Next up for Duke is a date with #1 seed Kansas with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
This isn’t a vintage Kansas team. Bill Self has recruited really well over the years but this isn’t a team packed with McDonald’s All-Americans.
All that really does though is to show you that he’s a really good coach.
He spent a good chunk of the year with six players. His big man, Udoka Azubuike, missed the Big 12 tournament with a grade 1 MCL sprain. Didn’t matter. He’s back now and obviously that helps.
Kansas has relied heavily on Raleigh native DeVonte Graham, and he’s become a tremendous college player. He originally committed to Appalachian State then blew up in AAU ball and everyone wanted him. Hometown NC State was his original second choice but then-ASU coach Jason Capel accused State of tampering. Long story short, he ended up at Kansas.
He’s joined by Malik Newman, who was expected to pick Kentucky but who first chose Mississippi State before transferring to KU.
Those guys are seen as guards obviously but you really have to put 6-8 Ukranian Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk down as a guard too, although he’s obviously tall enough to move inside.
The fifth starter is Lagerald Vick, one of three Memphis natives on the roster (the Lawson brothers, KJ and Dedric, are sitting out this season after fleeing Tubby Smith’s Memphis program). Vick is 6-5 so Kansas is essentially four guards and a. massive big man.
After the semester break, Self added Silvio DeSousa, another big guy. He’s still fairly new but he’s talented and a load down low.
As it turns out, Azubuike and Duke’s Wendell Carter know each other well from AAU ball and Trevon Duval and DeSousa were high school teammates. Basketball at this level is not a big world.
With essentially four guards, all of whom shoot at least 38.5% from three point range, Kansas has an obvious strategy: stretch it out and pass it in to Azubuike and when the D collapses on him, kick it out for a three. On Friday, Self said “[w]hoever we’re playing, we know we’re going to have to shoot 30 3s because they’re going to play zone.”
That’s trickier against a zone obviously, and Duke’s defenders are all pretty long. Azubuike is massive at 7-0 and 280. Carter is a big guy himself but Duke doesn’t have anyone Azubuike’s size (not many teams do).
However Duke does have Marques Bolden off the bench and, if they need a big body, Antonio Vrankovic can bang a bit too.
Azubuike will likely get Carter defensively which means someone has to take on Marvin Bagley. DeSousa may be too inexperienced but the other guys are smallish to guard the bouncy 6-11 Bagley.
It’s worth noting that despite a really solid senior year, Graham hasn’t really had a solid shooting day, other than against West Virginia in the Big 12 tourney, since February 24th - which only means he’s due for one.
So far in the tournament, he’s 9-24 against Penn, 1-7 against Seton Hall and 4-12 vs. Clemson.
And of course the other three can all hit from outside so controlling the Jayhawks deep game would a major accomplishment.
As we said above, this is not a typical Jayhawks team. For a good bit of the season it looked as if their remarkable streak of finishing first in the Big 12 would end at 13.
They adjusted and Self coached them to a 14th straight first place finish. Not even John Wooden did that.
The basic point is that Kansas has pride, it has tradition and it has a coach whose players believe in him.
That may sound familiar to Duke fans.
Duke will have to play hard to beat this team and just as importantly, play smart, because Kansas is not a team that’s going to beat itself. You’ll have to do that yourself.