Mid-March is here. The conference tournaments are complete. The brackets released. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yaaay…
It can be hard to get tone across in text. If you guessed, based on the opening lines of this piece, that I’m not super pumped about the NCAA tournament, you would be correct. However, unlike some recent years, I also am not dreading it. Basically, because Kansas has no shot to make a deep run, and I’ve known that since the second week of January, I approach this year’s tournament without any excitement for the possibilities the next two to three weeks hold, but also without any fears of the potential bad outcomes. KU is just a team in the tournament this year. They’re not a contender, but they’re also not a sexy pick to lose early. No one will be surprised if they lose early, and it will be a result of all the baggage this team enters the tourney with, not because “Bill Self/KU always choke” or something lazy like that.
My expectation is that KU will lose in the round of 32. Auburn is one of the hottest teams in the country, they just ripped through the SEC tournament and destroyed Tennessee in the title game, they shoot a ton of threes, and are a very athletic team that will give you fits on the defensive end. That sounds like an absolute disaster matchup for KU. But Auburn has a tough opening round game against New Mexico State. If the Aggies pull off the upset they’ll approach the KU game confident that they pushed the Jayhawks to the wire in December in Kansas City, and that was a KU team with Udoka Azubuike and LaGerald Vick.
I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong and KU will get their shit together this week, cruise past 3-point happy Northeastern in the opening round then fend off whoever they play in the second round. After that is, likely, North Carolina in Kansas City. Normally I’d love that match up. Bill Self vs an angsty Roy Williams in KC with the crowd going nuts. But Carolina is rolling now and KU has zero answers for them at pretty much every spot on the court. The only hope will be that Roy, once again, is thoroughly confused when Self throws a junk defense at him and KU somehow hits shots late to pull the upset.
A fourth-straight trip to the Elite 8 would most likely see Kentucky as the opponent. A team that handled KU easily in the second half of their game two months ago, and has only gotten better since. Again, not totally impossible to imagine a KU. But highly unlikely.
It’s just hard to see KU getting those three solid-to-great performances each night you need to win in March. Maybe Dedric Lawson continues to average 20 and 10, but who else can you count on to perform at a high level every night? Devon Dotson is the most likely choice. But every night? And who fills that third slot beyond him? Too many question marks.
It’s going to be a disappointing end to a year that began with so much promise, but then turned into the most topsy-turvy KU season in a long, long time. The good thing about the disappointment is that we’ve known it is coming for a long time. When Auburn beats us by 15 Saturday it won’t hurt nearly as bad as any of those Elite 8 losses, getting thoroughly out-classed by Wichita State, failing to show up against Stanford, or Northern Iowa’s heroics. It’s going to be a bummer but won’t hurt that much and I won’t be ashamed to be a KU alum/fan for a month like I’ve been after some of those other losses.
More about the broader tournament later this week.