We’ve had a stomach bug run through the house. There’s been plenty of middle-of-the-night puking and I’ve had a sick kid home three different days. As I mentioned yesterday, the weather has been strange, careening between February snows and April showers. We are hosting our family Easter celebration on Saturday, so in between dealing with kids I’ve been trying to get the house prepped. It was also kickball jersey week, so our bonus room has piles of uniforms I’ve sorted out for St. P’s five spring teams.
Oh, and then there are the hoops.
It’s been a fine week to be a KU fan. I’ve spent approximately 87 hours reading articles, posts, and Tweets about last Sunday’s Duke game and tomorrow’s Villanova game. I’ve watched countless videos of celebrations by the team after the Duke game, the fantastic footage of kids running at full speed to get from campus to Mass Street after the game, and highlight packages.
Usually during Final Four week, I’m focused on what is ahead. But this week has been a long look back at how this team came together over the last month or so to play their best ball of the year in the season’s biggest moment. I hope the team isn’t suffering from the same hangover of the Duke game that us fans seem to be afflicted with. But as a fan it is hard not to want to hold on to one of the best games in the history of the program.
I wanted to try to put the Duke game in perspective. There is a fundamental difference between a great game in December and one in March. Those December games can be immense fun, but win or lose, there is another game a few days later. March’s win or go home nature adds at least 25% to every emotion surrounding the games played then. So I figured I’d compare it to KU games in March over the years. Even that felt too broad, though. So I decided to take the years that KU has made the Final Four in my fan life and compare the Duke game to the Elite 8 game in each of those years. Turns out there are some doozies.
Ranked, in reverse order, here’s how they stack up to me:
- 9 – NC State, 1986. I really don’t remember this game that well. I know KU came back from a deficit in the second half, Danny Manning was huge late, and Jim Valvano mock complained about having to play in Kansas City. But the bigger game that year was the overtime win over Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
- 8 – Davidson, 2008. Despite what happened in San Antonio the next weekend, I still hate this game. This, infamously, was the game that made me flip out. When Davidson took a 7-point lead midway through the second half, I just could not deal with KU losing in the Elite 8 again. I turned the TV off, got in my car, and drove aimlessly, avoiding the game until I began getting texts from happy/relieved KU fans after Davidson’s potential game-winner missed.
7 – Indiana, 1993. Felt bigger at the time. It was a really good game that KU took control of in the last 10 minutes with a few huge defensive plays and some back-breaking 3-pointers. But compared to others on this list, it doesn’t hold up as well.
6 – Oregon, 2002. Oregon decided they wanted to run with the Jayhawks. Then they got run out of the building. This was the game I invented my patented “Run around the house and act like a fool” celebration when KU was kicking ass.
5 – Kansas State, 1988. Mitch Richmond and the Cats had ended KU’s 55 game home winning streak six weeks earlier. Paybacks are a bitch.
4 – Arizona, 2003. Back-to-back Final Fours by beating one of KU’s biggest non-conference rivals of that era was great. This was a terrific game, too, going down to the final seconds. KU also got revenge for a 20-point loss to Arizona earlier in the season.
3 – UNC, 2012. Beating Roy is always fresh. To do so with a junk defense he couldn’t figure out and by out-toughing his team in crunch time was even better. Elijah Johnson’s 3-pointer with about 2:00 left broke a tie and kicked off a 12–0 closing run. We watched this game outside in Kansas City with friends on an absolutely perfect day. And the next day, while driving back to Indy, we saw a parade of happy Jayhawk cars returning from St. Louis. Along with last week’s game, probably the best KU has ever played in an Elite 8.
2 – Arkansas, 1991. The first Elite 8 of my college years, and it was an incredible game. #1 seed Arkansas had been killing people all year with their 40 Minutes of Hell attack. The first half went according to plan and the Hogs led by 12 at the break. But KU wiped out that lead before the first TV timeout, took control in the final four minutes, and inspired guard Adonis Jordan’s classic line that evening when the team returned to a packed Allen Fieldhouse, “We down by 12, we win by 12!”
1 – Duke, 2018. Yes, recently bias is a bitch. But that was the best game of the tournament, KU beat a team with more talent that was also favored, they beat Duke/Coach K, the game went to OT, and this is arguably the weakest team of the Bill Self era, yet they did something the 2004, 2007, 2011, 2016, and 2017 teams could not do. All the good feelings.
What about tomorrow? KU-Villanova is a fascinating match up because the teams have so many similarities with some glaring points of difference. Both teams like to shoot the 3, and do so well. Both teams are efficient on offense. Both teams can play good D but neither plays the level of defense their programs are traditionally known for.
Villanova flat can’t guard Udoka Azubuike. But Udoka can’t chase Omari Spellman around the arc, either. How each team manages the other’s big man will go a long way in determining who wins.
But I think it will come down to the most basic thing in basketball: making shots. I bet casual fans would love it if both teams come out firing and hitting and get to see an exciting shootout. I think there’s about a 25% chance of that. I think it is far more likely one team hits and the other doesn’t. I worry KU will be the team that doesn’t hit, as Devonté Graham has been ice cold since the first half of the Penn game and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been streaky as hell lately. Even with Malik Newman’s tear over the past three weeks, is that enough if he doesn’t get help? I think Nova is more likely to have 2–3 guys all hitting.
But…Bill Self and his staff tend to do a great job finding ways to attack other teams when given a week to game plan. Will he be able to limit Villanova on offense while making sure his guys get shots of their own?
But…Villanova is super experienced and will not be phased by whatever KU throws at them. They seemed to be losing contact with West Virginia last week and then flipped a switch and blew the Mountaineers out in the last 5:00. Some of the things that worked last week on a very young Duke team will not work on Brunson, Booth, etc.
Villanova is the best team in the country. They’re tough, have been through dozens of battles in the last three years, and are well coached. KU had to play a nearly perfect game last week and still needed overtime to beat Duke. KU has to play a completely perfect game tomorrow to even have a chance of winning.
I hope they have it in them.