Raborn: The NCAA Tournament was perfect this year

The 2017 NCAA Tournament was one of the best tournaments in recent years for one simple reason: there was a lack of early upsets. Upsets are the staple of the NCAA Tournament, no? However, an excess of upsets is damaging to the layout of the tournament and prevents viewers from seeing the matchups they really want to see.

This year, there was one No. 10 seed over No. 7 seed upset as well as a couple of No. 11 seed wins over No. 6 seeds, and one No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed. Outside of that, the first round was clean and made some great second round matchups. People got to see Kentucky and Wichita State in the rematch from 2016 and an improbable win with Wisconsin defeating the defending Champion Villanova Wildcats. Viewers also got to see one of the best matchups in the whole tournament when South Carolina’s stingy defense played against one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation in Duke. Upsets in the first round like were seen in in 2015 and last year would have prevented these matchups from happening.

The Sweet Sixteen featured a matchup between arguably the two best players in the nation: Malik Monk of Kentucky and Lonzo Ball of UCLA. The Sweet Sixteen was the highlight of the tournament this year when No. seed 11 Xavier upset No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 4 seed Florida stunned No. 8 seed Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating circus shot.

The Elite Eight did not feature any close matchups other than the No. 1 and No. 2 seed game between North Carolina and Kentucky. However, it forged one of the most interesting Final Fours in recent memory.

This year’s Final Four was one of the best I have seen in my lifetime. Two of the four teams, No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 7 seed South Carolina, had never been to a final four in their history as a basketball program. Also, No. 3 seed Oregon made its first Final Four appearance since the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 and No. 1 seed North Carolina returned to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-2009.

South Carolina nearly managed to complete a legendary comeback, but fell short in a close four-point loss to send Mark Few and Gonzaga to the national championship game. North Carolina won in a thriller as Oregon was unable to box out during the final free throws of the game. This made for the first matchup between two No. 1 seeds since 2015 when Duke and Wisconsin squared off.

Is this not what everyone wants to see? The best teams in the nation playing each other on the biggest stage?

Fans got to see the best Gonzaga team in history with guard Nigel Williams-Goss and two massive 7-footers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins take on guard Joel Berry and North Carolina, who returned to the championship game for the second year in a row. The result was exactly what you would expect from such a great matchup. It’s the kind of quality product that is produced when the NCAA Tournament plays out like it did this year. North Carolina clearly deserved the national championship because it had one of the toughest roads to the championship of any team. There was a perfect mix of Cinderella teams like Xavier and South Carolina, yet there were plenty of elite matchups that were noteworthy.

Until next year, folks.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image from wikimedia.org, courtesy of Creative Commons

Making a case for Kansas to win the NCAA tournament

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