I know this is going sound ridiculously biased, but yesterday's Big 12 championship game between Kansas and Texas was one of the best games i've seen all year. It was played at such high level. The shooting was spectacular. The intensity was Final Four-caliber. According to ESPN.com's Andy Katz, who spoke with NCAA Tournament Committee chair Tom O'Connor, some of the eight contingency plans the committee was working on Sunday had to do with the No. 1 seed line with the Kansas-Texas Big 12 result. Sounds to us as though the winner of this game was getting the #1 seed in the Midwest, while the loser would be shipped to the South, where they would be the #2 seed with Memphis. This worked out perfectly for both teams in the end, as Texas now gets to play the South regionals in Houston, a city with a large UT alumni contingent.
But we digress.
The display of shooting put on by both teams in the first half was astounding. KU shot 63% in the first half and hit eight three's, yet they trailed 46-45. D.J. Augustin's first half performance of 18 points was a thing of beauty. Whether it was Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush, or Mario Chalmers, nobody could stop him in the first half. As good as Augustin was, Chalmers matched him shot for shot. “It was like we were out there playing horse,” KU’s Darnell Jackson said. “D.J. makes a three. Mario makes a three.”
Then in the second half, KU's defense picked back up. Augustin didn't hit a field goal the entire second half and scored just two points. In the end they pulled away and won by 10, but the game was much closer. Said coach Bill Self: “That’s about as well played a game as you can get. It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of. It was humbling sitting on the sidelines watching those guys play. There were some hard-rocking guys out there today.”
Super Mario - What a time for Mario Chalmers to have his greatest game in a Kansas uniform. His 30 points were not only a career high, but every one of his shots seemed like it came in a big spot. His eight threes were the most since Billy Thomas's eight in 1998, also against Texas. "’Rio was hot. ’Rio kept shooting the ball and giving his little ‘yap-yap’ to everybody," said Brandon Rush. If Chalmers continues to shoot from deep this well, the Jayhawks will be scary good.
The Real Rush - Just like last year at this time, the real Brandon Rush seems to have appeared. After his 28 point, career-high game in the semifinal win over Texas A&M Saturday, Rush again was assertive and hitting his shots. He nailed 6-9 from deep for 19 points, but also added six assists, six rebounds and blocked three shots. Brandon knows this is the end for him and he is playing like a guy who wants to go out on top. "We’ve got five seniors leaving, then some people might be leaving early, so yeah, there’s a sense of urgency right now to try to get it done, try to make a run for it.”
Sherron on the Floor - Little has been said about this, but Bill Self has finally done what he knows is best for this team; at the end of tight games the last two games, it was Sherron Collins on the floor running the point, not Russell Robinson. Collins played 24 minutes, one more than Robinson's 23, and scored nine points, dished out seven assists, and grabbed five boards. Robinson played stellar second half defense, but took only two shots, didn't score, and had three assists. This team is clearly more potent offensively with Sherron on the floor.
Shady the Zone Buster - As great as KU's long range shooters were yesterday, the real key is how well they move the ball against a zone. Texas plays a ton of it because of their lack of depth. Their may be no better big man to be in the middle of the zone than Darrell Arthur. When Shady gets into space and gets the ball, he either catches and drills the mid-range jumper, quickly hits either Sasha Kaun or Darnell Jackson on the baseline for a layup, or kicks it out to a three point shooter. Yesterday he was on his game, hitting 6-9 shots and all four of his free throws for 16 points, while snatching nine rebounds. “The guards did a good job just finding me in the zone, I found Sasha a couple times in their gaps, thought we just did a good job against their zone. Like I said, Mario exploited the zone, hitting eight threes, and we just kept finding him,” Arthur said.
Sasha is Legit - I am here to eat crow on Sasha Kaun. The guy can play. In 24 minutes off the bench, he grabbed eight boards, scored seven points, and blocked two shots. Ok, so he is still a bad free throw shooter, but he is so aggressive going to the hole and uses both hands pretty well. He also plays great post defense. Kansas loses nothing when Sasha comes in to replace Darnell Jackson. Sasha also deserves credit for the improvement in Cole Aldrich's game thanks to their battles in practice.
Props to the Longhorns - That is a Final Four team wearing White uniforms yesterday. The backcourt of D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams is one of the best in the country with Augustin clearly the best Point Guard in the country. PF Damion James doesn't get the credit nationally he deserves. He can beat you inside and out and is a beast on the glass. We love Connor Atchley's game as a big man with shooting guard range. Justin Mason is the ultimate glue guy. Their only negative is a lack of depth. They are our pick to go to the Final Four out of the South.
Don't Miss This - The Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament bracket - the one in which KU is the top seed - has plenty of story lines tying back to the Jayhawks. First, there’s the fact that KU could play in both Nebraska and Michigan - the same path taken in 1988. That year, KU also played Vanderbilt and Kansas State in the road to the Final Four. Both are in the Midwest region. KU could potentially face UNLV in the second round, coached by former K-State guard and head coach Lon Kruger. Most of his staff is from the state of Kansas, too. As for KSU, it plays Southern Cal. Not only does that pit Michael Beasley against O.J. Mayo, but it faces up Mayo and Bill Walker, who grew up together in Huntington, W.V., and were high school teammates for three years. Also, don’t forget Gonzaga’s Micah Downs in the bracket. He came in to KU in the class with Chalmers and Rush, in case you forgot.
