March Madness is quickly approaching, so it’s about time to crown a champion two months early. That’s where I come in. The Kansas Jayhawks are the team to beat in 2011.
Some of you might be thinking, “But Texas already beat them.” Fair enough, I get that, but that’s the beauty of college basketball. Your season isn’t destroyed because of one important loss, like in college football. No, not by any means. In fact, I think it’s actually a good thing for a team to endure the pain of losing a big game during the regular season. And, if you did watch the one KU loss this year, to a very solid Texas team, you would’ve seen how Kansas was noticeably “off.” They were up by 15 points in the first five minutes of the game only to gradually slip away until ultimately caving in on their home court, for the first time in 70 games. A tough loss, indeed, but one that is already proving valuable.
Currently Kansas is sitting at 20-1 and ranked #2 in the nation. Good news for KU. The last team to finish a regular season undefeated and win the national title was Indiana in 1976. What’s more, the last team to end the season ranked #1 in the nation and win the championship was Duke in 2001. So, if you look at the one “quality” loss that Kansas has on its resume and the fact that they are NOT top ranked bodes well for the post-season.
Kansas has other things on their side as well. At the helm is, in my opinion, the best coach in the country. Bill Self has a career .735 winning percentage over 17 years in the NCAA and is 202-43 at KU, which is an impressive .824 mark after seven seasons. He knows how to win. If you recall this guy won the coveted national championship just three short years ago. That year, in 2008, Kansas went 37-3. Who was one of those losses? Texas. The current players on KU’s roster strike some strong parallels to the team that took the title home in 2008. That year, 5 players that were major contributors were upperclassmen, a rarity nowadays in college basketball. Guys like Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson to name a few. All upperclassmen. This year, 6 major contributors to KU’s success are upperclassmen.
As if the sheer experience that comes from being a junior or senior isn’t enough, remember that these guys had a very bad upset loss in the Big Dance last year to Northern Iowa. I am confident that Bill Self along with his players will not let that happen again. They know now what it feels like. They know how to beat it. They’re hungrier this year.
The madness has definitely already begun. In the last five days, 9 ranked teams lost to unranked opponents. Top ranked Ohio State had to squeak by unranked Northwestern by a free throw and #2 Pitt needed some late 3s to close out unranked Rutgers. All the while, Kansas crushed in-state rival K-State by 24 points and then took Texas Tech behind the woodshed by 22. Peaking at the right time, indeed.
Look out for these guys – KU is the team to beat.