March is both a house of horrors and a Shangri-La for Kansas Jayhawk basketball. Multiple national titles give Jayhawk fans plenty to boast about to college hoops fans everywhere, while even more upset exits from March Madness provide endless return volleys from critics.
Make no mistake: When the Jayhawks are national champions, the game comes full circle to its roots at the university with names like Naismith, Allen and Chamberlain. And the program's reputation always precedes it as one of the most elite basketball programs in the nation. Eight straight Big 12 titles, some of the nation's best recruits, and numerous deep runs (including the 2008 championship) cements KU into every preseason Top 10 list.
But when things are bad, there aren't enough rags in the state to get the egg off the faces of the coaches, players, fans and the buses they hightailed out of town on. Naturally, every KU fan hears the same question at the beginning of every season. "Which double-digit seed are you guys going to lose to this March?" Previous embarassing early exits to Bradley (13), Bucknell (14), Northern Iowa (9) and VCU (11) set the ground work for that question. Small school folk heroes like Ali Farokhmanesh, Shaka Smart, Marcellus Sommerville and Chris McNaughton will live forever as their campuses' Davids to Kansas' Goliath, and as infamous upstart villains in Lawrence, Kan.
But this year, things are different. Here's why Kansas won't lose to (11) NC State on Friday night in St. Louis:
Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey
Robinson is THE man for KU. He averaged 17 points and 11 boards for the Jayhawks this season. He is a sure-fire First Team All-American and has a strong chance to be named Player of the Year. He is an absolute force in the paint. He can also step back and hit some deep jumpers when needed. The one fault that he has is that he isn't the strongest shot blocker, averaging just under one per game. That's where Withey steps in and picks up the slack. He averaged 3.3 blocks per game, which was good for seventh in the nation. The two players complement each other well, with each knowing how to accentuate the strengths of the other.
Taylor is one of those players that will electrify the gym one moment, and then have everyone scratching their heads the next. Bill Self even pretty much summed it best:
"Sometimes he makes plays you cannot coach and then other times he makes plays that you wonder if he has ever been coached."
Nail ... meet head.
Taylor is similar to former KU guard Sherron Collins in that he can quarterback the team and be the floor general. Taylor is a much better offensive threat than Collins, which will help take some of the responsibility off of Robinson's shoulders. He absolutely lit up the Big 12 during conference season and hasn't looked back since. His 16 points per game will help push the Jayhawks past N.C. State.
Learning from the season
An early season loss against unranked Davidson (80-74 in KC) alarmed a number of KU fans. One of the main complaints was that they "played down" to the level of their opponents. Many times they would get out to big leads, only to take their foot off the gas and let the other team back in. Another blip came against Iowa St (damn Hilton magic) where they only lost by 6, but were really never in the game. KU needs to learn from those losses and not take the Wolfpack lightly.
That would be the date of the Game of the Year in college basketball this season. With Missouri leaving for the SEC next year, they met in the last regular season Border War game as members of the Big 12. The Jayhawks found themselves down 19 (at home!) in the 2nd half, but managed to storm back and win 74-71 in overtime. Many fans saw that as the turning point this season. A loss would have seen the dreaded Tigers claim a sweep over KU, and laughing all the way to the SEC. "The Comeback" (personal trademark) showed that KU has what it takes to win from behind.
Make no mistake, anything can happen in March Madness (ask Missouri and Duke). Would a Kansas loss come completely out of left field? No. Would a Kansas victory save me from having to hide my (lifelong KU fan) wife's shoelaces and belts? Yes and yes. Please win, Jayhawks.
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