The road to the NCAA championship game was laid out perfectly for No. 1 seed Kansas.
16, 9, 12, 11, 8… The easiest path to the Final Four and the Championship game ever.
That didn’t stop Kansas from coming up short for the second year in a row. But the Jayhawks weren’t the only teams that failed this season. With 68 teams in the NCAA tournament, 67 of those teams end their season with a loss.
History was on Kansas’ side. Only three Final Fours have ever had no No. 1 seeds in the Final Four (1980, 2006, and now 2011). With No. 2 North Carolina and No. 1 Kansas losing on Sunday, it was the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament since seeding started in 1979 that the Final Four consisted of zero No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.
But we saw this coming. All year, analysts said that there was no clear cut best team in the country. Jay Bilas said there was a bunch of good teams, but not a great team. Of the teams in that discussion, one (maybe two) of those teams made it to the Final Four. UConn had proved all year long that they were a dangerous team. They proved initially in Maui where they defeated Wichita State, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Kentucky.
Now Kentucky gets a shot at revenge. The legend of Kemba emerged in that game. He went 29 points on 10-17 shooting. They curb-stomped the Wildcats by 17 points. Jeremy Lamb played 12 minutes and had two points in that game. Since then, he might be the most improved freshman in the country.
But back to Kansas…
Free throws: The problem on Sunday wasn’t officiating. Kansas went to the line 28 times (six more times than VCU) but only converted 15 of those. I believe they started off 2/8 from the line (and that was when the game was close). Not a good way to set the tone of an Elite 8 game. VCU made 17 of their 22 free throws. In a 10-point loss, those 13 free throws made a difference. The Morris twins and Tyshawn Taylor were 8-for-17 from the line.
Turnovers: I outlined in my Elite 8 preview that Kansas needed to reduce their turnovers. Kansas had 14 turnovers and VCU capitalized, scoring 11 points on those. Markieff Morris had eight of those turnovers.VCU is 11th in the nation in forcing steals and they pick-pocketed the Jayhawks seven times. Since Kansas lost in Manhattan, Kansas, the Jayhawks have only had three games where they had a negative A/TO ratio (Missouri game in last game of regular season and Colorado in Big 12 tournament and vs. VCU).
3-point shooting: Kansas was 2-for-21 from the 3-point line. VCU averages eight 3-pointers per game. The Rams had nine in the first half. VCU only had three two-pointers in the first half. VCU went cold from the three-point line in the second half, only hitting three 3-pointers. However, those three came at crucial times when Kansas was trying to scrape back into the game.
Rebounds: I said in my game preview that if VCU wants to win, they need to make sure the rebound differential doesn’t highly favor Kansas. Kansas out-rebounded the Rams 42-32.
The Morris twins had 28 total rebounds and 13 offensive rebounds. In total, Kansas had 18 offensive rebounds. In comparison, VCU had eight. With that advantage, Kansas should have had at least double the amount of second chance points. However, Kansas only had six and VCU had five. That is not how you win an NCAA tournament game.
Leadership: For some odd reason, Kansas tried to take on the bully role in the NCAA tournament, something they didn’t do at all during the regular season. They tried to be the bad guys. The Morris twins got the reputation as players that throw vicious elbows last season and they haven’t been able to shake it since, even when Bill Self has defended his two best post players saying that they’re not bad kids.
So why try to spin your attitude in the postseason? Kansas bullied Richmond in the tunnel walking out before tipoff on Friday and in the hallway on Thursday. Marcus Morris tried to bully VCU guard Joey Rodriguez before tipoff on Sunday. Unlike Richmond, VCU wasn’t ready to back down to a facade.
Kansas didn’t have a leader and it showed on Sunday.
Kansas’ seniors combined for 2-18 shooting, and 2-17 of that was from Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed. Reed actually made his free throws (6-8).
Unlike Kansas’ big men, VCU senior forward Jamie Skeen hit his free throws (10-12).
Kansas’ strength was supposed to be its big men and Skeen revealed them as frauds. Thomas Robinson got one shot attempt in the game. That’s unacceptable.
This isn’t Bill Self’s fault. Kansas defended well all season (even if the perception all season was that they weren’t). Kansas held its four NCAA opponents (Boston University, Illinois, Richmond, VCU) to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and just 60 points per game. VCU wasn’t that far off (39.6 percent, 71 points).
The main problem was 3-point shooting. Kansas couldn’t hit a 3-point shot. VCU could. VCU was 9-28 from inside the arc. Kansas was 19-41. That says a lot.
Kansas is a top four team in the NCAA this season. Hell, they’re probably the best team in the country. They probably deserved to be Final Four.
The Jayhawks finished 35-3 on the season. They won the Big 12 against all odds, the won the Big 12 tournament. They tried their hardest in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas is about winning championships. Elite Eight appearance banners don’t get hung in the rafters. Kansas failed to win the NCAA Championship this year. But that doesn’t make them failures.