Mac Stevenson
The media has talked and written so much about KU’s chance to win their 14th consecutive Big 12 championship that the reality and scope of the accomplishment hasn’t registered as it should among Jayhawk fans. That’s a national record that will stand for a long, long time.
Barring a major upset against Texas on Monday night in Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas will win an undisputed championship; that’s a feat that looked improbable just two short weeks ago.
It will be interesting to see how Coach Bill Self handles his rotation for the rest of the games leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Self has the option to play rookie forward Silvio Du Sousa extensively against Texas and Oklahoma State in KU’s last two regular-season games and the Big 12 Tournament; that playing time would be invaluable in preparing De Sousa to be a factor at the Big Dance. But Self is totally unpredictable in this respect; De Sousa might play a lot or he might remain glued to the bench.
Devonté Graham has played a number of extraordinary games at Kansas, but his performance against Texas Tech was certainly among the best. Graham’s consistency and endurance have been notable throughout the season; he’s certainly earned the Big 12 Player of the Year award. Oklahoma’s Trae Young has had an exceptional freshman season, but he’s far behind Graham when it comes to leadership and stability and winning games.
All of KU’s players performed well against Texas Tech, with one notable exception: Lagerald Vick disappeared again, scoring just two points in 39 minutes. If the Jayhawks are to make any kind of a run at the NCAA Tournament, they will need all hands on deck. Self has a very thin bench and he can’t afford bad games—when it really counts—from any of his regulars.
KU is now playing with house money; many of the pundits predicted the Jayhawks wouldn’t win the Big 12 or go very far in the NCAA Tournament. For once, Self and his championship team can relax and just go out and give it their best shot when the band starts playing at the Big Dance.
Wichita State coasted to an 84-78 win against SMU last Saturday and kept their hopes alive for at least a share of the American Athletic Conference championship. Coach Gregg Marshall’s Shockers play at Central Florida on Thursday (March 1) and then finish the regular-season at home in a showdown against Cincinnati on Sunday (March 4). If Wichita beats Central Florida—which they will—the game with Cincinnati will decide the league championship in the AAC. What a great way for Wichita to finish the first season in their new conference.
Marshall and the Shocker fans are ecstatic about the resurgence of forward Markis McDuffie; he recently returned to action following a stress fracture in his foot and has regained his effectiveness after a slow start. McDuffie scored 26 points against SMU in 25 minutes; he hit 11 of 14 field goals (3 of 6 three-pointers) and showed he’s ready for the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas State lost at Oklahoma (86-77) last Saturday, but that was just a bump in the road instead of a wreck. The Wildcats will go to Fort Worth to play TCU this Tuesday (Feb. 27); K-State left Norman with a 9-7 Big 12 record and 20-9 overall. Barring a total collapse, that will be good enough for a ticket to the Big Dance. Even if the Wildcats lose to TCU, they will finish at home against Baylor on Saturday (March 3).
Coach Weber’s team needs to win one of their last two games to feel secure about their NCAA bid. If they lose the last two regular-season games, the Wildcats will be on the bubble once again. In that event, K-State would have to make a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament starting March 7.
There’s no reason for Wichita State or Kansas fans to be overly worried about the FBI-NCAA investigation concerning nationwide college basketball. One thing is certain: the rumors and innuendo concerning the teams in Kansas and across the nation will be widespread and inconclusive for some time to come.
A second thing is certain: when the NCAA is involved, it will take an eternity for anything positive or negative to be decided. That’s an outfit that has too many college presidents involved who are supposedly experts in collegiate academics, but know little about the world of athletics.
Lets focus on the Big 12 and American Athletic Conference races and the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the time being; as usual, the timing of any action from the NCAA couldn’t have been worse. That organization needs a total overhaul.