A buoyant Kansas squad will face the Oregon Ducks in the Elite Eight for a chance to reach the Final Four, where it will play the winner of North Carolina-Kentucky. The Jayhawks have a tough road to the championship, but they can bring home the program’s fourth national title with the help of their dynamic duo.
Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III provide a one-two punch that has catapulted the Jayhawks into the Elite Eight and can take them even further.
Mason leads the team with 20.9 points per game, but his 5.2 assists per game prove he can also dish the ball to teammates and create more opportunities when needed. Mason has been an offensive spark plug for Bill Self’s team so far this season. He’ll need to make plays against an Oregon defense that allows just 65.6 points per game.
The senior leads a Kansas team that puts up big numbers on the offensive end while sill failing to capitalize on many extra opportunities. To keep advancing in the tournament, the Jayhawks will have to make each possession count.
Josh Jackson, on the other hand, has been an absolute force on the defensive end. Besides that, he also plays well enough on offense to produce numbers just under those of Mason at 16.4 points per game. Jackson leads the team in steals per game at 1.7, and he also finishes second on the team in blocks per game. For reference, Kansas ranks in the nation’s top 40 teams in blocked shots and is No. 20 in rebounds, both of which point to Jackson’s significance for the Jayhawks
In terms of on-court experience for Kansas, these two players are worlds apart. When crunch time rolls around, however, Self will need both to produce in big ways if the Jayhawks are to win the Big Dance.The Jayhawks stack up extremely well in several categories when compared to the other teams in the Big 12. Kansas posts the second-highest scoring offense in the league at a whopping 83.9 points per game. Granted, that should be no surprise considering the playmaking abilities across this roster, but it’s something to keep in mind. Also, the Jayhawks rank first in the Big 12 in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. They’ll certainly need both in order to keep up with Dillon Brooks and his prolific Oregon offense.
The Jayhawks stack up extremely well in several categories when compared to the other teams in the Big 12 and around the nation. Kansas posts the second-highest scoring offense in the conference and is No. 14 in the country at a whopping 83.9 points per game. Also, the Jayhawks rank first in the Big 12 in both field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, where they’re No. 10 and No. 4 in the country, respectively. They’ll certainly need both in order to keep up with Dillon Brooks and his prolific Oregon offense.
Besides those, Kansas also ranks third in the conference in assists. Great ball movement is key to an offense such as Self’s, so crisp passes and few turnovers are a must for this team.
While the Jayhawks don’t have huge steals numbers, they have done well defensively in the tournament so far. That bodes well when looking forward to their next opponent.
Kansas also has plenty of experience. Jackson is the only freshman listed on the Jayhawks’ starting lineup for most games. The other four starters, meanwhile, have been through consistent top finishes and tournament runs as part of this program. Mason and Landen Lucas provide senior leadership in the starting lineup, while juniors Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have also spent plenty of time in the program. With such a deep, lasting roster, this experience could prove invaluable against tournament opponents. Other teams can showcase a smattering of star underclassmen in the starting five, while the Jayhawks pose a threat as a seasoned group of veterans that happens to feature one prominent freshman to jumpstart the group.
That’s not to say the team is undeafeatable, however. While Kansas boasts a consistent offensive threat, it lacks that same consistency on defense and at the charity stripe.
Allowing nearly 72 points per game, the Jayhawks seem more content to rest on their laurels rather than attack the ball with the same ferocity they use on the offensive end. An offense such as Oregon’s or that of North Carolina or Kentucky is sure to take advantage of such complacency. Granted, Self’s defenses have been the stuff of legend for a long time now, but it may come back to bite them this time around.
At the free throw line, Kansas is even worse.
The Jayhawks are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams, shooting just 67.6 percent from the charity stripe. That’s the worst number of all the teams remaining in the field, and they could certainly dig themselves into a hole by not converting at the stripe.
Despite defensive issues and terrible free-throw shooting, however, Kansas still has a great shot at winning the championship.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!