After watching the top-seeded Jayhawks run roughshod over his overmatched Boilermakers in the Midwest Regional semifinals, Painter was asked whether anybody can stop Kansas – a team that has won its first three NCAA Tournament games by an average of 30 points.
He hemmed and hawed a bit, and Painter warned the rest of the field to keep the Jayhawks from getting into transition. Then he conceded: “If they keep getting those types of opportunities and shoot like that, they can’t be stopped.”
Oregon will try to keep Kansas from the Final Four.
The Jayhawks’ 98-66 victory over the Boilermakers was led by 26 points apiece from their dynamic backcourt of Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham, and buoyed by a boisterous crowd packed inside the Sprint Center – a mere 40-minute drive from their campus in Lawrence.
It was the fourth-biggest blowout in Sweet 16 history, dating to 1975. It was the third straight game Kansas has scored at least 90 points, the first team to accomplish the feat in the NCAA Tournament since UConn in 1995. And it was the most comprehensive performance of the year for the Jayhawks when judged by none other than their hard-to-please coach, Bill Self.
“The second half,” he said, “was about as complete as we’ve played.”
So, the question remains: Are there any places where the Jayhawks are vulnerable?
Perhaps their interior depth.
Freshman center Udoka Azubuike was lost early in the season to a wrist injury, trimming Self’s rotation to seven guys. And when starting center Landen Lucas has been in foul trouble, opponents have been able to attack backups Carlton Bragg Jr. and Dwight Coleby with a bit more success.
But even Coleby has played well during the NCAA Tournament – heck, who from the Jayhawks hasn’t? – and that’s given Self and everyone else on the Kansas bench more confidence.
Besides, 6-foot-8 freshman guard Josh Jackson is athletic enough to match up with anyone, as evidenced by the defensive job he did on Purdue center Caleb Swanigan.
Everyone thought the Boilermakers would be able to lean on Swanigan and 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas to create a mismatch problem for Kansas. But the Jayhawks, with their four-guard lineup, brashly turned up the tempo, wore the big fellas down and rolled right on through to the Elite Eight.
“When the game is moving so fast, it’s hard to take advantage of size opportunities,” Swanigan said. “They played well and we lost all the non-negotiables: We had more turnovers. They won the rebounding and free-throw war. Can’t win the game like that.”
So if size doesn’t seem to matter much against Kansas, maybe another guard-oriented team such as Oregon stands a better chance. The third-seeded Ducks beat Michigan on Thursday night to earn a date with the Jayhawks on Saturday night for a spot in the Final Four.
Indeed, teams Kansas has struggled against have generally mirrored their own – Indiana in an overtime loss to start the season, and West Virginia and Iowa State in Big 12 play. All of them have talented backcourts and enough athleticism to keep pace with the high-flying Jayhawks.
That was even the case when TCU stunned Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament, though that comes with a significant asterisk. Jackson was serving a one-game suspension for a series of legal issues.
“This stretch, yeah, I think this is the best we’ve played all season,” the standout freshman said Thursday night, in a quiet corner of an otherwise boisterous locker room. “But I think we can get a lot better. I think there’s another step we can take.”
Good luck, Oregon. You’ve got next.