Kansas came into the season among a packed full group of blue bloods, including Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, North Carolina, Michigan State, and more. These teams were expected to compete for the national title, and even though the Jayhawks lost 92-89 in overtime to Iowa State, they should be considered title favorites.
Now, going into the 14th week of the season, Kansas is my favorite to reach the Final Four and cut down the nets in Houston as national champions for many reasons.
Guard play stands out. However, also because of freshman Josh Jackson adding a new dimension to the team, Bill Self being one of the best coaches of our generation, and a hard-working group of interior players.
The Jayhawks are extremely talented at each spot on the roster, but everything begins with senior Frank Mason and junior Devonte’ Graham. Mason is a Wooden Award candidate, averaging 20.4 points and 5.2 assists, running the show, alongside Graham who puts in 13.4 points per game.
However, Jackson’s decision to attend Kansas, spurning Michigan State and others, can not be overlooked. After struggling for the first couple of weeks of the season, Jackson has been consistently improving, and is now one of the most feared players in the Big 12. He has scored 15+ points in each of the last five games, hitting on 52.2 percent of his shots and 52.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Bill Self, the head coach who has led his team to 12 (!) consecutive Big 12 titles, is once again atop the conference standings. Through 10 games, Kansas is 8-2 against Big 12 opponents, having only lost at No. 18 West Virginia and Iowa State. Self’s crew will travel to Kansas State and Baylor over the next couple of weeks, but besides those two games, there are not a lot of potential losses.
Another factor that makes me believe this team has the goods to make a deep tournament run, and take the next step from their Elite 8 appearance in 2015-16, is the interior experience and work ethic. Landen Lucas is far from the most talented big man in the country, but his effort surpasses most of his opponents. Not to mention, a handful of role players like Mitch Lightfoot, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Lagerald Vick who are able to produce when called upon. Not to mention, Carlton Bragg Jr., who will return from suspension at Kansas State.
Lastly, I think the initial group of potential Final Four teams have been slightly disappointing for the most part. Duke opened the season No. 1 and are 4-3 in their last seven games, falling out of the top-20. Kentucky has lost two of three, against Tennessee and Kansas. North Carolina has looked like a top-tier team, except they can’t seem to avoid the injury bug as Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley, and Theo Pinson have all missed time. Michigan State has been arguably the most disappointing team in the country, going 14-9 and being on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Teams like Gonzaga, Villanova, and Oregon have looked like the best teams in the country, next to Kansas, but I still believe the Jayhawks should be title favorites right now. Obviously the overtime slip-up against Iowa State is going to sting for a little while because of the 54-game home winning streak being snapped, but Self will be able to get his team refocused on the main prize.
My theory of the Jayhawks being favorites will probably change multiple times before Selection Sunday, but as of now, Kansas is playing like the most consistent team in the country, and should be considered the team to beat, and have expectations of bringing a national title banner to Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since 2008.
Photo Credit: Rock Chalk Talk.