basketball kansas basketball

Basketball / Jayhawks, predictions, bracketometry

Man, this year is going to be good, not only because the teams are good, but because there are good sto­ries out there. I tell myself that I don't care about sto­ry­lines, but at some point, I absorb them. I repeat them. They become part of my con­ver­sa­tions. All the extra­ne­ous detail from those play­er mini-pro­files being pro­duced by CBS will become cement itself in my mem­o­ry; like Mateen Cleaves' from 2000 tour­na­ment: his sto­ried high school career in Michi­gan, his drunk­en dri­ving, the tough love of father-fig­ure/­coach Tom Izzo. Why do I remem­ber this? Why do I care? Who knows? As Dick Vitale would say: It's March Mad­ness, baby!

Let's start at the top

Mem­phis is the rarely defeat­ed team with killer ath­letes and a dick­head for a coach; North Car­oli­na has play­er of the year Tyler Hans­bor­ough and the elec­tri­fy­ing "Car­oli­na break" (for­mer­ly known as the Kansas break), but it's also got some glar­ing incon­sis­ten­cies; UCLA has good bal­ance, a great coach, good defense, and a stone killer in fresh­man Kevin Love; Kansas has expe­ri­ence, Dar­nell Jack­son, and a recent his­to­ry of flame­outs [cf. Buck­nell, Bradley] to overcome. 

Mid-major blah blah blah

As usu­al, there are also a host of mid-major teams with chips on their shoul­ders. But­ler had Flori­da on the ropes last year; this year, they have to trav­el to Birm­ing­ham as a #7 seed to play South Alaba­ma (a #10 seed); if they win, they earn the right to play anoth­er fired-up south­east­ern team, Ten­nessee. And Gon­za­ga (#7) has to trav­el three time zones to play a team that's dri­ving three hours with­in its home state, David­son (#10). It appears that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is no longer amused by fun­da­men­tal­ly sound, deeply expe­ri­enced, sin­gu­lar­ly focused mid-major teams tak­ing down high seeds in the ear­ly rounds. An inter­est­ing development.

Mid-major dis disclaimer

By diss­ing mid-majors, you think I'm play­ing with fire, but I'm not. Oh, no. I've already been burned. Twice. There's noth­ing left to burn. I'm a black­ened husk. It began in 2006; I wrote a long email about "the myth of mid-majors" to my friends. Then, I trav­eled to Austin, where I watched the the Jay­hawks mail in a first-round game against Buck­nell. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some­one for­got to tell Buck­nell that they were sup­posed to climb inside the enve­lope and dis­ap­pear. To the delight of the entire bar from which I watched, they held off the Jay­hawks and advanced. The next year, it was Bradley. I was in a hotel in Albu­querque. Alone. Ago­niz­ing.

Kansas & UNC earn a right to stay close to home

Both teams get to stay local, but each gets test­ed by an inter­est­ing foe. UNC doesn't leave the state until they trav­el to San Anto­nio for the Final Four, but they need to beat Ten­nessee — a team that beat Mem­phis, a team with a legit­i­mate claim to a #1 seed — before they get to San Anto­nio. Kansas tours the Mid­west, head­ing to Oma­ha, then Detroit, but they need to beat George­town — a con­sis­tent, grit­ty team that is well-suit­ed to stick it to the incon­sis­tent Jay­hawks — before cut­ting down the region­al nets. Seems fair, mostly.But does this obsess­ing over geog­ra­phy real­ly mat­ter? I don't know. On a pure­ly philo­soph­i­cal lev­el, the cham­pi­on has to win six games, peri­od. Geor­gia won four games in three days to take the SEC tour­na­ment; they'd won a total of four games in two-plus months of con­fer­ence play. The Fab 5 advanced to the Final Four through Atlanta and Lex­ing­ton in 1992, Phoenix and Seat­tle in 1993.

On a historical note

Last year, Kansas got shipped two time zones west­ward and played what amount­ed to an away game against UCLA. I was there, sur­round­ed by cologne-wear­ing, hair-gelled, Steve-Lavin-look-alike douchebags who roared with every impos­si­ble fade­away prayer hit by Arron Affla­lo (not mis­spelled), and every brass-balled pull-up j by Dar­ren Col­li­son. It has tak­en me some time to admit that UCLA may have been the bet­ter team, a fact that wasn't made any more com­fort­ing by Bill Walton's pod-rhap­sody about the beau­ty of UCLA's win [mp3]. The tour­na­ment committee's cal­cu­lus: Kansas wasn't a clear #1 seed, so they need­ed to trav­el across the coun­try to beat UCLA in their back yard in order to prove they belong in the Final Four. Which brings me to this year's Mem­phis team.

This year, Memphis gets sent through the fire

Don't you get the feel­ing that the tour­na­ment com­mit­tee smells blood with Mem­phis? The Tigers were ranked #1 for a lot of the year, and they lost just ONE game all year. Except. Except they have the mis­for­tune of play­ing in a weak con­fer­ence, and their one loss hap­pened to come at home against a team that got its ass hand­ed to them by Texas. For this, they get sent to Hous­ton for the South region­al final, where they may in fact meet up with Texas. (Is there any way that the crowd won't be heav­i­ly pro-Horn?) The tour­na­ment com­mit­tee is clear­ly say­ing: Show us what you've got, Der­rick Rose and Joey Dorsey. Show up what you got, John Cali­pari! [Here it is again. John Cheney threat­ens to kill John Cali­pari. Thank you, YouTube]. Who knows? Maybe it's a sort of karmic pay­back for Dorsey refer­ring to him­self as Goliath, with Greg Oden as David dur­ing last year's tour­na­ment. Dude, if you're Goliath, then sur­vive this rock-sling­ing gauntlet.

Rick Barnes can recruit, but can the dude coach?

Two things I noticed about Barnes dur­ing the Big 12 final: (1) The guy either can't con­sis­tent­ly set up a decent play off a dead ball, or his play­ers just can't exe­cute one. I find it hard to believe that DJ Augustin, one of the most tal­ent­ed play­ers I've seen in a long time, can't exe­cute a play. So I'm left with the impres­sion that Barnes is just a bad game-plan­ner. Too many times, his team came out of a time­out with some crap play that result­ed in a bad shot or turnover. Augustin can often bail Barnes out by hit­ting lots of bad shots, but how far can this take them, real­ly? (2) Even worse, Barnes rides his stars, and they suf­fer against deep­er teams. Augustin played all 40 min­utes in the Big 12 tour­na­ment final and he aver­aged 39+ for the sea­son. He fin­ished with 20 points, scor­ing only 2 in the sec­ond half and miss­ing all nine shots that he took. AJ Abrams is no help; he can spot up and drain threes, but he's my size and needs to run off a bunch of screens to get an open shot, and there­fore he does lit­tle to ease the bur­den on Augustin. 

Ol Roy on the horizon for the Jayhawks

While I love all of this, I'm also focused on the prospects of my team. To para­phrase a once-great Kansan, I could (most­ly) give a shit about sto­ry­lines. As a Kansas fan, I'm pri­mar­i­ly wor­ried about Port­land State break­ing new ground as a #16 seed. Let's take care of that one. Then I'm wor­ried about UNLV; then Clem­son; then George­town. Then: Ol Roy?In the Final Four, there's the poten­tial for some great, great match-ups, which I'll detail in anoth­er post. Too much needs to hap­pen between now and then.