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NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: #1 Kansas

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After downing Miami, the Spartans take on top-seeded Jayhawks with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, this is where Spartan fans are used to being, right? Massive underdog, no one really thinking it is possible to keep going and getting no love from basically anyone outside of East Lansing. Is that all deserved, yes it is. But it isn’t going to stop us from noticing

And now we find ourselves on the eve of a game against the number one seed in the Midwest Region, Kansas. Blue chips coached by Bill Self, the Jayhawks come into the round of 32 after just steamrolling UC Davis by 38 points. Led by Wooden Award hopeful Frank Mason III and freshman star (and almost Spartan) Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks look to avoid the fate of Villanova and beat a Big Ten team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

We have a lot to cover so let’s dive on in.


The Basics

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

  • Record: 28-4 (16-2 Big 12)
  • Best Win: @ #4 Kentucky (RPI: 4), W 79-73
  • Worst Loss: vs #11 Indiana* (RPI: 79) L 99-103 (OT)

Last Five Games

NCAA Tournament

  • 3/17 — vs UC Davis, W 100-62

Big 12 Tournament

  • 3/9 — vs TCU, L 82-85

Regular Season

  • 3/4 — @ Oklahoma State, W 90-85
  • 2/27 — vs Oklahoma, W 73-63
  • 2/25 — @ Texas, W 77-67

There are only so many ways in which you can say a team is good so I am going to just go out and say it: This is a really good basketball team.

They lost the opener to an IU team that we all thought was going to be better this year and perhaps Kansas got the benefit of the doubt there but after a quick turnaround, Kansas was a top 4 team every single week from week three until now. Big 12 regular season champions, the Jayhawks play a new 4 guard style, which is a bit different from a typical Bill Self team but hell, when Perry Ellis retired graduated last year and you have talent like Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, it is alright to mix it up.

While Kansas does only have 4 losses on their schedule, the first and the last are perhaps the most intriguing. The loss to IU is one thing but after Freshman Josh Jackson failed to inform coach Self of an incident involving property damage to a car where he fled the scene, he was sat for the eventual elimination game for Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. TCU has a special style of play that is unique to them but they may have shed some light on how to beat the Jayhawks.

Jayhawks To Know

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Stats

From ESPN.com

Well, you have to start with Frank Mason III. He is averaging over 20 points a game, while playing nearly every minute of the game. His leadership in unparalleled and his play this year landed him right at the top of the Wooden Watch list for best player in the country. He is an explosive player who is deadly with the ball behind the arc, shooting an incredible 48.4% from three. Locking up on mason is going to be a tough assignment and undoubtedly will be a matchup that Kansas is going to look to take advantage of.

Then you have the near Spartan, Josh Jackson. The Detroit native chose Lawrence over East Lansing last summer and he has had one heck of a debut for the Jayhawks. Averaging 16.4 points a game to go along with 7.2 boards, he is an incredibly versatile player. As you saw in the matchup against UC Davis, Jackson has the ability to do just about everything. His court vision is superb and he has the ability to go full on Miles bridges with his highlight reel style of play.

The third head of this backcourt hydra for Kansas is Devonte’ Graham. Averaging just under Mason’s time on the court, Graham is out there 35 minutes a game and 13.2 points. He is basically Frank Mason-lite, averaging just under Mason’s numbers in rebounds (3.2), assists (4.2) and steals (1.5) per game. These three are all dangerous and have the ability to take over a game at any point.

How Does MSU Match Up

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Michigan State vs Minnesota Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tempo is going to be an issue in this matchup as well but not the way that Miami was Friday night. Kansas is a team that is fine with running the court and spreading you out so Michigan State is going to actually have to learn to slow things down a bit and not try to run with this highly talented Jayhawk team.

I am going to straight up rip off some of Austin’s points from his Miami preview as I think there are some big similarities in the way we played Friday and what we need to do Sunday in matchups:

“The Spartans’ best offense is going to come when they get the ball to their two top scorers, Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Hardly breaking news, but this is one of the few games where MSU won’t be at a distinct height advantage up front and they absolutely must take advantage.”

This is so true. While Kansas has one hell of a backcourt, they do not go down low too often. They do have a 6’10” senior in Landen Lucas who lead the team in rebounding this year, averaging 8.5 per game to go with 8.1 points but if Ward, Goins and Bridges hustle and work on cleaning up the glass this has the potential to be a very close game.

Taking one more thing from Austin:

“The real problems arise in the backcourt. It’s not a secret that the Spartan guards have left a lot to be desired on the defensive end this season. This will be another big test. Tum Tum, Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford and Alvin Ellis must at least make Miami’s potent guards work for their shots. If they can’t at least slow things down, this is going to be a very tough game to win.”

Substitute Kansas for Miami and you are spot on. These guards are the bread and butter for this Kansas team this year. When WVU was able to beat KU this season is was due to great perimeter defense (for 38 minutes until KU took over), but Tum and Co in the backcourt are going to have to play disciplined basketball if Sparty wants to be the next Big Ten team to knock off a #1 seed this year.

Prediction

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan State vs Penn State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There is a way to beat this Kansas team but it requires Michigan State to play at it’s highest skill level for 40 full minutes of basketball. No fouls with only :02 seconds off the clock. No racking up 7 turnovers in 8 minutes. No dumb mistakes.

I think this is going to come down to two things, the play of Nick Ward and the matchup between Bridges and Jackson. I think that if Nick can get 20 and 10 and miles ends with 20 and 7 we have a chance to steal this game from Kansas.

If we beat Miami by 2 points, I would pick KU in a heartbeat but Michigan State showed discipline in the final 32 minutes of the game on Friday night so I am getting my hopes up.

MSU 70 Kansas 65

Don’t @ me. #GoGreen

NOTE: A previous version of this included a note about Udoka Azubuike, who is out for the season with an injury.