By Mac Stevenson
Once again, the Kansas basketball team is going to the Final Four in San Antonio after a thrilling 85-81 overtime win against Duke. No one can accuse KU of taking an easy road in their attempt to win another national championship; the Jayhawks play Villanova this Saturday, the only other number-one seed left in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Malik Newman is justifiably receiving most of the accolades directed at KU’s players, but Silvio De Sousa (6-9, 245) deserves great praise for the way he has come on and delivered just in the nick of time. De Sousa played well against Duke’s great frontline both before and after Udoka Azubuike fouled out; his outstanding play at just the right time has to be reassuring to Coach Bill Self.
Kansas and Villanova are similar physically and in their respective styles of play; both play a tight man-to-man defense with exceptional outside shooting from their guards. And for once KU won’t be outmanned on the frontline. Azubuike and De Sousa are now alternating at center and both will be ready to go against Villanova. The Wildcats counter in the pivot with junior Eric Paschall (6-7, 250) and freshman Omari Spellman (6-10, 245); both are rugged rebounders who score well close to the basket. Azubuike (7-0, 280) has a size advantage and will be able to score frequently inside if he doesn’t get in foul trouble.
Both teams have outstanding point guards: Villanova’s Jalen Bronson (6-2, 190) is the Wildcats’ best player and runs their offense. KU, of course, counters with Devonté Graham (6-2, 185) who does almost exactly the same things for the Jayhawks that Bronson does for the Wildcats.
Shooting guard Malik Newman (6-3, 190) has been spectacular for the last month and he carried Kansas to the win against Duke. Newman played great defense and scored a career-high 32 points; he was named the MVP of the Midwest Regional. And most impressive of all, Newman scored all 13 of KU’s points in overtime. Villanova has an exceptional shooting guard of their own, sophomore Donte DiVincenzo (6-5, 205); however, he’s not on the same level as Newman.
Svi Mykhailiuk (6-9, 195) didn’t shoot as well as usual against Villanova, but he had 10 rebounds, his career-best. And Mykhailiuk hit the 3-point shot with 25 seconds left that sent the game into overtime. In addition, Lagerald Vick played another solid game and has peaked going into the Final Four.
KU still hasn’t played a great game in the tournament, although the Duke game comes close. Two noteworthy stats that deserve attention: the Jayhawks dominated the rebounding (47-32) against the taller Blue Devils, but KU also committed 17 turnovers. Against Villanova, Kansas needs to continue that superb rebounding and cut down on the careless turnovers.
KU-Villanova will be another scratch-and-claw game that could go either way—both are deserving of their high rankings and berths in the Final Four. One aspect that the Jayhawk players and coaches must avoid is a feeling of relief that they reached another Final Four; at the end of the day, all that the basketball fans across the nation remember is who wins it all.
The winner of KU-Villanova this Saturday will play for the national championship on Monday (April 2) against the winner of the Michigan-Loyola of Chicago game. Just a few weeks ago it seemed improbable that KU would be anywhere close to this position, but the Jayhawks proved the naysayers wrong. From here it looks like KU will win it all.
Without the prospect of inconceivable success, there can be no disappointment. Kansas State’s basketball team lost their NCAA Elite Eight game (78-62) to Loyola of Chicago; nevertheless, long after the memory of this loss fades, the beating K-State handed Kentucky will endure as one of the prized legends of Kansas State basketball.
After the loss, Coach Bruce Weber said, “I’m just so proud of our guys . . . how hard they’ve worked and how we’ve overcome so much through the year and did some special things.”
Few if any expected the Wildcats to make much of a run in the NCAA Tournament, let alone winning three games and making it to the Elite Eight. In addition to the satisfaction enjoyed by the K-State fans, all followers of Big 12 basketball can be proud of the Wildcats as they enhanced the national prestige of the conference.
The outlook for Kansas State basketball for the 2018-19 season is promising indeed: Weber returns every key player from the Elite Eight team. K-State’s ballclub will be mostly experienced seniors and juniors that have been through the pressure of numerous big-time games.
Expectations will be high for K-State next season; they will be one of the preseason favorites in the Big 12. Success begets success.