Game Quotes (courtesy of kusports.com)
Darrell Arthur on the incredible first half: “That’s what coach said at halftime. He said there ain’t been ball played like this since ‘88 when Danny played. I guess it was, because we were just trading baskets back and forth. It was a high level game tonight.
Darrell Arthur on getting back at Texas: “Like I said, it was a big-time revenge game for us. We let it slip away in Austin, got kinda punked. We came out with the urgency to attack, I thought we attacked the whole game, and I thought Mario carried us the whole way.”
Darrell Arthur on returning offensively: “The guards did a good job just finding me in the zone, I found Sasha a couple times in their gaps, thought we just did a good job against their zone. Like I said, Mario exploited the zone, hitting eight threes, and we just kept finding him.”
Sherron Collins on the offensive flow: “I just think they played a lot of zone, and zone is something we thrive off of playing against. Teams play us in zones, we’re able to penetrate against it, especially Shady and Sasha and Darnell, they made some good plays and passes to each other on or around the baseline. Even to the guards. I just think we did an overall good job running our offense today.”
Sherron Collins on there being pride on the line between the guards for each team: “I think there was a lot of pride on the line. We know they’ve got one of the best backcourts in the country and we do as well, and we knew we had to stop their backcourt, they had to stop ours, and today we prevailed.”
Brandon Rush on the go-to-guy thing again: “The go-to-guy is the person who’s hot at the time, doing everything for our team. Tonight it was (Chalmers), I helped him out and I was the second option.”
Brandon Rush on defensive keys to the win: “With this game, we’re definitely going to have some games like this, where it’s an up-and-down game, everybody’s hot. But the key to the game is getting stops at the end, and against Texas we got some stops, forced them into some bad shots and that’s what’s going to happen in the (NCAA) Tournament sometimes.”
Brandon Rush on a sense of urgency Sunday and from here on out: “We’ve got five seniors leaving, then some people might be leaving early, so yeah, there’s a sense of urgency right now to try to get it done, try to make a run for it.”
Brandon Rush on the pride between the backcourts: “Especially with us three and them three. Me, Russ and Rio, they were talking back to us every time they’d score, so it was going up-and-down, and that’s what happens, somebody gets hot and you’re going to talk a little smack...You can’t let that become a negative, you’ve just got to build that into a positive. Spin that around, and make that a positive and play your heart out...Just kept shooting the ball, I was hot, Rio was hot, Rio kept shooting the ball, he was giving his little yap-yap to everybody. We spun it into a positive that way, then we got a win, too, so that helped it out.”
Mario Chalmers on the pride: “Pride played a huge factor. Me, Russ, Sherron, Brandon, Shady, I mean, it was a big win for us. Shady’s from Texas, he wanted to go out there and beat Texas. He wanted to go out there and beat Texas, and it’s a big rivalry between us.”
Bill Self on KU’s Tourney draw: “We’re happy that we’re a one-seed. I’m not sure that it really makes that much of a difference, to be honest with you, but I’m happy we’re going to Omaha. I don’t know much about Portland State yet, I’ll know a lot more by tonight, but they shoot a lot of threes based on the stats. Of course, also in the same bracket, because it’s a two-game tournament, you have two very good teams that I haven’t had a chance to see play a lot. But I’ve seen enough of Vegas to know how good they are, and everybody tells me Kent State is terrific. We’re excited to be playing, right now I’m just worn out. I know our players are, too. I’m ready to just go home, get a good night’s rest and get the batteries re-charged.”
Bill Self on the year so far and what a No. 1 seed means: “The only thing it says is that we’ve had a great year. If we were a two-seed, our year’s probably been just as good, but I think in people’s minds, if you’re a one-seed, they feel you’re one of the best four teams in the country...The one-seed was not the goal. The goal was to position ourselves to have a favorable path. And although there’s no easy path, at least we do get to stay in the Midwest, which I think is positive.”
Bill Self on K-State going to Omaha, too: “I was surprised by that. I was really surprised by that, and then you have Lon Kruger there, too. I think they want all the K-State fans to cheer against us if we’re fortunate enough to play (UNLV). I think the storyline on that is not Beasley vs. O.J. The storyline will be Walker vs. O.J. That’ll definitely take some of the local distractions away from us, because you guys will be busy chasing all those sidebars.”
Bill Self on the style of Sunday’s game: “I told our guys after the game, and I can’t speak for Rick, but he’s a class guy and I’m sure he’d admit it was a fabulous game. It was humbling, setting on the sidelines and watching the guys play. It was humbling. There were some hard-rocking guys out there today, and that was some high-level stuff. Probably about as high-level as I’ve ever been a part of when you have that many great shot-makers making plays on both sides.”
Bill Self on the Big 12 landing six teams in the Big Dance: “I’m really happy for our league. I was surprised, to be honest with you, but happy. Pleasantly surprised. It turned out great. I’m really disappointed for Tim, for (Illinois State coach Jankovich), because the numbers show that he was right there, real close, and maybe Georgia winning today may have knocked them out...I was thinking, from my standpoint, that the ACC would get five and not four. And from my not looking at it, if the ACC got four, how could they justify the (number) two RPI league getting six when the (number) one RPI league got four?
Up Next: Thursday vs. Portland State, 12:30 EST.