There was barely a ripple on Sunday when it was announced that Kansas and Wichita State were in the same South Regional in the NCAA Tournament.
Normally it would call for big fanfare. However, since they were in different parts of the 16-team bracket almost no mention was made.
Kansas is the chosen one by most experts, as very few have the Jayhawks losing in this regional despite the presence of many strong, capable teams.
Wichita State, on the other hand, was literally one of the last teams to make the field and even that was questioned by some national media. The Shockers have been a wonderful story the last three years in the NCAA Tournament, but this year’s team seemed to have very little margin for error as it’s gone as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet have carried it.
WSU, in fact, was relegated to one of the hokey “First Four” games, which is designed for the NCAA to cover its rear end by adding four more games in case there were some teams on the bubble that it simply couldn't leave out. Who knows, there may be a point when we have the “First 16” games.
The Shockers got past SEC member Vanderbilt in comfortable fashion, but that left precious little time to prepare for Pac 12 power Arizona in what is now called the second round. The Wildcats, a former national champion, have a quality NCAA history and its strength was expected to overwhelm the smallish Shockers on Thursday.
While WSU did get pounded on the boards, the tenacity it played with sucked the life right out of the Wildcats. Gregg Marshall masterfully orchestrated his bench, which contributed mightily in the form of Markis McDuffie and Conner Frankamp, both of whom scored 10 points. VanVleet controlled the game from the point and Baker, while still having trouble throwing the ball in the ocean from beyond the arc, got to the basket with a myriad of moves.
The Shockers got next to nothing from starters Zach Brown and Evan Wessel, but there’s always somebody to pick up the slack. In fact, Wessel played only 12 minutes, so he should be ready to turn it loose on Saturday against Miami.
The Shockers certainly again will be an underdog. Miami, whose star is former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez, is a beatable team and some believe it's been seeded too high. It scuffled past Buffalo, a 14 seed, on Thursday and I wonder about its focus. It had better be zeroed in on the Shockers, as Marshall has his team dialed in and returning to the “Playing Angrey” days.
As for the Kansas Jayhawks, it was a mixed bag in the expected 105-79 rout of Austin Peay. It was nice to see the bench play so well, led by Svi Mykhailiuk, but Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham were no-shows, something that can’t happen against UConn. This Huskie team scares the bejeepers out of me because of what it accomplished in 2014 when it came from nowhere to win the national championship and it can draw on that experience.
Kansas must definitely tighten up on the defensive end and reduce its fouling. The Jayhawks were hack-a-minute for the first 10 on Thursday, which I attribute to not being totally fixated on their opponent.
While we’re still a long ways away from a potential KU-Wichita State rematch, it could be come more of a possibility after Saturday.