Mac Stevenson
Many, not all, Kansas University basketball fans have become so accustomed to the Jayhawks’ success that they take Coach Bill Self for granted. That shouldn’t happen. KU has won more NCAA games under Self than any of the former Jayhawk coaches. Self’s teams have a 35-13 record in NCAA Tournament games; that includes a national championship in 2008 and a second place finish in 2012.
This season Kansas broke the national record for consecutive conference championships with their 14th straight Big 12 title, eclipsing the 13 in a row by UCLA under John Wooden. That is such an incredible and improbable feat that it doesn’t receive the acclaim it merits. Can you imagine a Big 12 football team winning 14 league titles in a row?
With Bill Self leading the way, KU’s teams are always highly entertaining and exciting and this one has been no exception. Kansas roared into the Sweet Sixteen with an 83-79 win against Seton Hall of the Big East. The Jayhawks will play Clemson this Friday at Omaha; that winner will play in the Midwest Regional championship game this Sunday for a place in the Final Four in San Antonio.
KU center Udoka Azubuike (7-0, 285) played 22 minutes against Seton Hall and Kansas fans should be encouraged because he acquitted himself well considering he had just one practice in the previous 11 days. Self said, “If Doke wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don’t win. I was hoping for 20 minutes . . . that was what I was hoping and he could have played more.” If Azubuike’s injured knee continues to heal this week before the Elite Eight game, KU’s chances improve significantly.
Kansas still hasn’t had a game when all the key players have performed with the excellence they’re capable of. Point guard Devonté Graham—KU’s leader and star player—had a terrible game against Seton Hall. He was one of seven in field goal attempts and committed five turnovers; that was after a 29-point performance against Penn. But Azubuike, Lagerald Vick, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Malik Newman picked up the slack. Mykhailiuk and Newman were sensational.
Kansas is capable of winning it all if they have all of their key players at the top of their games when the moment of truth arrives. That will be soon. The patsies have all gone home and the remaining games will be tightly contested between talented ballclubs.
Kansas State defeated Cinderella 50-41 Sunday evening to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Atlanta where they will play Kentucky this Thursday. In fairness to Coach Bruce Weber and his players, Kentucky will be close to Mission Impossible if Dean Wade’s injured foot keeps him on the bench.
Sixteenth seeded UMBC made basketball history when they defeated number-one Virginia in the first round; the Retrievers are quick scrappers and they made K-State struggle, but the Wildcats came through in the closing minutes.
The biggest issue against Kentucky will be K-State’s lack of size against the huge Wildcats from Lexington. Kansas State would be at a disadvantage with Wade and without him their chances for a huge upset are slight. But in this year’s tournament, it’s been proven that anything can happen and the pressure will be on Kentucky. If K-State can hit a barrage of 3-pointers, they might pull the upset.
In any event, it’s been a superb season for Coach Weber and his players and reaching the Sweet Sixteen is an achievement to be proud of.
Wichita State’s basketball season ended with a heart-rending upset loss to Marshall in the first round of the Big Dance. Although the Shockers didn’t have a poor season, they didn’t live up to the expectations set by their previous superb teams under Coach Gregg Marshall.
Losing as the favorite in the NCAA Tournament is a cruel ending to an otherwise successful season; it happens so suddenly and without warning that fans and players alike are in a state of shock that takes time to heal. Wichita graduates most of their key players and next season will be a rebuilding year, but Marshall has a first-class group of recruits ready to report for duty.
MLB spring training is moving swiftly for the Kansas City Royals and one particularly ominous omen has raised its ugly head. Through last Saturday (March 17), Alex Gordon—KC’s highly paid left fielder—was stumbling badly coming out of the gate. In his last eight games, Gordon was 0 for 24 at the plate with 10 strikeouts. It’s appears that Gordon’s $72 million contract is going to prove to be one of the biggest wastes of money in Royals’ history.