KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament angry after losing to TCU in the early stages of the Big 12 Tournament. KU prepares to face No. 3 Oregon in the Elite Eight after an embarrassing 32-point win over No. 4 Purdue in the regional semifinal on Thursday.
In their first three tournament games this year, Kansas is beating opponents by an average margin of 30 points per game. Yikes.
The No. 1 seed in the Midwest region defeated No. 16 UC Davis, 100-62, in their first win. In their second round contest, the Jayhawks dismantled No. 9 Michigan State, 90-70, after a slow start.
Thursday evening, Kansas played against the Boilermakers 40 miles from Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. It was basically a home game at Phog from the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham certainly felt at home, as the duo combined for 52 points in the victory.
Most impressively, KU was trailing Purdue 33-25 with 6:24 in first half before they went on a 73-33 run to conclude the semifinal.
No. 3 Oregon is fresh off their 69-68 win over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16. The Ducks are not phased by the big moment. They illustrated that on Thursday when they upended the “favorite” and America’s Team.
“We don’t pay attention to that,” said Tyler Dorsey. “Lace up your shoes and go play. They have a great story. They’re very fortunate and they’ve been playing well. It was a dogfight until the end.”
Focus is essential as the road gets exponentially more difficult for the Ducks in the next 48 hours. But, this team is ready. They have been waiting since October.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
Being just 40 miles from their friendly confines, Kansas fans are dominating the attendance numbers. If you saw the second half of the Duck game, you would notice the overwhelming amount of blue and red in the background. It seemed like Oregon was playing in Lawrence.
With that said, Kansas had the longest home 3-year win-streak in the nation before being upended by Iowa State this year. That loss enabled Oregon to possess the longest streak in the country with 42 straight wins from Matthew Knight Arena heading into the 2017-18 campaign.
For the season, the Jayhawks registered an impressive 15-1 record at home. And they were even more impressive from the Sprint Center on Thursday night. Bill Self has over 200 home wins during his KU coaching career, including a few more in Kansas City.
This is what happens when the committee moves you out of the West region. Oregon had a solid road season, going 7-3 away from MKA. Those losses included Georgetown, UCLA and Colorado. However, in “neutral” site affairs the Ducks are 8-2 this season.
A STAR OF STARS
Frank Mason III is the frontrunner for the 2017 National Player of the Year. The Virginia native is the only Kansas player to average 20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.2 RPG and 1.3 SPG in an astounding 36.0 MPG this season. The 5-foot-11 guard recorded a 49 percent field goal percentage, alongside a robust 48 percent from 3-point territory. You don’t see that very often.
It’s rare that you find a player like Mason who stays in school for four years. Yet, he is illustrating why it’s not the worst idea in the world. The supremely talented point guard has led Kansas to a 31-4 record, including KU’s 13th straight regular season conference title.
For all the good Mason brings to his team, I would be remiss to not mention his turbulent junior year. During the 2015-16 NCAA Tournament, the brilliant 3-point shooting specialist missed every attempt from downtown. Mason’s scoreless streak from deep ended KU’s season against the eventual champs, Villanova, in the Elite Eight.
THE “OTHER” FRESHMAN
Aside from Lonzo Ball, no other freshman in the nation has made as much noise as Josh Jackson. He was the No. 1 overall high school prospect coming out of Prolific Prep in California and he has definitely lived up to it.
In fact, the prep academy was created strictly for Jackson because scouts said he was too talented to play for a regular high school team. In fact, 4-star Oregon commit Abu Kigab teamed up with Jackson the following year at Prolific. The two are very close friends, but Jackson has also become a peer mentor for the future Duck.
This season, JJ is averaging 16.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.7 SPG and 1.1 BPG in 30.8 minutes per game. That is a mouthful for a newcomer. Not only is Jackson an absurd natural athlete on the offensive end, but his defensive presence is legitimate.
Jackson was named a 2017 NABC All-American for the third team. NABC AA second-teamer Dillon Brooks will shadow the freshman all over the floor. The 6-foot-8 Jackson will most likely guard a hungry 6-foot-7 Brooks who is coming off a 12-point regional semifinal performance.
Not surprisingly, this Kansas team is loaded. Mason and Jackson may be the catalysts, but they have players everywhere on the floor. Head coach Bill Self has been running a 4-guard system all season. It has led to great success, as KU was 10th in the nation in scoring with 83.9 points per game.
Graham is an example of the unheralded talent of the KU team. The 6-foot-2 junior is averaging 13.7 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.1 RPG and 1.6 SPG in a hefty 35.2 MPG in 2016-17. He shoots 43 percent from the floor, 40 percent from deep and 80 percent from the charity stripe. He is their fourth star, but you can’t tell from his stellar numbers.
If you haven’t seen Lagerald Vick yet, do yourself a favor and YouTube him. His athletic ability, coupled with Jackson’s, makes this unit frightening when they’re running on all cylinders like they were against Purdue.
For the year, the sophomore from Memphis is averaging 7.4 PPG and 3.5 RPG. Meanwhile, he is shooting 45 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point territory and 82 percent from the line.
THE BIG MAN
Jordan Bell is the lone big man on the floor when Oregon has four guards on the court. Landen Lucas is KU’s “less athletic” version of Bell. The two are in for an epic showdown down low.
The Portland native is incredibly smooth in the post, as he continues to develop with stars around him. This season, the Kansas senior is averaging 7.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.1 APG and 1.0 BPG. Like Bell, he is extremely efficient from the floor. Lucas is shooting 64 percent from field this season.
After recording a double-double in KU’s first two games of the tournament, Lucas was given some rest during the Purdue game. He will be ready to roll on Saturday.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been incredibly reliable for Self and company this year. The Ukrainian is averaging 9.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 APG and 0.8 SPG in just 27.3 MPG. He has appeared in all 35 games where he is shooting 44 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep.
The 6-foot-8 “guard” is a match-up problem for most teams without length. Mykhailiuk camps out behind the arc and provides interior length when Kansas defends. Yet, he is not the most imposing presence on the defensive end and can be exploited by a tank like Dillon Brooks.
No. 3 Oregon (32-5) is ready for the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks (31-4) in the Midwest Regional Final. The Elite Eight showdown will tip at 5:49 p.m. PT on Saturday from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The “KU home game” will be televised on TBS.