Beyond the Boxscore
Kansas turning into NCAA Tourney's embarrassment: Easy draw (not pregame tussle)taints title race
SAN ANTONIO — A Final Four run almost always carries a little bit of luck with it. Every team needs a bounce or a ref who forgets how to count to five at the most opportune time.
But no team in the history of college basketball may have received the E-Z pass lane to the national championship game that Kansas has. Three Jayhawk blowouts into the NCAA Tournament it's hard to say if Kansas (35-2) is a great team or just an extremely blessed one.
The Morris twins and company breezed past another overmatched team Friday night (Richmond by a 77-57 margin) to move into the Elite Eight with the greatest of ease. Bill Self's team has now beaten a 16th seed, a ninth seed and a 12th seed in what's supposed to be college basketball's ultimate test. And the road doesn't get any tougher. Kansas will play 11th seed VCU Sunday for the right to get to Houston for the Final Four.
And even if the Jayhawks roll to Houston, there's no guarantee that another power team will be waiting in the national semifinals. If No. 8 seed Butler (a team that almost everyone agrees is vastly inferior to the Bulldogs' 2010 Final Four squad) beats Florida on Saturday, it would be sitting there for the Jayhawks.
"Not at all," Kansas forward Marcus Morris says in the Kansas locker room on being asked if the talented Jayhawks crave a test in the tournament. "I feel like we have been tested. It doesn't matter what the seeds are. These are good teams."
And Hot Tub Time Machine was a good movie.
Kansas could get all the way to the national title game without playing a single other power. You couldn't have a sharper contrast with the road that Ohio State — the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament — had to take. The Buckeyes got Kentucky on Friday for the right to face North Carolina.
One team's in a battle royale in the mud in gray Newark, N.J. The other's lounging on a hammock in sunny San Antonio.
Which do you think's going to be more rested should both teams make it to Houston? Self can talk all he wants about how Richmond was "incorrectly seeded." Truth is, it's impossible to say if his Jayhawks are national championship worthy. But they might win one simply because of the way the bracket has broken down.
"We're getting better every game," Kansas forward Markieff Morris says. "We're jumping on these teams and not giving them a chance. That's the key. These are good NCAA teams. They've beaten good teams to get here."
Are the Jayhawks trying to convince everyone else or themselves? How much of a shock to the system could it be if Kansas suddenly finds itself playing another national power in Houston after a four-game, high-seed run?
It's fast becoming one of the questions of the tournament.
What is certain is Kansas v. Richmond is not what a Sweet 16 game is supposed to look like. A team's not supposed to score nine points in the first 14 minutes of a high-level game. How bad was it?
At one point in the first half, Kansas played five-on-four for an offensive possession because a Spider was limping back at half court — and Richmond coach Chris Mooney didn't even notice. Mooney probably assumed nothing had changed. After all, it looked like the Jayhawks were playing five-on-four all game.
When Josh Selby popped off the Kansas bench to hit back-to-back triples, the margin stood at 25-9. When Brady Morningstar hit his second 3-pointer of the first half, it was 35-11. Richmond pulled off a nice flurry in the last five minutes of the first half ... and trailed by 19 points at the break.
When Kansas' best player — 6-foot-9 forward Marcus Morris, one half of the Philadelphia twins — taunted the Spiders with a "You boys better be ready," crack the day before the game, he might as well have been talking to a bunch of noon-time YMCA ballers. There was no fight in these Spiders.
Not after a pregame tunnel exchange. After the teams came out at the same time on the way to the court and met in one of the Alamodome's long tunnels, players on both sides start barking at each other and getting in some slight jostling.
"Those are things that I don't really think about a lot," Self says. "Maybe a little odd, but certainly not a big deal. There was nothing. And my guys said, 'Coach, that was nothing.' "
Well, it was something: The most interesting part of the matchup.
Talk about leaving it in the pregame. Richmond seemed to have nothing left by tipoff.
Still, Self kept the Morris boys on the floor long enough for them to combine on a thunderous (though meaningless) dunk with only 2:36 left — Marcus to Markieff for the uncontested slam. Apparently, the coach still sees visions of Northern Iowa dancing in his head.
There's no stress here though. Even with Marcus Morris (13 points, seven rebounds) and Markieff Morris (five points, five rebounds) only playing their B or C Game, Richmond couldn't get out of its own way. The Spiders shot 31.4 percent from the field, flung up 26 threes — and missed 22 of them (all of them seemingly badly).
Kansas need not apologize for what's been put in front of it. But that doesn't make it any less of a joke.
The Jayhawks weren't the best team when they won it all with a similar easy road to the Final Four in 2008 (Memphis choked away that national championship game like few others ever have been — and Kansas was the much more well-rested team because of its easy road). Now, it's on the way to happening again.
Maybe, you think that makes for all the times when Kansas did have the most talented team in the field (under Roy Williams or Self) and ended up getting bounced out early by another upstart. The tournament that determines the national champion shouldn't be about karmic justice for slights inflicted on teams of the past though. It should determine the best team in the country that year.
Do you truly think Kansas is it? Will anyone ever know for sure with this schedule?
Sometimes March isn't mad. Just silly. And unjust.