The Kansas Jayhawks’ path to the Final Four

When Kansas takes the floor Thursday night against the Maryland Terrapins, it will do so on the heels of a 16-game winning streak and as the tournament’s number one overall seed. The Jayhawks’ recent success has the team favored to represent the South region at the Final Four in Houston, but it will take victories over two strong teams to do so.

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Maryland Terrapins

Maryland presents an interesting matchup for the Jayhawks. Each of the five Terrapin starters are bigger than their Kansas counterpart, and their average height makes them the fourth tallest team in the nation. Comparatively, Kansas is the 102nd tallest team in the country, a measurable that certainly hasn’t slowed them down over the course of 36 games. Because of their height, Maryland does a terrific job at blocking shots, led in that category by freshman center Diamond Stone who blocks 7.4% of attempted two-point field goals. As a team, Maryland’s block percentage is 13.9%, good for 17th in the nation, and second behind Oregon amongst remaining tournament teams.

Offensively, this is an area where Kansas has quietly struggled, having 8.5% of their two-point shots blocked, which is 10th best among the 16 teams remaining in the field. Though the Terrapins excel at erasing opponents’ shots, they struggle to force turnovers and struggle even more so to take care of the ball. Maryland’s offense turns the ball over on 19% of their possessions, and their defense forces turnovers on 16.4% of possessions. Kansas, on the other hand, forces turnovers at a higher rate than they commit them by a full percentage point.

Kansas holds the edge over Maryland in both offensive and defensive efficiency, as well as effective field goal percentage, making them a clear favorite over Maryland if they were to play a best-of-seven series against the Terrapins. However, as March proves year in and year out, a one game sample does not lend much credence to predictability, but it sure does make this tournament fun.

Kansas wins if: They continue shooting threes at a prolific rate and they take care of the basketball (assuming their defense is a constant).

Maryland wins if: Their size disrupts the flow of Kansas’ offense and forces KU into taking difficult, contested shots.

Possible Elite Eight Matchups

Miami Hurricanes

The third-seeded Hurricanes are one of six teams remaining from the Atlantic Coast Conference, and are led by senior guard and former Kansas State Wildcat, Angel Rodriguez. In the second round game vs. Wichita State, Rodriguez went off for 28 points on 9/11 shooting, propelling the Hurricanes to the Sweet Sixteen.

Miami thrives on offense, where their 117.2 adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 12th in the country. The Hurricanes enter the South regional as the most experience team of the four heading to Louisville, as their starting lineup consists of three seniors and two juniors. However, that experience has not been tested under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, where Miami last appeared in 2013.

Inconsistency has plagued Miami throughout the 2016 season, combining impressive conference home victories with head-scratching losses to Northeastern, Clemson, NC State, and Virginia Tech, while getting blown out by North Carolina in their only meeting.

Villanova Wildcats

Jay Wright’s squad is coming off their most impressive victory of the season: a 87-68 annihilation of the Iowa Hawkeyes, a game in which Villanova led, and dominated, from the tip. The Wildcats boast another upperclassmen-heavy rotation, led by senior guard Ryan Arcidiacano, who has started all four years for Jay Wright.

Villanova’s 31 wins are second in the country to Kansas’ 32, but their strength of schedule pales in comparison to that of the Jayhawks, ranking 33rd to Kansas’ seventh. Though Villanova cruised through the Big East regular season schedule, their non-conference losses to Oklahoma (78-55) and Virginia (86-75) are often used as evidence to distill the validity of their chances at a national championship.

It is impossible to dismiss the legitimacy of a team that has won 31 basketball games, especially one with a veteran head coach and a four-year starter at point guard. Those factors alone assure that Villanova will not be an easy out in Louisville, where they’ll look to advance to their first Final Four since 2009.

For Kansas to advance through the South regional, they’ll have to continue to play at the level they’ve played at since their home victory over Kentucky in late January. If they falter, any one of these other three teams is more than capable of knocking them off and claiming the South’s spot in Houston.

For predictions for the Sweet Sixteen, click here.

Caleb Feist

Writer for Rock Chalk Blog who loves threes, the crying Jordan meme, and watching Mario Chalmers' game-tying shot on YouTube. Follow me on twitter, @cjfeist.