Last Updated: 2019-03-19
Salt Lake City, Utah will be host to the 13/4 game of the Midwest Region on Thursday afternoon; as Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks look to avoid a First Round exit as 6.5-point favorites over Bill Coen and the champions of the CAA, the Northeastern Huskies.
It’s been a down year for Kansas; and in a display far from the dominance we’ve come to expect from the Jayhawks, this was the first year since 2006 that they weren’t the number one seed in the Big 12 Tournament.
The outlier season wasn’t without cause, however, for Kansas suffered a major injury to arguably their best player, C Udoka Azibuike, in early January, while also losing starting Senior SF Lagerald Vick in February, as Vick left the team for personal matters.
All things considered, Rock Chalk put together a solid season, and since losing Vick, closed out the season going 7-3 if counting the Big 12 Tournament games – earning themselves a four seed in the process. Whether they can make a deep run in light of their lack of depth remains to be seen; but first they’ll have to get by a Northeastern team that is as dangerous as any 13 seed in the Tournament.
The Northeastern Huskies finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season – going 14-4 – one game behind the class of the CAA, Hofstra. Northeastern pulled off the upset in the championship game of the tournament, however, beating the Hofstra Pride, 82-74, and earning the team its second bid in program history to the NCAA Tournament.
With the 21st most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation (KenPom), Northeastern tested itself with quality opponents this year; but in those games where they stepped up in competition (VA Tech (11th) L 88-60, Alabama (59th) W 68-52, Davidson twice: L 71-59, L 78-69, and Syracuse L 72-49), the Huskies were outclassed for the most part.
Besides VA Tech at full health, Kansas (20th) will be their biggest test of the year, and whether they can hang in there with a premier Blue-blooded program will be a big question mark. Overall, the Huskies played the 164th most difficult schedule in the nation, while Kansas played THE most difficult schedule overall; and the disparity of overall level of talent and athleticism between these two teams will be dramatic.
If Northeastern is to compete with Kansas, it’ll likely be on offense (48th), where the Huskies, lead by Junior G Jordan Roland (14th CAA 3P%), Senior PG Vasa Pusica (4th CAA 2P%), and Junior stretch PF Bolden Brace (9th CAA 3P%), will rely on three-point shooting (37th % of distribution) to put up points. They’ve shot the three-ball at a 39% clip on the season, so they are one of those teams that can get very hot from beyond the arc; the question is, can they do it against this Jayhawk defense (15th), that has been above average on the perimeter (131st) against the toughest schedule in the country.
Attacking Kansas on the perimeter has been how teams have beat the Jayhawks, though, so Northeastern will have a fighting chance; but one has to wonder if the Northeastern D (144th) will be overmatched by the Kansas offense (34th).
The Jayhawk offense, lead by one of the better players in the country (10th KenPom), in Junior C Dedric Lawson (7th Offensive Rebounding % Big 12), will have a sizable edge inside (84th) – where Northeastern has struggled (271st) the most on defense. Expect Kansas to attack the paint with Lawson, as well as 6-10 Freshman David McCormack, using their size and athleticism exploit Northeastern’s weak interior defense.
Self’s offense should be able to have its way with Northeastern’s mediocre defense, and whether Northeastern can score with them will most assuredly depend on whether the threes are falling for the Huskies, or not.
Pick: Kansas – 6.5 -110
The early money has been on Northeastern, driving this number down from eight – where it opened officially off-shore. But beware the trendy underdog in the NCAA Tournament, and Kansas is a team that is very likely to be undervalued, given how the way their season has played out.
It’s easy to take Kansas’s talent level for granted, however, and it’s also easy to overlook the fact that they have played the toughest schedule in the entire country. Northeastern has stepped up in competition a number of times this season, and in all but one game – it wasn’t pretty.
Bill Self is one of the better NCAA Tournament coaches out there, and you’ll have to look back to 2006 to find the last time the Jayhawks made a first-round exit. I expect he’ll have his team ready to go, and in Tournament form, eager to remind the world that he and his team are still Kansas.
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