Now for some KU talk.
Looking back on the weekend, I have to laugh at myself – and other KU fans – a little. After all that talk about Penn having a decent chance to upset KU, 10 minutes into the game on Thursday the Quakers led by 10 points and most of us were ready to throw up. Or throw things. Or both. It was a good thing the girls were at school as the expletives were flying in our basement.
Fortunately Devonté Graham said, “Hell no,” and scored 19 points in about 11 minutes to turn the game around. Penn made two runs in the second half, but never got the ball with a chance to tie and KU won by double digits.
I was thankful for that late first-half run, as I had to go pick the girls up and then sit through L’s kickball practice during the second half. I did my best to listen/watch the game on my phone. But if it had been tight down to the wire, I would have been a disaster, yelling at happy third graders to leave me alone.
Saturday’s round of 32 win was an important one for KU. Not because they survived the first weekend when so many other highly seeded teams didn’t. But because A) Udoka Azubuike came back, played important minutes, and was arguably KU’s most important player in the game and B) Graham played his worst game of the year and KU still won by two possessions.
Getting Udoka back was huge. He definitely did not look like himself on offense. He wasn’t jumping as high or quickly as normal. He labored a bit making moves with the ball. It was a big deal to get him on the court last weekend, though, so that he’s confident in his knee for this weekend. Oh, and KU was much, much better with him on the court. Angel Delgado absolutely abused Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa. If Udoka did not play, or even been able to only go 10–15 minutes, I think Seton Hall wins that game.
Graham has carried KU all year. Whenever things get tight and the offense gets sloppy, he has always been there to bail them out. That was not the case on Saturday. He looked off from the beginning, both with the ball and shooting. That got worse when he took a Udoka shoulder to the face right before halftime. I’m not convinced whatever concussion protocol he passed was the most stringent one. He looked dazed the entire second half. But he hit four big free throws late and still managed to deal some dimes to the other guys.
Malik Newman was fantastic. Lagerald Vick was the steady guy KU needs him to be. Svi hit a huge three late.
All in all, an encouraging weekend. You figure Udoka is going to be a little more healthy and comfortable by Friday. And you expect that Devonté isn’t having two terrible games in a row.
Oh, and there’s no way Clemson is going to play out of their minds again like they did last Sunday against Auburn, right? Right?!?! I saw one writer list Clemson as one of the four best teams left in the tournament. I think that’s good for KU, as this team seems to play better when they see a challenge.
On the other side of the Omaha bracket there is Duke and surprise Syracuse. There’s no way Duke doesn’t advance, right? Marvin Bagley III has been unstoppable, their defense has improved, and they have an above average player at all five starting spots. They have the length and shooting to handle ‘Cuse’s zone easily for the second time this year.
Then again, I told some friends after Syracuse beat Michigan State last weekend that we were totally losing to the Orange in the Elite 8 now.
The past two years during Sweet 16 week I carefully examined the matchups and tried to find the best path for KU back to the Final Four. I day dreamed not just of the Final Four, but of who KU would play once they got there and how those matchups worked out.
This year I’m leaving those happy thoughts to other fans. This entire season has been one of limited expectations. I didn’t think KU could win the Big 12 until they grabbed that huge win in Lubbock on the next-to-last Saturday of the season. I didn’t think they could win the conference tournament once Udoka went down. All year my hope was that, whatever seed KU was, they could survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
They’ve over-performed by most measures and made it through those first two games of the NCAAs. I think they should beat Clemson, but this year proves as much as any that “should” means nothing in March. Beyond that, I don’t think the Jayhawks have the talent to play with Duke. Maybe pride keeps them in the game, but I think a 10-point loss is the most likely outcome. And I would fear playing a Syracuse team that, while limited offensively, has mastered how to muddy up the game and get it to the final minute. Oh, and KU whipping Syracuse in Miami three-plus months ago makes that an even more dangerous game.
I figure KU’s season is ending this weekend, so I’m not looking ahead to how things would work out in San Antonio if the Jayhawks somehow get there. I’m just hopeful they give us one more great performance before they’re done.