Record: (31-3, 13-3 Big 12)
Key Wins: Arizona, @ USC, Oklahoma, Kansas State
Key Losses: @ Oklahoma State, @ Kansas State, @ Texas
Key Stat: 50.1. The team field-goal percentage this season — third best in the nation.
Biggest Strengths: Depth. To put it plainly, the Jayhawks are loaded with talent. From forwards Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson, to the four guards: Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush, the boys from Lawerence could be the deepest team in the tournament.
Whoever plays Kansas better pray that they have enough bench players to compete, because if they don’t, there’s a good chance that team could get run out of the building.
Biggest Weaknesses: Tournament confidence. Ok, so Kansas has one of the deepest benches in the country, a team chalk full of juniors and seniors, and a confident head coach in Bill Self. So why on earth should Kansas ever have to worry? Well for one this core group has always had issues living up to their expectations. Two years ago this same group was upset in the first round by Bradley, and last year in what was supposed to be the year they contended for a national title, they got upset by sixth seed UCLA in the Elite Eight.
I’m not saying this group isn’t talented. To be honest this Kansas team might be one of the best tournament teams I’ve seen in a long time — on paper. But we all know what teams that look good on paper can do to your bracket. This group has yet to reach a Final Four, and until they do, I believe they will always be looked upon as underachievers.
The big question for them is: Can they get past the demons of the past two years and make the 07-08 NCAA Tournament the year Kansas grew up and lived up to expectations? Only time will tell.
Most Important Player: Brandon Rush. Expectations were sky high coming into the season for Brandon Rush. After foregoing the NBA Draft after tearing his ACL in a pickup game, Rush returned back to school to lock Kansas in as the consensus pick for the Big 12 title and hasn’t disappointed since his return. The 6-6 guard is currently averaging 12 points and 2 assists per game, while adding another dimension to Jayhawk juggernaut.
This season has seen a dip in points from Rush — he averaged 13.8 in 2006 — but where his points have dipped, he’s picked up with a new leadership role. While he’s still one of the quickest player’s in the Big 12, he could be one of the best as well in finding ways to motivate his team.
While Rush may have been a first round pick in last years draft, his stock could very well rise if he can help lead Kansas to the Final Four. That alone could make the ACL tear over the offseason a blessing in disguise.
X-Factor: Sherron Collins. Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush are two of the best guards in the Big 12; however, if you were to ask Bill Self who his most important player was, he would probably mention the name Sherron Collins (9.5 ppg, 2.9 assists). Collins is the kind of guard you want on your side when you have to face a team with multiple outside threats. At 5-11, 205 lbs., Collins isn’t the biggest player on the court — or the fastest. But I promise you he has more hustle and energy than any other player on the Kansas roster.
Might Lose When…they get outmuscled. Unlike most of the teams in the Big 12 Conference this season that would prefer to wear you down by battering you (see: Texas A&M and Oklahoma), the Jayhawks would prefer to beat you by running you into the ground at breakneck speed.
It’s hard to pick a weakness on a team that is as solid as Kansas, but in their three games the Jayhawks lost this season, the other team was able to punch them in the mouth early and not let go. Oklahoma State played a physical game and forced Kansas to fight back. The 61-60 final score proved that if you have the patience and bodies to bang the Jayhawks, then you have a serious chance to come out on top.
Might Surprise You With…their scoring margin. At 21 ppg, Kansas currently leads the country in beating teams like a drum. With a 54 point win against Texas Tech and a 35 point win against Nebraska, the Jayhawks have proven to the country that they no longer have a problem closing teams out early. While they might not beat teams by that kind of margin in the tournament, the number alone is reason enough to pick Kansas to go far.
Predicted Finish in the NCAA’s: Final Four. Name three other teams in the country as deep as the Jayhawks? I’m sure you’d probably come up empty handed. That reason alone is enough to push this team all the way. The team has the tools to make a serious run, and having a fully loaded bench isn’t such a bad thing, either. And if the team needs any more motivation, just mention last season’s loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight. That should be more than enough to get them over the hump this time around.