KU will have to be tough, physical

By Steve Sell
March 24, 2016

Maybe it’s an every-four-year thing.

The last time the Kansas Jayhawks advanced to the Final Four was 2012. And before that it was the magical 2008 season when they cut down the nets by defeating Memphis in the finals.

Now it’s 2016. Maybe the Jayhawks’ success coincides with presidential elections. Bill Self could certainly run for president in Lawrence considering the high level of success he has enjoyed.

The Jayhawks begin their quest tonight in the Sweet 16 when they take on Maryland, coached by former KU starting point guard Mark Turgeon. They have taken care of business through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament with no-stress wins over Austin Peay and UConn. They’ve looked as good as any team in the field, which is about as wide open as I can ever remember.

KU certainly is going to have to elevate its toughness level. The Terps will have a size advantage in the frontcourt, something the Jayhawks haven’t faced often this year. There’s also good size in the Maryland backcourt, unlike KU which has smallish guards in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. They play bigger than their size, though, and the pair they go up against tonight is one of the best they’ll face all year.

Maryland also has a behemoth inside in hulking 6-11 Diamond Stone, but I believe Landen Lucas will be up to the task. Lucas has been the final piece to the KU puzzle after Self had tried Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson. Lucas has developed into a reliable rebounder and defender and it allows Traylor to come off the bench with high-voltage energy. Mickelson actually has been supplanted by Carlton Bragg, he of the mid-range jumper. Mickelson and Cheick Diallo have proven to be the odd posts out in the six-man rotation, but a lot of teams would like to have them.

KU seems to be at its best when it gets off to a quick start. The Jays jumped all over UConn and were able to withstand a second-half snooze for a comfortable win. It’s when they get behind early that the basket starts to shrink, especially for Wayne Selden.

Selden continues to be the X-factor. He has picked up his game in the tourney and needs to play with confidence. When he struggles, KU generally does.

A win would put KU against Miami or Villanova, with the latter my pick. Villanova is better than I thought and it was a No. 1 seed for much of the year until a late slump.