The 2014-2015 college basketball season has been another strong campaign for the Kansas Jayhawks, as they enter the NCAA Tournament as a No.2 seed with eyes on winning the national championship. The team has a chance to make some noise during March Madness, but the second winningest program in the sport’s history won’t have an easy trip to the Final Four.
Kansas has been one of the best teams in college basketball this year, ranking 10th in the AP Top 25 poll and winning the Big 12 regular-season title. The Jayhawks were minutes away from winning the conference tournament, but they blew a 17-point second half lead to Iowa State.
Winning a 10th consecutive title in the Big 12 , which might be the nation's best conference, seemingly makes Kansas one of the favorites to reach the Final Four and win the national championship. But a closer look at the Jayhawks’ season and their potential road through the Midwest region could make it difficult to peg them as one of the leading candidates to win it all.
The selection committee did Kansas no favors by putting them in the Midwest. If the Jayhawks are able to win three consecutive games and reach the Elite Eight, they’ll likely have to face undefeated Kentucky for a trip to the Final Four. Not only have the Wildcats separated themselves as the best team in the tournament, but they dominated the Jayhawks in their Nov. 18 meeting. Kansas was blown out on a neutral court, 72-40, scoring just 12 points in the second half.
Even before a potential matchup with Kentucky, things won’t be easy for Kansas. A loss to No.15 New Mexico State would likely be the biggest upset of March Madness, though three No.2 seeds have lost their first game in the last three years. A potential Round-of-32 contest against No.7 Wichita State would be no walk in the park, since the Shockers are just four spots behind Kansas in the AP Top 25 poll. In the Sweet Sixteen, Kansas might have to face No.3 Notre Dame, who is ranked higher than the Jayhawks in the top 25 after winning the ACC Tournament.
Kentucky’s 1/3 odds of winning the Midwest region makes them the overwhelming favorite, and Notre Dame is considered more likely to reach the Final Four with 9/1 odds. Kansas doesn’t even have better odds than Wichita State, tying them with 10/1 odds at Bovada.lv.
Every No.1 seed and the three other No.2 seeds have better championship odds than Kansas. No.3 Notre Dame (25/1) and No.3 Iowa State (28/1) have been given a better chance to win the national championship. No.4 North Carolina, No.7 Michigan State and No.5 Utah all share Kansas’ 40/1 odds of winning it all.
The Jayhawks have not been as dominant as the other No.2 seeds. Ranking 80th in scoring and 132nd in points allowed, Kansas has an average point differential of 6.5 points per game. That’s a far cry from the average point differentials of No.2 Gonzaga (18.2), No.2 Arizona (17.8) and No.2 Virginia (14.6). Even Notre Dame has outscored their opponents by an average of 13.2 points per contest.
After their loss to Kentucky, Kansas looked like they might be headed towards a No.1 seed, winning 18 of their next 20 games, including eight victories over NCAA Tournament teams. Since then, the Jayhawks have not looked like a national title contender, finishing the season with five losses in 12 games.
Kansas is good enough to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but winning six consecutive games will prove to be a difficult task. Kelly Oubre Jr. is the team’s only player that appears to be an all but guaranteed first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and such a selection would be based largely on potential. The freshman is fourth on the team with 9.3 points per game. Freshman Cliff Alexander and leading-scorer Perry Ellis have a chance to go within the first 30 picks, but they might be more likely to be taken in the second round.
Since Bill Self took over as the Kansas head coach in 2003, the team has experienced a lot of NCAA Tournament success. The Jayhawks have made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen in four of the last eight years, including two trips to national championship game and a title victory in 2008.
But Kansas hasn’t been immune to early-round upsets. They lost their opening tournament game in both 2005 and 2006, while suffering a Round of 32 upset in 2010 and 2014. The 2015 NCAA Tournament could spell another disappointment for the Jayhawks.
Prediction: Loss in the Round of 32. The Jayhawks have the talent to go deep in the tournament, but this year's team has looked bad in losses and have not shown much when playing outside of Allen Fieldhouse.