We probably should have seen this coming. With the Final Four set to take place in San Antonio this year, it feels like destiny that Bill Self's group would be here once again. The last time the final weekend of the tournament took place in San Antonio, Self won his first, and only, national title while Mario Chalmers provided us with a magical March moment.
Here we are ten years later, and Self has once again guided his team to a Final Four appearance with a shot at a national title. How did he get there? Let's take a walk back through the season.
Every year, you can count on a few things in college basketball. Kentucky and Duke vying for the top recruiting class, fans complaining about the quality of the officiating, and Kansas winning the Big 12 title. That's been true for the Jayhawks for the last 13 years and the preseason media poll expected no different from this year's team, selecting them atop the conference expecting them to win it once more.
To do so, the Jayhawks would need to rely on first-team all-conference selection Devonte Graham and a pair of honorable mentions in guard/forward Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and guard Malik Newman.
November 14, 2017
After an opening the season with a warm-up against Tennessee State (92-56), the Jayhawks faced a big early season test as they traveled to Chicago to play John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats at the United Center. On a neutral floor, Kansas was able to stifle the young Wildcats from deep allowing them to hit just 3 of their 13 attempts and harassing them into 18 turnovers. Despite playing just seven guys, the Jayhawks were able to squeak by, 65-61.
December 6th & 10th, 2017
Following the Kentucky win, Self's crew ripped off five straight victories leading into a pair of contests against Pac-12 teams. That's where the first stumble of the season came, first with a 74-65 loss to an average Washington team. Then, #16 Arizona State paid a visit to Phog Allen Fieldhouse and dished out another loss to the Jayhawks, 95-85, hitting 14 threes in the win. Sitting at 7-2, the Jayhawks were facing their first adversity of the season, but they rebounded well with four straight wins leading into a big match-up with Texas Tech.
January 2nd, 2018
The Red Raiders had gotten off to a hot start, entering the New Year at 12-1 and looking to make a statement in Kansas' building. They ended up doing exactly that as five Tech players scored in double figures in an 85-73 victory. The Jayhawks were ice-cold from beyond the arc, shooting just 6-for-26 in the loss, something that would be a bit of a theme throughout the season. When they shot well, they were likely to win, when they didn't, well....not so much.
January 6th-29th, 2018
After the loss to Texas Tech, Bill Self's crew began to find their stride, winning seven of their next eight games and showing a lot of resiliency late in games as five of those seven wins came by five points or less. With an experienced group led by seniors Graham, Mykhailiuk, and junior LaGerald Vick, the Jayhawks were showing they're more than capable of winning close games, which would come in handy later.
February 24th, 2018
Kansas hit a minor rough patch at the beginning of February, losing two out of three games (Oklahoma State, Baylor) before beating Iowa State, West Virginia and romping 104-74 over Oklahoma. That set up a date with Texas Tech as a de facto regular season championship game. If Kansas won, their streak of at least a share of the conference title would continue. If they lost, the Red Raiders way to a regular season title was clear. Another tightly contested affair saw Graham and Mykhailiuk combine for 47 points in leading the Jayhawks to a 74-72 win, clinching their 14th straight conference title.
March 8th-10, 2018
After ending the regular season with the conference title, it seems Bill Self's group decided that wasn't enough. They wanted to make sure the nation knew who owned the Big 12 this year and proceeded to easily win three straight games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and WVU to win the conference tournament title as well.
March 15th & 17th, 2018
After being given the 1-seed in the Midwest region by the Selection Committee, the Jayhawks drew a tough 16-seed in the Ivy League winners, the Penn Quakers. Penn actually led by 10, 21-11 with just 8:01 left in the 1st half before Kansas began to find their rhythm. The Jayhawks closed the half on a 22-5 run to take a 33-26 lead to the half-time break. From there, Kansas never let up, eventually winning 76-60, but it was closer than fans would have liked. That win led to a match-up with the 8-seed, Seton Hall, in the Round of 32.
In a game that wouldn't do much to ease the feeling of anxiety in fans, Kansas once again pulled out a close win, 83-79, as the game became a free-throw shooting contest down the stretch. Malik Newman was the star with 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting and going a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe as the Jayhawks booked their ticket to the Sweet 16.
March 23rd & 25th, 2018
The 5th-seed, Clemson, stood in the way of a trip to the Elite Eight, but not for very long. The game was close through the first 13 minutes, with Kansas holding a 25-22 lead at the 7:13 mark of the first half after the Tigers' Gabe DeVoe knocked down a three. Over the next 7 minutes and change, Kansas went on a 22-5 run (sound familiar) and entered half-time up 40-27. The game wouldn't really get close again until desperation time for the Tigers, when once again, the Jayhawks knocked down their free throws down the stretch to win 80-76 and set up an Elite Eight match-up with Duke.
As expected, the top two seeds in the region provided a brilliantly entertaining contest, with Duke taking a 36-33 lead at the half, before a see-saw second half led to some late-game drama. Four Grayson Allen free throws and a Jayhawks turnover gave Duke a 72-69 lead with just 1:25 left. A pair of empty possessions followed before Svi Mykhailiuk hit the biggest three of his life with 27 seconds left to tie the game at 72. However, Duke had one last chance and Grayson Allen's last-second shot circled the rim twice before falling out, sending the game to OT.
In the extra frame, Newman took over, scoring all 13 of the Jayhawks points including two massive three pointers as Kansas squeaked out an 85-81 win. Newman finished with 32 points seven rebounds and three steals and, most importantly, he was 11-of-12 from the free throw line. The win sets up another top match-up with 1-seed in the East region, Villanova. Self and company likely still haven't forgotten the 64-59 loss to the Wildcats two years ago in the Elite Eight, and they'll be looking to extract some revenge on Saturday when the teams square off at 8:49 Eastern Time on TBS.
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