The defending champs certainly got no favors from the selection committee.
Despite setting a record for Quad 1 wins and playing the toughest schedule in all of college basketball, the Kansas men’s basketball program earned the most difficult region. Five of Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 teams are in this region, and the Jayhawks have the fourth-best chance of making it to the Final Four out of the West via his numbers.
Every tourney, there is a quadrant dubbed as the region of death and that might honestly be selling this year’s West a bit short. Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga, UConn, Saint Mary’s, and TCU are all here. Getting this section of the bracket right might just very well be the key to winning your pool.
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The Jayhawks have been thrashed twice by Texas in the last week, so it is hard to see them making it through the gauntlet that is the West. Jalen Wilson, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is averaging over 20 points per game, but he needs help for KU to make a run.
Kevin McCullar Jr. has been dealing with back spasms and missed the Big 12 title game, while Gradey Dick and Dajuan Harris Jr. are coming off underwhelming performances. KU ranks 361st in bench minutes this year, as there isn’t a reserve like Remy Martin to come save the day.
The Jayhawks are ninth in KenPom’s overall ratings, and have been in the 7-9 range for much of the year. They have won a lot of close games, but I’d bet against them continuing that in March given their recent lumps.
Dark horse: TCU
If not for some injuries, the Horned Frogs might have challenged Kansas for a Big 12 regular-season title. TCU blasted KU in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year, and with point guard Mike Miles Jr. leading the way, this team is lethal in transition. According to Synergy Sports Technology, TCU ranks in the 99th percentile in transition offense.
At the same time, the Horned Frogs are 321st in 3-point percentage. I’m not sure they have the shooting to win six games, but a trip to Houston is plausible with the way the bracket broke for them.
Upset to watch: Arkansas over Kansas
There aren’t any first-round upsets I like, but the real madness will begin after that. It is common for a No. 1 seed to lose in the opening weekend, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kansas is that team this year, especially if Arkansas defeats Illinois to reach the Round of 32.
Eric Musselman has led the Razorbacks to back-to-back Elite Eight runs, and his roster is as talented as ever. Like TCU, Arkansas is strong in transition and has the athletes to switch 1-5 against KU in a potential matchup.
If these two do meet up, I’ll be hopping on the Muss bus against the defending champs.
Pick to win the West: UConn
It seems like every crazy year in college basketball ends with Connecticut cutting down the nets. The Huskies certainly have the talent to do so, ranking fourth in KenPom’s overall ratings. They are sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency and 18th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Big man Adama Sanogo leads this team, but future NBA pick Jordan Hawkins is the key to a deep run in March. Hawkins has scored 19 or more points in five of his last seven games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him pull off his best Kemba Walker impersonation this month.
UConn has a tough path to even reach the Sweet 16, but I like this team’s chances if it gets to the second weekend.