While Coach K and the looming Duke-North Carolina showdown is understandably drawing much of the Final Four attention, Kansas offers an interesting story line.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self really wants to win another national title. This season has been an emotional grind for him due to the passing of his father.
Also, Kansas remains under the cloud of significant NCAA rules violations stemming from the same federal probe that caught Rick Pitino, Sean Miller and Will Wade cheating.
Self has remained untouched to this point and the school vows to fight to the death while defending him, since he drives much of the school’s sports revenue.
Still, the firings of those other coaches Louisville, Arizona and LSU has to be unsettling for the program.
And then there is this: Kansas finished the 2020 season ranked No. 1, but the pandemic cancelled the NCAA Tournament. That loaded Jayhawks team didn’t get to take its run at the title.
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“It’s definitely a heartbreak feeling, knowing that we clawed our way to the top that year,” Kansas center David McCormack said Sunday. “We had a lot of great pieces and felt like we could go really far in the tournament. Now this year feels like we’re avenging that year.”
The Jayhawks have caught some breaks in this tournament, which their fans would insist were overdue. They are an obvious favorite in their semifinal against Villanova, which lacks their offensive firepower and depth.
If the Jayhawks can push their pace, as is their plan, they could wear down the Wildcats. Villanova, which has leaned on a six-man player rotation this season, lost key guard Justin Moore to a torn Achilles tendon in the Elite Eight.
“Now that we have the opportunity, we’re going to make the most of it and just continue to grow as a team with each game,” McCormack said. “And just do what we weren’t able to do or didn’t have an opportunity to do within that 2020 year.”
This team features many new faces, but it possesses the same confidence level.
“This year’s team is different, totally,” Self said. “But I do think that this year’s team has the same chance to do as well just because they have a strong belief that they can accomplish anything. And it’s been impressive for me to watch them grow in that belief this year.”
Here is what folks have been writing about KU’s scenario:
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: “For more than four months, the Kansas Jayhawks, like every other Division I men’s basketball team, have been playing games, mostly twice a week, some at home, some on the road, some on neutral courts. Never once were they ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Coaches Poll or the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1. Never once were they No. 1 at KenPom.com. And yet here they are, heading into the 2022 Final Four, as the only No. 1 seed remaining, just two wins from what would be Bill Self’s second national title, It’s a reminder of a few different things — most notably that Self, already a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer at the age of 59, is an incredible basketball coach, one who has won 20 conference regular-season titles, 10 conference tournaments and now advanced to four Final Fours. But it’s also evidence that it’s not always a coach’s best teams that give him the best chance to win it all as much as it’s a coach’s great teams that move through the bracket with the kind of good fortune national champions sometimes enjoy. Which is not to take away from what KU just did or might do. Please don’t get it twisted. My point is simply that you could reasonably argue this is neither one of Self’s five most-talented teams nor one of his five best teams, and yet it really might be the team that earns him a second national title.”
Myron Medcalf, ESPN.com: “Kansas will go to New Orleans as perhaps the least sexy storyline in the field. With Mike Krzyzewski’s historic Final Four matchup against North Carolina up next in the last season of his career and a Villanova team pushing forward without standout Justin Moore, the lone 1-seed in the national semifinals is somehow under the radar. In a year of Peacocks, top seeds falling short and career-altering runs, there’s nothing magical about the Jayhawks achieving what they were supposed to, it seems. Which is unfair because they have been the NCAA tournament’s most dominant crew. With Remy Martin (16.7 PPG through four NCAA tournament games) and Ochai Agbaji (18 points in Sunday’s 76-50 win over Miami in the Elite Eight) soaring, Kansas is the most complete outfit in the Final Four. No team in the NCAA tournament has displayed more stretches of brilliance in the postseason. The Jayhawks had a 47-19 lead at halftime in their first-round win over Texas Southern. Creighton kept the game close in the second round, but Kansas still managed to record 113 points per 100 possessions against the best defensive team in the Big East during the regular season. In the third round, the final five-point margin of victory against Providence masked Kansas’ 24-12 start against Ed Cooley’s squad and the 12-5 run that helped it regain control after the Friars took a 38-37 lead early in the second half. And on Sunday, Kansas outscored Miami — which beat Auburn by 18 points in the second round — 47-15 in the second half to advance to the Final Four.”
Scott Gleeson, USA Today: “Kansas has a reliable guard in All-American Ochai Agbaji (18.9 ppg) and a frontcourt presence in big man David McCormack (10.0 ppg). Both are seniors and provide a seasoned inside-out game that’s hard to stop. But it’s the supporting cast – Jalen Wilson, Dajuan Harris, and Christian Braun – in coach Bill Self’s high pick-and-roll offense that often determine how well KU plays as a unit. In an Elite Eight win over Miami, it was Braun’s dunk and three-pointer on back-to-back possessions that fired up the Jayhawks to go from six down at halftime to drubbing the Hurricanes by 26 points.”
David Cobb, CBSSports.com: “When conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament were canceled in 2020, the stoppage came amid a 16-game winning streak for Kansas, which was ranked No. 1 and emerging as a clear favorite to win the national championship. After finishing with 63 of the 65 possible first-place votes in the final AP Top 25 poll, Kansas could have claimed a national title. If anyone was going to raise a banner from the season, Kansas had the best case. The Jayhawks’ brass resisted that temptation. The school’s 1952, 1988 and 2008 champions were the last teams standing at the end of a single-elimination tournament, and the 2020 team’s claim to a title would have been weak by comparison. Claiming such a title would also have made the Jayhawks a target of national ridicule. After all, the chances of any one team surviving six games in a single-elimination tournament — even one as solid as the 2020 Kansas team — are slim, and other elite teams from that season like Gonzaga, Dayton and San Diego State were also robbed of the opportunity to compete for a national title. Because Kansas did not try and claim a national championship in 2020, it now gets to use the ending to that season as motivation while getting ready to face a Villanova program that was one of only three to hand Kansas a loss in the 2019-20 season.”
“We all knew we were a pretty good team that year. We were No. 1 for a long time. For it to get canceled like that kind of sucked for a while.”
Kansas standout Christian Braun, on the pandemic disappointment of 2020.