3 Reasons Why The Kansas Jayhawks Will Win The NCAA Championship
The Jayhawks have the best odds to cut down the nets, according to DraftKings
- Ranked No. 3 in the AP preseason polls, the Kansas Jayhawks (25-3, 14-1 in the Big 12) have now claimed No. 1 for the second time this season, this time after a gritty upset win over Baylor 64-61 Saturday. KU literally stole the top spot from the Bears, in what may have been the game of the year so far.
- Powerhouse Nigerian Udoka Azubuike, one of two seniors for Kansas, has imposed his will and utilized his 7’1”, 270-pound body and 7'5” wingspan in his efforts at world domination down low. Good luck, world - he scored 23 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, and threw down a whopping nine dunks in the timely win in Waco.
- With Kansas ending Baylor's Big 12-record 23-game winning streak, and both No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State also getting upset over the weekend, the AP had an easy choice to make in this week's poll. At +700 on DraftKings Sportsbook, they are also easily the college basketball public betting favorite to win the NCAA Tournament.
- With dominating defense and playmaking by junior Marcus Garrett, aggressive guard penetration from sophomore Devon Dotson, and emerging NCAA Player of the Year candidate Azubuike, coach Bill Self has a nucleus that will earn KU its fourth national championship.
The Kansas Jayhawks have seized the throne atop the coveted AP poll for the second time this season. This time, they look poised to hold on to it.
After beating fellow Big 12 dynamo Baylor on their own floor, putting an end to the Bears' all-time conference-record 23-game winning streak, much of the nation is once again hashtagging #RockChalkJayhawk. The writing has been on the wall (er, chalkboard?) for some time; Kansas has now won 13 games in a row, going back to January 11, when they lost to, you guessed it, the Baylor Bears.
The last time the Jayhawks had the No. 1 designation was mid-December, and it was short-lived. They traveled to Pennsylvania on December 21 to take on the No. 12 Villanova Wildcats, who delivered KU some early Christmas coal in their stockings. After Nova's Jermaine Samuels nailed a late trey that proved to be the game-winner, to the adulation of 20,000 Wildcat fans, Kansas was ejected from the top spot in stunning fashion only days after attaining it.
But after the theatrics of Saturday's huge win over Baylor, perhaps the game of the year to this point, and well-timed losses by No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State, Kansas has reclaimed the role of best in the nation. They sit at 25-3, with their only other loss occurring on opening night at Duke 68-66, when they nearly shocked the Blue Devils despite a season-high 28 turnovers. They are 14-1 in the Big 12, they garnered 62 of 64 No. 1 votes in Monday's AP poll, and they are leading the odds (+700 on DraftKings Sportsbook) to win the NCAA Tournament.
In a college basketball season that has seen more than a handful of teams ranked No. 1, though, many pundits question the Jayhawks' staying power. Despite holding the historic record of 14 consecutive Conference Championships between 2005 and 2018, and competing in three NCAA title games, head coach Bill Self has only won it all one time in his 17-year run with Kansas. That was in 2008, a year in which Kansas had only three losses (sound familiar?) and a strong nucleus of talent. Here are three reasons why history will repeat itself, and Kansas will emerge out of a field of 68 as the best in the country.
It may be slightly unfair to start off a short list of reasons why a team will win a championship with one player, especially a big man, but senior center Udoka Azubuike has simply been that dominant. The 7'1”, 270-pound Nigerian with a 7'5” wingspan has been a Shaq among Pennies, serving as the antithesis to a three-point shooting generation of college hoops.
Azubuike has had a strong year from the get-go, but only in KU's most recent run to the top has he started to receive NCAA Player of the Year chatter. He has imposed his will near the hoop, racking up huge double-doubles with power and efficiency. During their 13-game winning streak, he has averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. He put up 23 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the win at Baylor, and followed that up with 19 points and 16 boards against Oklahoma State at home, where he shot a season-best 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
The 20-year old leads the nation in both field goal percentage (77%) and rebounds (290). His 2.6 blocks per game rank second in the Big 12 (13th in the nation), and his 30.7 PER leads the conference. He holds the highest defensive rating (81.9) and plus/minus (14.5) in the nation.
Azubuike has played in all 28 games for the Jayhawks, and just seems to be getting stronger, smarter and more focused the closer he gets to March Madness. He eats minutes, eclipsing 27 per contest in 20 of 28 games and rarely getting into foul trouble while manning the paint. He takes care of the ball, and attacks the rim with assertion and authority. Nine of his 11 field goals in Waco Saturday were dunks, and he scored on four of his five offensive boards.
Affectionately called “Doke” by Coach Self and teammates, this behemoth simply cannot be stopped as of late. He carries momentum toward the most important part of the year, both for his team's chances at the championship and his own ability to boost his draft stock. Expect big things from him this March, and instant national notoriety. Doke's no joke.
While Azubuike has recently made himself the topic of conversation around Allen Fieldhouse, the core players around him have been making their individual marks throughout the season as well.
Driving the offensive attack (and keeping the flower pedal to the metal) has been sophomore standout point guard Devon Dotson. Currently ranked No. 1 on KenPom's national player of the year rankings, Dotson has a penchant for speed, aggressiveness, and production.
