Following the loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight, I was left with a few puzzling questions that I couldn’t figure out. Why did this Kansas team, that was the number one overall seed in the tournament, lose to Villanova? A team that seemed like they could touch the sky with the ability they were playing at suddenly saw their season come to a close within a matter of hours. Kansas definitely was not expecting it, as the Jayhawks were riding a 16-game win streak.
Forget the Devonte’ Graham loose ball foul. Take the officials out of the question. Now we are able to identify how a good night in Louisville was suddenly turned sour.
The game started off very well, with both teams throwing blows at each other. The one thing that would set this contest apart from any of the others was the aggressiveness and defensive play that both teams showcased. In fact, the defense was on full immediate display, as Villanova didn’t pass 30 points until the final shot of the half, and KU was seven points worse. Despite the aggression, Perry Ellis started off very slow. There is no metaphor or a comparison that would describe how he played in the first half of this game. It was ugly, and it immediately didn’t seem like it would be Perry Ellis’ game.
Do not be quick to throw the blame on Ellis, though.
For the first time all year, a team outplayed number 34.
The lone spark of the night for the Jayhawks was sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham, who kept nipping at the heels of the Wildcats. Graham set out to be the Jayhawks’ hero. His teammates were all ice-cold offensively, but Graham was able to shoot well on his own part, making several threes in the first half alone. When Graham fouled out with 34.1 seconds to go, someone needed to fill the void that only Graham did beforehand. It was time for Frank Mason to step up for the Jayhawks.
After having a mediocre performance early, Frank Mason caught on with an unbelievable three-pointer to cut the deficit to 58-57 at the 27-second mark. At this point, Kansas was in an okay position. There was plenty of time left, and even if Villanova was to make both both free throws, it would still be a one possession game. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk decided to foul Ryan Archidiacono (an 84% free throw shooter), who make both of his foul shots. Without hesitation, the Jayhawks quickly pushed the ball down the floor as Mason finished with a reverse layup, bringing the game right back within one point. Frank Mason was taking the game into his own hands after his counterpart had to exit early. After Kris Jenkins sunk a pair of free throws, Kansas desperately needed to score trailing by three. Who would get it done for the ‘Hawks late?
Frank Mason dribbled the ball anxiously down the court, and he was quickly defended by a swarm of Wildcats. It was at that time that Mason realized he needed to find someone else to shoot the ball. A quick pass to Svi Mykhailiuk was stolen, as Villanova fell on the ball with five seconds to go. This mishap didn’t cost KU the game, though. It was a sequence of events beforehand that plagued the Jayhawks chances at a Final Four berth.
Before I explain what went wrong, note that the game was not lost because of the officials, nor a specific player on Kansas’ roster. Villanova simply outplayed the Jayhawks in just about every facet of the game. Jay Wright made it extremely difficult for Perry Ellis to do anything offensively, as he had his troops defend him with so much tenacity and grit. The All-American Ellis simply could not get the ball in the hoop. It seemed highly unlikely of him, right? A guy who averaged over 16 points per-game was held to four against a team that lacked the size the Jayhawks did. This was one game after Ellis scored 27 points against a Maryland team loaded with size! No, Villanova was the real deal this season, and there was no denying it.
I know many fans who believe that it was the officials that hung Kansas out to dry. We can all agree on saying that the Graham call was highly controversial, but the guys in the striped shirts are not the ones playing in the game. If a few of Perry’s shots and Wayne Selden’s threes went in, we could have been dealing with a completely different situation. You might not like to see Kansas miss the Final Four. We all hate to see it happen. But when in March, you must prepare for the unexpected. Welcome to the NCAA tournament.