It’s “Sunflower State Day” in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas schools KU, Kansas State and Wichita State are all playing first-round games today and if you want to throw in Oklahoma State go ahead since McPherson native Brad Underwood has led the Cowboys to the Big Show in his very first year, far exceeding expectations.
Unfortunately, the three Kansas schools will all be playing at the same time, with KU tipping off at 5:50 (approximate), Wichita State is at 6:10 and Kansas State is set for 6:27.
For a while it wasn’t a given that Kansas was going to be joined by its two in-state counterparts. Wichita State, despite its tremendous record, was being held hostage by its conference’s lack of respect. It shared the Missouri Valley title with Illinois State, which despite a 17-1 league record was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State took its fans on a wild roller-coaster ride, as it appeared to be out, then in, then out and finally back in. A win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament probably secured its spot.
Of course Kansas is expected to make the deepest run. But the Jayhawks have been walking the tightrope all year and now there’s no margin for error.
Josh Jackson has been under siege by the media as he’s been involved in a couple of off-the-court incidents that have somewhat dimmed his brilliant season. Jackson has been off for nearly 2 weeks as he was suspended from the Big 12 opener, which KU lost to unheralded TCU. You just don’t know if he’s going to play at his customary high level with so many things going on in his head.
Also for KU, Devonte’ Graham and Svi have been struggling with their shooting, which puts enormous pressure on Jackson and Frank Mason, perhaps the National Player of the Year if it’s not Villanova’s Josh Hart. Landen Lucas is doing yeoman work on the defensive end and providing offense when he can. The bench, other than Legerald Vick, is non-existent.
The Jayhawks have a rough road in the regional, but I do believe they have the softest of the No. 2 seeds to contend with as Louisville is no Arizona, Duke or Kentucky.
Kansas State, if it executes as well as it did against Wake Forest’s matador defense, could knock off Cincinnati. I think playing in the Big 12 has made the Wildcats battle-tested, but they have to have solid guard play. Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown have been wildly inconsistent, but have the ability. I still think KSU doesn’t utilize Dean Wade enough as he causes a lot of mismatches because he’s about 6-10 but has guard skills.
As for Wichita State, the Shockers honestly haven’t played much competition since early in the season. It’s not their fault the Mo Valley was so bad this year, it just played the teams in front of them. Dayton, though, is beatable, but Kentucky is looming.
It would be great to see all three teams get to the weekend, but I don’t see them all in the Sweet 16 next week.