Leading Kansas with an average of 18.4 points per game, Dotson has excelled in virtually every facet of scoring opportunity for a guard: isolation, pick and roll, and dribble hand-offs. He still has not fully developed his shooting stroke, but he more than makes up for it with his finishing efficiency around the rim. His blazing quickness and speed, combined with his ability to use every bit of his 6'2”, 185-pound frame at the hoop liken him to the fast and furious play of NBA Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant.
And when he gets to the line, he converts 81 percent of his chances. This makes for great March Madness basketball—whenever the Jayhawks get bogged down offensively, or run into shooting slumps, they can turn to his horsepower, strong takes, and and-one ability.
Not to be outdone by his strong offense, his defensive ability has also shown to be very strong. He moves laterally very well, creates turnovers by getting in passing lanes, and stays active and alert in KU's phenomenal perimeter defensive schemes. He leads the Big 12 in steals with 56, and he and fellow backcourt sophomore Ochai Agbaji cannot be contained in transition when they lead fast breaks.
But as good as Dotson and Agbaji have been defensively, the true driving force of the best defensive squad in college basketball has been Marcus Garrett. This kid plays like his favorite players are Draymond Green and Marcus Smart—he has a nose for the ball, he always gets himself and his body in the right place and position, and his defensive IQ shines brighter as the possessions become more important. His superior footwork and hands are a defensive coach's dream on the perimeter.
Coach Self recently referred to him as “Batman” because of his relatively calm, quiet demeanor in person and his fearless versatility on the defensive end of the court. And his superhero antics have not been strictly limited to D—he also ranks second in the Big 12 in assists with 134, and he's turned the ball over two times or less in 21 of Kansas's 28 games.
He does not always look for his own shot, but when he does he has shown that he has a competent stroke from outside. He put up 24 points while shooting 6-of-9 from outside the three-point arc on February 15 against Oklahoma.
Self has said there is “no doubt” Garrett will control the reigns as the next point guard of the Jayhawks, which bodes favorably for his future draft profile. For now, his ability to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor and check the best perimeter player on the opposition benefit both himself and his squad.
Also benefiting Kansas is sharpshooting senior Isaiah Moss, who has often bailed out their otherwise-underwhelming three-point game. When the Jayhawks have needed a big three in a close game, he has answered the bell, and even in his low-scoring contests he has been able to space the floor for the others to operate fluidly.
The Iowa transfer is shooting 37.6 percent from deep and also serves as their leading free throw shooter, another avenue in which the Jayhawks have had their struggles. He's shooting 89.3 percent from the line, and a scorching 93.3 percent in conference games. If they can get him on the line a little more than once or twice a game, his stroke could pay dividends in tournament time.
While Doke will clearly be the main storyline of KU's March run, there will be plenty of chances for his dynamic teammates to earn extra screen time. Perfect for the tourney, Dotson and Garrett could also become household names. Look for many strong drives to the basket from Dotson, multiple references to Batman, and a highlight reel of clutch plays from this extraordinary supporting cast.
A Group of Winners
Despite having the toughest schedule in the nation this season, Kansas has cruised through the stretch run toward March Madness, and only continued to improve in the process. They have consistently exhibited the best defense in the NCAA, and they always find a way to adapt to defensive schemes.
When opposing defenses have attempted to take away the pick and roll, Self has shifted the screens further out to the center of the floor to create a bigger lane for Azubuike to dive to the hoop. When the three-point shot has not been there, they have allowed Dotson to create offense off of penetration, or trusted Garrett and Azubuike to find high-efficiency opportunities. When the lane is clogged with double-teams or zone defenses, Moss has bailed them out with his ever-improving three-point range. They may not be the best shooting squad top to bottom, but they might just be the most complete team.
Holding opponents to 60.6 points per game (8th-lowest in the nation) helps you win games, especially when your squad is averaging 75.3 points offensively on 48.7 percent shooting (10th-best in the nation). They are disciplined, they play as a team, they are capable of explosive spurts, and they know how to play with a lead. They rarely foul when they don't have to, and they have taken good care of the basketball in this most recent winning streak.
Led by their 'defensive coordinator' of sorts in Garrett (88.2) and rim protector in Azubuike (81.9), they have six players with defensive ratings of 90 or lower. They have consistently stomped out bad teams, and Self has effortlessly shifted his rotations to answer whatever defensive strategy opposing coaches have thrown at them.
Critics will say that this squad does not have any NBA Draft-lottery talent, but that would be an insult to such a strong all-around team. It would also be an insult to Azubuike, who might have been considered a top prospect for the pros in previous generations, and who cannot control the fact that he has experienced injuries throughout his first few college seasons. It's also an insult to Dotson, who somehow still seems to be flying under a lot of pundits' radars despite his dazzling scoring ability.
To the chirpers, Jayhawks fans will counter that having two bona fide candidates for Player of the Year and one near-lock for Defensive Player of the Year should be more than enough to make them the favorites to cut down the championship nets. Add to that the fact that their only loss since Christmastime was against Baylor, a team that occupied the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for six straight weeks until Kansas got revenge last weekend and became the new No. 1.
The nation can only hope for a rubber match between Kansas and Baylor, who will almost certainly be No. 1 seeds in the tournament. But the smart bettors will be playing it conservative and jumping all over Kansas +700 before that number becomes +500 or smaller. Because right now, the outlook is not pretty for any team that gets in the way of this special squad with their sights set on making history.
The Jayhawks will travel to take on in-state rival Kansas State on Saturday afternoon. Click the button below to unlock all the best bets for that game and every other contest on today's slate!