Kansas men’s basketball is headed back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.
For the Big 12, the Jayhawks are the last hope of giving the conference a national title on the hardwood this spring. Kansas State and Texas Tech were a win away from joining the party in San Antonio, but both teams were eliminated over the weekend in the Elite Eight.
The good news: Kansas won it all the last time the Final Four was played at the Alamodome — when Bill Self coached the Jayhawks past Memphis to win the national championship in 2008.
So can history repeat for Self and Co. next weekend?
If it does, the Jayhawks will have to get past a foe that is on a roll of crushing the hopes and dreams of Big 12 teams this March — none other than Villanova.
No Big 12 success against ‘Nova
Coach Jay Wright has led the Wildcats past two Big 12 opponents in a span of three days — West Virginia in the Sweet 16 and Texas Tech in the Elite Eight — entering college basketball’s biggest stage. Villanova, which won it in 2016, will look to go 3-0 against the Big 12 on Saturday when it faces the Jayhawks with an entire nation tuning in.
Both Kansas and Villanova head to San Antonio as 1 seeds — the Jayhawks out of the Midwest and the Wildcats out of the East. Villanova finished the regular season ranked ahead of Kansas in the AP Top 25 poll, however, at No. 2. The Jayhawks were No. 4.
Each of Villanova’s previous wins over a Big 12 opponent in the 2018 tournament came with relative ease — at least in the end. West Virginia hung around for about 75 percent of the contest on Friday, but the Wildcats pulled away late to win 90-78. On Sunday, Villanova was up 13 on Texas Tech at halftime before posting another 12-point victory, 71-59.
So can the Jayhawks change that trend when they get their chance to oust the Wildcats? Villanova is averaging 87 points per game compared to Kansas’ 81, but that doesn’t mean the Wildcats will automatically be too much for Self and Co. to overcome — at least not after Malik Newman played hero with 32 points against Duke, including all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in overtime.
The Wildcats only shot 33.3 percent from the field on Sunday against Texas Tech and committed 12 turnovers. The Jayhawks shot more 60 percent from the field at one point in the second half vs. Duke before finishing the game at 42.9 percent overall. If both teams stay on those trajectories, it’ll be good news for Kansas.
In a season of so many improbable outcomes, from a 16 seed finally defeating a 1 seed to Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago making a Cinderella run in the Big Dance, what was supposedly the most vulnerable Kansas team in years has already won the Big 12 title and has returned to the Final Four. That’s after teams with Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Josh Jackson could not in recent years.
Perhaps Saturday will just be the next time when the critics are silenced again in what has become a March Madness for the ages.