COACH: Bill Self, seven years at Kansas, seven years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Big 12)
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MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Kansas guard Xavier Henry is a Freshman All-American, but he might get a run for his freshman money in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as No. 1 overall seed Kansas takes on No. 16 Lehigh, winner of the Patriot League regular season and conference tournament. Mountain Hawks’ guard C.J. McCollum was not only the Patriot League’s Freshman of the Year, he was its Player of the Year, averaging 18.9 points per game for the season and 23.5 points in conference games. He makes nearly 43 percent of his 3-pointers, so things will be interesting to watch in the backcourt Thursday in Oklahoma City. But there is nothing scary about the matchup for Kansas, which should dominate inside with Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris, building momentum for what could be a grind of a second-round game. The Jayhawks will face either No. 8 UNLV (which allows opponents to shoot 39.8 percent) or No. 9 Northern Iowa, which is rated second nationally in scoring defense, yielding 54.3 points per game. GO-TO GUYS: No point guard in the country has accomplished more than senior Sherron Collins, as he’s been a part of four Big 12 regular-season titles, three conference tournament titles, two NCAA Tournament regional finals and the 2008 NCAA championship team. He wasn’t a starter then, but he played 34 minutes in the title-game win over Memphis, coming up with 11 points, six assists and three steals. The two-time All-Big 12 player is averaging 15.6 points and 4.4 assists this season and has a great feel for when to step on the gas and when to feed his teammates. Three other starters average double-digit points — freshman guard Xavier Henry (13.6), sophomore forward Marcus Morris (12.3) and junior center Cole Aldrich (11.2). Henry, in particular, is capable of heating up on any given night, especially as a spot-up shooter behind the arc.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: There’s no reason at all for Kansas to not keep winning. This is the most complete team in America — talent, depth, experience, leadership, defense, emotionally steady. But, was there a trend in Kansas’ two losses — at Tennessee and at Oklahoma State? Well, Sherron Collins was a combined 14 of 36 in those games, with more turnovers (10) than assists (nine). Kansas’ normally stout defense also disappeared, allowing the Vols to hit 48.1 percent and the Cowboys to make a stunning 60.4 percent. Even with that, opponents are shooting just 37.7 percent against KU. STRENGTHS: Kansas has more answers than any team in the country, which means it can survive games in which Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich don’t hit their normal scoring numbers. The balance on this team is the envy of everyone in the country. Xavier Henry can be a 20-point player on any given night, and he led the team in scoring in five of six games late in the regular season. Marcus Morris made significant improvement from his freshman season, averaging 6.1 rebounds and shooting 55.7 percent. The rest of the rotation — forward Markieff Morris, and guards Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar — is very good. There are plenty of shooters, as Kansas drains 40.9 percent of its 3-pointers. Aldrich can affect the game through much more than scoring. He is one of the top shot-blockers in school history and averages 9.9 rebounds, creating the run-out opportunities in which KU thrives.
WEAKNESSES: Kansas led the Big 12 in scoring (81.8 points per game) and scoring defense (63.8), so there aren’t a lot of holes to poke in the Jayhawks’ game. Coach Bill Self wouldn’t mind seeing Cole Aldrich be more assertive in the post, saying in the Big 12 tournament that "Cole’s got to be hungry to score." The dream matchup for basketball fans is for Kansas to play Kentucky, which has more overall explosiveness and the chance to neutralize Sherron Collins and Aldrich with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.