We’ve seen our fair share of Cinderellas in March.
It was the No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks that shocked the two-seed Duke Blue Devils in 2012. Then, two years later, it was the 14th-seeded Mercer Bears who did it against the Devils. It was No. 11 VCU that ended top-seeded Kansas’ season in 2011, one that could’ve ended in net-cutting celebrations for the Jayhawks.
The wrong side of history?
There’s definitely no “give-me” games during the NCAA tournament. There’s even teams with a sub-.500 record that make the dance due to an automatic bid (by winning their conference tournament). Higher seeds beware: the underdog is ready to pounce when it gets the chance. Will Kansas’ first round opponent, Austin Peay, even stand a chance against the red-hot Jayhawks?
Austin Peay is one of the teams that made the field despite a subpar-at-best regular season. The Governors were thrashed 41-80 in a meeting with the Vanderbilt Commodores back in November. Two weeks later, Kansas handled Vandy in the Maui Championship, winning 70-63.
That’s not the only collapse that the 18-17 Governors experienced when they faced a top 50 RPI opponent. On November 16, Austin Peay was completely dismantled in Bloomington to the tune of a 26-point blowout against the Hoosiers. Additionally, Austin Peay even lost to the University of Tennessee Martin two times in conference play.
Obviously, we shouldn’t underestimate a team the won its conference tournament and rides in on a six-game win streak. Although, is that even close to what Kansas has mustered this season? The Jayhawks won arguably the toughest conference in the nation, grabbing both the Big 12 regular season and tournament crown. Also, Kansas is the only team to enter the postseason with 30 wins already under its belt. The Jayhawks are potentially the hottest team in the nation, winning their last 14 games, eight of which against ranked foes. In fact, a No. 1 seed has never lost to a 16 in NCAA history. This game is most likely not going to be the first by any means.
A stern test in the second round
Getting past the Governors should be no difficult task for the Jayhawks in the first round. The first test could possibly come in the second round against either the No. 8 seed Colorado Buffaloes, or the No. 9 seed Connecticut Huskies. They enter the NCAA tournament heading in different directions.
The Huskies turned their on-the-bubble resume into a American Conference tournament championship. Colorado has been face-to-face with some heartbreaking losses in the past couple of weeks, including one against Utah and one against Arizona in the Pac 12 tournament.
Kansas can’t take its foot off the pedal, as both Colorado and Connecticut are dangerously talented. We’re up for a good one in Des Moines on Saturday, regardless of who the Jayhawks face. With a 14-game win streak in hand, Kansas should be ready for the tournament competition. The Big East, Pac 12 and ACC are all making their presence felt in the pre-tournament field, but the Big 12 should have the upper hand as it progresses. Watch out for Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas and even Iowa State.
Close games? Not a problem.
Last week in Kansas City against Baylor, the Jayhawks had a hefty 16-point lead on the fifth-seeded Baylor Bears with just 1:51 to play. Bill Self subbed in his bench, and the Bears quickly gained momentum. With just under a minute left, Baylor had come back to only trail by two possessions, being very much in the game. Kansas quickly subbed their starters back in, and closed out a four-point win to advance to the championship. When the game is on the line, and regardless of where momentum appears to be headed, KU always seems to find a way to pull out a win.
An emerging superstar
The sophomore standout Devonte’ Graham is blossoming at the right time. After scoring 27 in the Big 12 tournament championship game vs. West Virginia, Graham was named tournament MVP. It seems as if he is hitting his stride right when Kansas needs it the most. With just six more wins needed for the Jayhawks to cut down the nets, Devonte’ Graham is ready to take them on one by one.
Some predictions for the weekend
The Jayhawks will cruise past Austin Peay, 93-47, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After that, they’ll play No. 9 UConn in the second round. The Huskies will beat the spotty Buffaloes of Colorado riding their recent success in the American conference tournament. From there, Kansas will advance to its first Sweet 16 since 2013 by beating Connecticut.
Hey, maybe the Austin Peay Governors can upset Kansas after all. We wouldn’t want that, but there is always that possibility (a very, very, very slim possibility; almost close to zero. But alas, a possibility).