Bullpup girls a barometer for Jayhawks

By Steve Sell
March 26, 2018

We should have known the Kansas Jayhawks were going to defeat Duke on Sunday and advance to the Final Four.

All the proof we needed was the McPherson High girls basketball team.

The Bullpups seem to be a barometer for the Jayhawks. When MHS’ girls win state, KU advances to the Final Four.

The Bullpups won the Class 5A state title in 2008. That was the year of the Mario Miracle and the Jayhawks defeated Memphis to win the championship.

MHS then won the Class 4A title in 2012. KU made it to the Final Four, losing to eventual champion Kentucky in the semifinals.

And now in 2018, the Bullpup girls won the Class 4A Division I state title. And presto, the Jayhawks are again in the Final Four.

Coincidence? I think not.

But this has to be considered KU coach Bill Self’s greatest accomplishment, other than the 2008 national championship.

This team has been doubted all year. It will be doubted again on Saturday when it plays Villanova, which quite honestly has looked like the best team in the country through the first four games of the tournament.

Just keep doubting them. Doubt them until next Monday night when they cut the nets down in San Antonio.

I have been one of those doubting Thomases. No way did I think this team would emerge from a brutal South regional that included gold standard Duke and everybody’s trendy pick Michigan State.

I didn’t have a good feeling going into Sunday. I looked at the inside game of Duke and 6-11 Marvin Bagley III and 6-10 Wendell Carter and all I could think was how could KU keep them off the boards? Also, Grayson Allen, the Christian Laettner of his time as he’s college basketball’s Dillinger, was due for a big game.

KU not only battled the Dukies on the boards, it crushed them. The Jayhawks had a whopping 47-32 advantage despite playing a four-guard lineup.

And Allen did not have a big game, scoring 12 points and missing a last-second shot at the end of regulation that looked like it was going in.

Just think, KU’s Udoka Azubuike played less than half the game, partly due to fouls and partly because he seemed exhausted despite playing short bursts. Thankfully, late-arriving freshman Silvio DeSousa, who wasn’t even with the team at the start of the year, stepped in with a man-child 10 rebounds.

Going back to the McPherson High theme, I likened this win to the Bullpup girls defeating Miege. Very few people ever think of Duke as an underdog, just like Miege. You have to beat Duke, Duke doesn’t beat itself, which is like Miege. Duke has a legendary coach in Mike Krzyzewski and Miege has Terry English, the most accomplished coach in Kansas history.

When I break this game down, the Jayhawks won without a major contribution from Azubuike and Devonte’ Graham really wasn’t that stellar. He scored only 11 points and had trouble defending, as maybe his tired legs didn’t allow him to move as well as he gave up several blow-bys.

But Malik Newman played like the Malik Newman that came out of high school as one of the top prospects in the country. He scored all 13 of KU’s points in overtime and had 32 for the game. He was a hot knife through butter, slicing and dicing the Duke defense at will.

Svi Mykhailiuk was a defensive presence — who would ever have said that a couple of years ago? — as he made Hagler III work hard. The Third is expected to be the No. 1 or 2 pick in the NBA draft and while he scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, he didn’t have an out-of-this-world game.

Legerald Vick was perhaps the unsung hero. He did a great job filling the hole in the middle of Duke’s zone defense, scoring 14 points and making good decisions.

Now KU gets Villanova, one of the most fundamentally sound teams I’ve seen in college basketball in a long time. It has Jalen Brunson, most likely the Player of the Year. It has a bunch of other selfless players who do their job and do it well.

I doubt the Jayhawks can win. But I’ve doubted them all season and look how that’s worked out.