An Elite 8 with two Kansas teams in it is enough to earn a very rare Saturday post. Mark down the date, folks, because these don’t happen very often!
First off, the important stuff: the Jayhawks are in the Elite 8 for the third-straight season, the second time in school history they have done that (2002–2004). In both of those runs, the third team was clearly the weakest of each group. In 2004 that “weaker” team lost to a higher seeded ACC team, #3 Georgia Tech, in overtime in St. Louis. This year’s team gets to face a lower seeded ACC team, #2 Duke, in Omaha. That Georgia Tech game is one of only two games Bill Self has lost to ACC teams at Kansas. But, of course, he is 2–5 in Elite 8s at KU, and 2–7 in his career.
So lots of angles and parallels and history to pull from.
As a KU fan you feel good because the team has played its best in games that were challenges. They’ve also faced zones several times this year, and seem well-equipped to face Duke’s. And they’ve won three tournament games with their best player only really playing well for about 20 total minutes. As talented as Duke is, we can also hope that the moment is too big for their freshmen.
But Duke is so damn talented, and in areas that are nightmare matchups for KU. Duke is big, and their bigs are versatile; they don’t stay stuck in the low post all night. I just don’t see how KU guards Duke’s bigs without putting Udoka Azubuike in foul trouble early, or wearing him out by having him chase guys on each possession.
This game seems well suited to some kind of junk defense. But as smarter people than me have pointed out, Self’s various junk defenses are usually implemented to slow down perimeter players. They are tougher to use on mobile big men. I imagine they’re trying to cook something up today that can limit Bagley, Carter, and Trent.
I guess my hope is that KU can come out red hot and build a big lead that they can defend better than they did their lead against Clemson last night. If not that, I hope KU can at least stay within a couple possessions of Duke until late in the game, and then take their chances that a bunch of experienced guards can handle the pressure of needing scores and stops to get to the Final Four better than a bunch of young big men. And I’m hoping that Devonté Graham finally plays the way he had all season and maybe that’s enough to pull the team to San Antonio.
I don’t know how realistic either of those scenarios are. But this is the year of the crazy result, so I don’t go into the game thinking KU has zero chance to win. Strangely even though KU would have had a much better chance of beating Syracuse, I think they’ll play better against Duke. I’d rather they go down swinging than in some terrible 51–48 mess that Syracuse would have turned that game into. Then again, Duke could win by 25.
But at least we have a shot.
In Atlanta tonight, Kansas State plays Loyola-Chicago for a chance to go to their first Final Four since 1964. We just happen to have plans to dine at one of our neighbors homes around game time. The husband of the couple is a K-State alum. His wife, who is a Carolina alum, has been a little savage with him now that he’s all fired up for his Cats. In a text exchange about timing of dinner and what we could bring, she suggested we ask him to name a player on the team. The implication is that he could not. Daaaaaamn!
Anyway, Thursday’s K-State – Kentucky game was entertaining. Well, not the game so much which was ugly, sloppy, marred by horrific officiating and terrible coaching. What amused me most was the text and emails threads I was in with other KU fans. A lot of folks were really stressing about who to pull for. There were even some arguments between people who didn’t buy why other fans were cheering for one team or the other.
It broke down something like this:
Some KU fans hate John Calipari and everything he stands for. They hate that his team seemed to have an insanely easy path to the Final Four. They hate Kentucky. This was enough to pull for K-State. Most of these people said they will be pulling hard for Loyola today if K-State pulled off the upset. A lot of those folks also felt that a K-State win, along with wins by Texas Tech and West Virginia, would validate how strong the Big 12 was this year and make KU’s sweep of the conference title look more impressive.
Some KU fans understand all this, but feel that it would be even worse if K-State was the team that took advantage of the Chaos Bracket and made it to San Antonio when so many great KU teams have come up short in recent years. Most of these folks were the angry ones. There were a lot of “How on earth can you pull for one of our biggest rivals to potentially go to a Final Four?!?!?”
There was also an argument about which coach we hated more, Calipari or Bruce Weber.
How did I fit into these views? Well, I wasn’t rooting for either team really. I was ok with K-State winning. But I freaking hate Weber so I would also have been just fine if they lost on some heart-breaking shot or series of plays in the last minute. I really like their team. It’s full of guys that play hard, have gotten better over time, and are playing without fear. I love that. But fucking Weber, man…no way am I interested in him spending the off-season gloating about getting a team to the Final Four. Especially if KU can’t knock off Duke tomorrow.
So I just enjoyed what a terrible game it was. I enjoyed how both coaches seemed to be doing more to torpedo their teams rather than help them. I looked forward gleefully to the losing coach whining after the game. In a true upset, there was a little controversy after the game when I guess Kentucky, or some of their players, didn’t shake the K-State players’ hands. The comments after made both sides look petty, which for me was absolutely fantastic.
As for tonight, I’ll be polite to my hosts. But inside I’ll be pulling for Loyola and their two Kansas City kids. And I’ll be spending more time worrying about Duke and whether Devonté, Malik, Lagerald, Svi, and Udoka can keep winning.