other nice Js, and the turn-around bank shot he hit in the first half was amazing. Throw in an emphatic dunk that sealed the win and you had a pretty fantastic day for the freshman.
Now KU enters the Sweet 16 averaging 95 points through two games, which no KU team has ever done in the NCAA tournament. I think most KU fans are feeling pretty good about the team today.
The Sweet 16 matchup is fascinating. Purdue is very big. Caleb Swanigan is one of the 4–5 best players in the game right now. They have a bunch of shooters around him that make it almost impossible to double him. But Purdue has struggled with teams that have quick guards all year. Although I didn’t get to see it, I gather Purdue was extremely fortunate to get past Iowa State Saturday night. Now they have to play a team that’s similar to Iowa State in front of a very partisan crowd. Plus their opponent can match Swanigan with two of the other 4–5 best players in the game.
Today, I like our chances. I think we can run those bigs into the ground. If we hit shots, and if Josh Jackson keeps playing at the level he’s been at, KU wins. KU’s not played anyone like Purdue this year, though. They’ve beaten several teams that were clearly bigger than them, notably Duke and Kentucky. But Indiana’s Thomas Bryant is a little like Swanigan, and he beat up KU pretty good. It was James Blackmon that won that game, though, not Bryant. KU will have to keep Swanigan’s supporting cast in check.
Thursday morning, I bet I feel a lot less confident than I do right now.
The most important thing is that the Jayhawks are still dancing. Sweet 16 week is the best week of the tournament for real hoops fans – if your team is still in the tournament. It’s all about basketball now. Instead of dreaming of winning six games, now you’re focused on winning two to get to the Final Four. It was a good first weekend. It’s time for a great second weekend.
It looks like Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and Dan Bonner will follow the Jayhawks to KC. For the most part, I approve. They were pretty good in Tulsa. If Dan Bonner could just cut his guffawing laughter they might be perfect. This is a complaint I’ve had for roughly 20 years. He’s a really good analyst, but that laughter has got to go.
Swanigan is viewed by many as the savior of the Purdue program. But he was awfully close to going to Michigan State, changing his commitment at the very last minute. Imagine if he had been on last year’s Michigan State team. They probably don’t lose in the first round of the tournament. They may very well have won it all. Would he be back for his sophomore year had that happened? Might Josh Jackson have picked Michigan State if he had been there? Might Purdue have fired Matt Painter by now if he hadn’t nabbed Swanigan?
Hey, three Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16! Came awfully close to it being four. I think conference loyalty is dumb, but hopefully West Virginia and Baylor advancing makes KU’s regular season accomplishments look better. Those teams were, after all, both four games behind KU in the conference standings. I think Baylor might have the best chance to get through this weekend of the three teams. But it’s not like they played great the first weekend, so that’s based more on them being in the decimated east region that their play. All that matters is that they’re still playing, though. Scott Drew can silence a lot of critics next weekend.