Different Ways to Dance
Kansas fans, you have a choice, you can sit around and mope, or you can embrace the world that most other fan bases inhabit each March. Hope, not expectation, for big things in the NCAA tournament. Yes, this is new territory for you. The Jayhawks have been a 1 or 2 seed in eleven of the last twelve years, and the two seasons prior to that, when they were a 3 and a 4, were the years they were bounced in the first round. So there is room for trepidation.
This year’s team has shown numerous flaws, from inconsistent shooting, up and down defense, and a decided lack of success away from Allen Field House. Kansas was 17-0 at the Phog, 8-9 outside of its friendly confines. They have, of course, seen the last of the building for the season.
The Big 12 final highlighted the down side. While Bill Self did his usual masterful spin afterwards in saying his club just missed shots, what he was really doing was what he is expert at, building up his club at the moments they seem ripe to get ripped, and defusing rampant enthusiasm after good performances.
But it WAS spin. Iowa State constantly drove Kansas downhill, they didn’t even shoot it great, and they still put up 78 points. Kansas shot it worse than anyone should expect, but it’s not as if they have been all that great at it through the season. And teams seem to have figured out a way to make life difficult for Dedrick Lawson.
But…..there are also quite a few things to feel good about. David McCormack and Quentin Grimes have played their best ball of late. Three weeks ago they were virtual non-factors, now they are real positives. Lawson should get a jolt of confidence in his first-round game against a lesser opponent. The Jayhawks ought to really be freed up to play with youthful enthusiasm instead of being nervous or tight.
This is going to be hard for some, but if this team were to make the second weekend, it should be celebrated. Basically, it seems like they should be all coming back, and that hasn’t been happening too often around Kansas. Maybe the Jayhawks can channel their inner Syracuse. The Orange are a top program which has made some nice tournament runs in years where they weren’t a high seed.
Where Kansas State’s fan base should be with their team is a little muddier. First of all, the ‘Cats will be enjoying a much higher seed than usual. It’s not as if Sweet Sixteen’s are a mere formality for the program, and they have a likable bunch of hardworking players who they have actually gotten to know for four years.
But once again the specter of Dean Wade’s foot looms over everything. Sure, the other Wildcats got the job done last year in the tournament, but they did get a virtual free win in the second round. This is taking nothing away from them, they did have to beat Kentucky to make the regional final, and you take the draw you are given. But anyone with eyes can see how much better K-State is when Wade is making any kind of contribution.
There is, however, no way to be bullish about the squad either. They are so prone to offensive droughts that any game has to be said to be in play. They virtually stopped scoring at the end of each half in their semifinal loss to Iowa State, and a game in the fifties can happen any time, which it did on nine occasions this year. The good news is that they actually won five of those.
Kansas State is more than just good on defense, but the best NCAA results are usually reserved for teams that have a very good offense and a good enough defense. K-State will be looking to buck those odds for the second straight year.
It is very likely that only the hardiest of fans will be making the lengthy jaunts to the tournament sites, especially for first and second round games. It certainly would be easy for Kansas fans who have spent money annually to travel, and for the past decade not have had to go very far, to take a pass this time around. They likely will feel that a high seed, and a short trip are right around the corner.
Maybe it’s a little different for KSU fans…..maybe. This group of seniors was a special one for the school, it dragged the program back to respectability and more, and while the ‘Cats have some nice players coming back, it’s hard to think that there won’t be some kind of regression in 2019-20.
For each fan base there should be a reason to enjoy this thing. The tournament is a funny animal, surprises can happen. And as I have said a million times, somehow two wins constitutes a “run”, which is silly, but it is said routinely. “A Sweet Sixteen run!” That is easily a possibility for each school, and you can add in the fact that while it is never fun to lose, it won’t have the same kind of sting after KU’s annual success, and K-State’s Elite Eight last year and league title this season.
Maybe it’s more likely a television event for you this year, but the Big Dance is always something to treasure, whether it’s one, two, or three weeks this time around.