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Kansas basketball teams qualify for NCAA Tournament

Kaegan Cowan

Kaegan Cowan

Kaegan Cowan, Sports Editor

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Another men’s college basketball regular season has concluded, and for the second consecutive year, all three Division I Kansas teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The state of college basketball in Kansas is great, but it is probably a “golden age” for the Sunflower State that may not last long.

The University of Kansas (KU) pulled off another Big 12 Conference regular-season championship, bringing their streak of consecutive championships to an unprecedented 14. This victory broke the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) record of 13 straight. But, this result was decidedly tough to obtain for the Jayhawks.

They jostled for first place with Texas Tech University (TTU) throughout the Big 12 schedule, but in their most important game of the season at TTU Feb. 24, the Jayhawks were able to pull off a 74-72 win behind an incredible game from senior guard Devonte’ Graham. Graham scored 26 points, including some clutch shots in the final minutes. Graham was named Big 12 Player of the Year and is likely to earn All-American accolades at the end of the season.

This team’s ability to win both important games and close games is a huge strength for the NCAA Tournament, but their 3-point-shot-centric offense has a dangerous tendency to go cold against lesser opponents. The senior duo of Graham and guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is going to be a good predictor of how this team plays in the tournament; if they play well, the team plays well, and vice versa. Watch for this team to struggle in the first weekend here in Wichita.

Wichita State University (WSU) was faced with the challenge of moving to a new, stronger conference this season. In their inaugural season as a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), WSU fought hard to prove itself as a worthy contender with other top teams in the AAC such as Cincinnati and Houston. It was difficult for WSU to come back from back-to-back losses on Jan. 17 and Jan. 20 to Southern Methodist University and Houston, respectively, but WSU found itself in an apocalyptic matchup with Cincinnati at home March 4.

WSU had already defeated Cincinnati on the road Feb. 18, but this time, the stakes were much higher. With a win, WSU clinched a share of the AAC title with Cincinnati; with a loss, Cincinnati would win the AAC title outright. Unfortunately for the Shockers, the nail-biter of a game did not go their way. WSU lost 62-61, and senior guard Conner Frankamp missed a last-second 3-point attempt which would have won the game.

WSU’s biggest weakness heading into the NCAA Tournament is their defense, as they had issues stopping much lesser opponents from putting up 70+ points per game. However, this team has great senior leadership, with the key seniors on the team being Frankamp, forwards Rashard Kelly and Zach Brown, and center Shaq Morris. If this team can make some defensive adjustments, they can make it to the second weekend of the tournament without difficulty.

Kansas State University (KSU) would definitely be more of a dark-horse team compared to the other two in this story. This team went into this season without the lofty expectations the other two had, and yet they were the top unranked team in the Big 12 standings at the end of the year behind No. 18 West Virginia (WVU). They finished in fourth place despite being 0-6 against the top three teams in the league (KU, TTU, WVU). This team has a bright future next season because of junior forward Dean Wade, who was selected to the All-Big 12 team Mar. 4. However, the Wildcats’ inability to win against good competition is most likely going to be their downfall this season in the NCAA Tournament.

Overall, there has been a lot of parity in college basketball this season. While this makes for more exciting basketball, the tournament regulars are going to have an especially difficult season. Though there are big upsets every year—and that’s what makes the NCAA Tournament so fun to watch after all—this year’s installment of the tournament promises to be particularly unpredictable.

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