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Friday, March 22, 2019

NCAA Tournament

I am very pleased the Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team won its opening round NCAA tournament game by 34 points yesterday, against a Northeastern team that some experts touted as a sleeper pick for the second weekend. Northeastern attempted a lot of 3-point baskets, but did not make them at an efficient rate. When Kansas has lost this year, often by double digits, it has frequently been because of hot early game 3-point shooting by their opponents.

Indeed, because of the troubles Kansas has faced this season, I have picked the team to lose Saturday to Auburn. Obviously, I would be pleased to be wrong about that prediction.

Though Auburn had a very close game against New Mexico State, note that Kansas also had a difficult game against the same team back in December.

That December game was played in KC at the Sprint Center, which is technically a neutral court, but the crowd obviously and overwhelmingly favored Kansas in that venue. At the time, Udoka Azubuike, the 7'1" Kansas center, was sitting out his first game of the season with a relatively minor sprained ankle. He would soon return and play in two additional games before going down for the season with a much more serious injury -- a torn ligament in his hand. Azubuike last played in a victory over Oklahoma on January 2. At the time, Kansas was 12-1 and ranked 5th in the country.

In that December game versus New Mexico State, sharp-shooting senior guard Lagerald Vick, who eventually left the team, was being punished by coach Bill Self for a "really bad Thursday" (the date of the previous practice) and missed his second consecutive start. Vick ultimately left the team under mysterious circumstances after the February 5 loss to rival Kansas State. In the 10 games after Azubuike was lost for the season but before Vick left the team, Kansas was only 5-5. All of the losses occurred on the road and three were against NCAA tournament teams, but the squad did not look like an elite team. Rather than provide poise and leadership, Vick often made costly turnovers and attempted dubious shots, which likely frustrated the coach a great deal.

Since Vick's departure, Kansas has gone 9-3 starting four talented Freshmen. The three losses were to NCAA tournament teams, two on the road and one in KC during the Big 12 tournament final.

Aside from some dark clouds that continue to linger on the horizon, the near future would appear to be bright for Kansas basketball. No active Kansas player participated in senior day and most scouts say the team does not have any likely first round 2019 NBA draft picks. Some services say that Azubuike and second team all-American Dedrick Lawson might be late second round picks should they decide to declare early for the NBA draft. If all the freshmen return, the team will have the experience and talent sufficient to have a very good season next year.

My 2019 NCAA bracket has Duke beating Kentucky in the final, with Texas Tech and Virginia as the other teams in the Final Four. When I filled out the form, I didn't really consider the injury to Kentucky's best player, which likely would have caused me to pick UNC from the Midwest region.

I'm in a couple of local pools (scored by ESPN, CBS) that do not align perfectly with these choices. But they are close. In one of those pools, I picked Saint Mary's over Villanova, for example.

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