The case for Kansas: Why the Jayhawks can win the men’s NCAA Tournament

The case for Kansas: Why the Jayhawks can win the men’s NCAA Tournament

USA News

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That must have been some halftime speech.

Down 35-29 at the break to No. 10 Miami (Fla.) last week in the Elite Eight, No. 2 Kansas outscored the Hurricanes 47-15 in the second half to put an exclamation point on another Final Four bid.

For pure dominance, that 20-minute burst showed how good Kansas can be. And just under a week later, the Jayhawks used a similar barrage of offensive efficiency to beat No. 2 Villanova 81-65 and reach the national championship game.

“I think that we came out ready to play,” said coach Bill Self on Saturday. “And you knew Villanova would make a run, and we just kind of held on and responded. But I thought we played great. I thought we were disciplined defensively.”

Kansas will face No. 8 North Carolina, which beat No. 2 Duke 81-77 in one of the most memorable games in men’s NCAA Tournament history.

The Tar Heels have size, physicality, confidence in the backcourt and plenty of wind in their sails after a historic rivalry win. They would be a tough out for any opponent — UNC is rolling under first-year coach Hubert Davis and ready for Monday’s spotlight.

But across the past three halves of basketball, the Jayhawks have turned into the team to beat.

The reason they’ll enter Monday night as the favorite against UNC is simple: Kansas is playing at a level that no team can match.

Villanova was last seen putting the clamps on No. 5 Houston, holding the Cougars to just 44 points on 17-of-57 shooting, including just 1-of-20 from deep, to punch a third Final Four bid in six tournaments. 

But the Wildcats had no answer for Kansas. The Jayhawks shot from 53.7% from the floor, hit a blistering 54.2% from 3-point range (13-of-24) and led by as many as 19 points in the first half. Villanova allowed 80 or more points for the sixth time this season and only the second time since November.

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Four players scored in double-figures against the Wildcats, led by David McCormack’s game-high 25 points. Three players have led the team in scoring in the past three tournament games: McCormack against Villanova, Ochai Agbaji against Miami and Remy Martin in the Sweet 16 against Providence.

But the offensive balance and production seen on Saturday night is becoming more commonplace. The Jayhawks have topped the 70-point mark in nine of the past 10 games and averaged 75.8 points per game in tournament play.

With one game left, KU has turned into a two-way team with enough of a hot hand on both ends of the court to combat what the Tar Heels bring to the table.

UNC will have a frontline paced by forward Armando Bacot, one of the tournament’s breakout stars. At guard, Caleb Love overcame a sluggish start against Duke to score a game-high 28 points, his third tournament game above the 20-point mark. 

The Tar Heels’ ability to hit the offensive glass is a concern. If he’s hot, Love could stretch the Jayhawks’ defense and put up points in bunches. In some ways, UNC seems to have the advantage. But it won’t matter. If on their game, the Jayhawks won’t be beat.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

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