At one point this season Kansas was 10-0 and the #1 team in the country. They had defeated Michigan State, Marquette, Tennessee, Wofford, New Mexico State and Villanova among others. The Jayhawks seemed destined to win their 15th consecutive Big 12 conference title and get a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Right when it seemed that everything was going great things took a very bad turn for Kansas. Center Udoka Azubuike injured his hand and was out for the season. Forward Silvio DeSousa was ruled ineligible for this season and next season by the NCAA. Later, senior Lagerald Vick left the team and never returned.
Kansas struggled to a 12-6 conference record and a third place finish in the Big 12. The streak was over. Kansas has not been this inconsistent in years. After having so many weapons from behind the arc last season, the Jayhawks have nobody it can count on to hit a three-point shot this season. And without Azubuike they have no real inside threat either. Freshman David McCormack has improved in recent weeks but is a far cry from Azubuike at this time. Dedric Lawson has been terrific all season but he’s not the inside presence that Azubuike was and McCormack can be.
Jayhawk fans got a little excited after winning in their first two games in the Big 12 tournament only to be reminded of their team’s troubles after being dominated Iowa State in the finals. Those first two games though were against Texas and West Virginia. Even though West Virginia was playing their best basketball of the season in the Big 12 tournament, they are not the caliber of team Kansas will have to beat to advance in the big dance.
So the Jayhawks enter the NCAA tournament with more doubts and lower expectations than ever. North Carolina and others in the Midwest region don’t like that they might have to play Kansas in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Kansas fans are pretty sure their team won’t make it that far for anyone to worry.
Northeastern Huskies (23-10, 14-4 2nd in the CAA)
Northeastern is a trendy pick to upset Kansas in the first round. It would not be a shock for that to happen but we don’t see it as likely even though Gary Parrish of CBS Sports does.
The Huskies are a major three-point shooting team. Three-point attempts make up 46% of their field goal attempts on the season. They have won their last seven games behind their point guard Vasa Pusica. The “experts” are big on Pusica who averaged 17.8 points on the season and shot 40% from behind the arc.
Pusica isn’t the only player for Northeastern who shoots the ball well from behind the arc. Jordan Roland averages 14.7 points per game on 41% three-point shooting. Bolden Brace shoots 42% behind the arc. Forward Tomas Murphy averaged 8.2 points per game but shoots 46% behind the arc.
The Huskies out rebounded their opponents by just three total rebounds over the course of the season. The Huskies averaged 33.7 rebounds per game. Kansas averaged 40.8 rebounds per game, 2.7 more per game than their opponents. This would lead us to believe that Kansas can control the boards. With how Kansas shoots the ball they are gong to need to get as many offensive rebounds as possible to get easy put backs.
The three-point shooting frenzy that Northeastern will display means that there are going to be long rebounds. Kansas’ guards are going to need to be ready for that. Marcus Garrett pulled down 15 rebounds in the Big 12 tournament final against Iowa State. The Jayhawks will need all of their guards to really focus on rebounding.
Kenpom.com has Kansas as the 34th ranked offense and 15th ranked defense. However, Kansas has really struggled against the three-point shot. Northeastern has the 48th ranked offense and 144th ranked defense. The Huskies were missing last year’s CAA Defensive Player of the Year for a large portion of the season so that ranking is probably misleading.
Bill Self is impressed by the Huskies:
Prediction: Nothing has been easy for Kansas since losing Udoka Azubuike and this will likely be no different. Kansas is used to playing in big games. If Northeastern is hot from outside they can beat a lot of teams and Kansas will be in trouble. But I think the Jayhawks will have the advantage in the paint and on the glass. I expect Kansas to be able to control the game and and advance to the second round.