Final Four Bound: KU is off to the “Big Easy” after winning in St. Louis (and links)

Josh Campos, KC SportsNation

When the Brackets were released on March 11th, Kansas fans knew that if the Jayhawks could win their first two games that the road to the Final Four would go through their backyard in St. Louis. Leaving Omaha, though, was not easy. The Boilermakers nearly ended those plans for St. Louis and beyond. Coming off their worst offensive performance (but perhaps best defensive performance), it would be tough to imagine lighting striking twice and the Jayhawks offensively being bad.

Then, they played North Carolina State. The Wolfpack came out confident as can be and raced out to quick lead (just like Purdue did), 13-3 lead. Once again, this was going to be a long night. After a Kansas timeout and a “Frank Martin” like yelling, the Jayhawks were able to wake up offensively and take a 6-point 27-21 lead. However, the Wolfpack used a couple of turnovers late in the half to take a 33-32 lead. Interestingly, Bill Self was 0-9 in the NCAA tourney while trailing at halftime before he snapped that against Purdue. He would make it two in a row.

The 1-point deficit turned into a 50-40 lead with less than 10 minutes to go. Jeff Withey had logged meaningful minutes and Thomas Robinson was off to another double-double. A Tyshawn Taylor layup with less than four minutes to go gave Kansas a 58-50 lead. It appeared as if a date with North Carolina Tarheels for a trip to the Final Four was minutes away. But, before you could explain what went wrong, the Wolfpack cut the lead to one with a minute and a half to go. Put the Tarheel thoughts on hold. After a missed freethrow, the Jayhawks used and inbound play to extend the lead to 60-57. Like the game in Manhattan, the Jayhawks could ice the game at the freethrow line, but missed, first it was Tyshawn Taylor, then Robinson. After a Purdue like desperation shot, Kansas was off to the Elite 8 and a rematch of the 2008 Final Four semifinal.

Lawrence Journal World: Wolfpack size up KU-UNC

KC Star: Sam Mellinger | Jayhawks are winning dangerously

Lawrence Journal World: Elite forces: KU dispatches ’Pack; UNC next

Lawrence Journal World: Jeff Withey helps ice win

KC Star: With the Jayhawks in need, Withey stands tall

ESPN: College Basketball Nation Blog: Kansas lives dangerously but moves on

SI.com: Despite Tyshawn Taylor’s shooting woes, Kansas charges into Elite Eight

Rock Chalk Talk: Statistical Recap of NC State

***

For the first time in Bill Self’s tenure, the opposing rosters have had more McDonald’s All-Americans.  Even the 15th-seeded Detroit Titans had more than Kansas, North Carolina State had two, and the Tar Heels had seven. Win or lose against Carolina the job Bill Self has done was remarkable.

An hour before tipoff, we learned that Kendall Marshall would not play due to his fractured (non-shooting) right wrist—so Carolina would only have six McDonald’s All-Americans. The plan was simple: pressure freshman replacement point guard Stilman White and try to force turnovers or guard the other players and have him make a play. Looking at the 47-47 tie at halftime it was hard to imagine that this same Jayhawk defense that had propelled this team to the Elite 8 was absent from this game. Did the Marshall absence really matter? Carolina shot a blistering 67% from the floor for the half – yet, KU was not losing.

This game had the look of the 1988 NCAA Championship game against Oklahoma where Kansas was able to keep the pace offensively against the Sooners but slowed down and played tough defense the second half. Kansas held the Tarheels to twenty second half points and used a late 12-0 run to end the game. The biggest play was a three-point shot by Elijah Johnson to extend the lead to four. Carolina was scoreless the last four minutes thanks to the Triangle and Two defensive scheme by Kansas. After the game, Carolina Forward Harrison Barnes said that he didn’t know Kansas ran a Triangle and Two defense. Does Carolina know what that is? Final Score 80-67 Kansas.

For Carolina, this was their second loss in the Elite in as many years. Once again, it appears (Kansas fans know all too well) that Roy Williams failed to make any sort of adjustments in the game and relied too heavily on his talent and offensive schemes. So when it was all said and done, the Kansas defense carries the Jayhawks to their 14th Final Four. Several weeks ago before the tournament, Elijah Johnson said “in March its not what you can do (offensively) it’s who you can stop.”

Survive and advance…

Player of the St. Louis Region: Jeff Withey’s 10 blocks against NC State with eight points, five rebounds and follows that with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks all while playing in foul trouble. His late defense helped to blow the doors open in the Carolina win.

Rock Chalk Talk: Statistical Recap of North Carolina

College Basketball Talk: Kansas pulls away late to complete Final Four field

ESPN: NCAA Tournament Game Recap – KU vs. UNC

ESPN College Basketball Nation Blog Rapid Reaction: Kansas 80, North Carolina 67

Lawrence Journal World: FINAL FOUR BOUND! Jayhawks topple North Carolina, 80-67, to earn trip to New Orleans

KC Star: KU heads to Final Four with 80-67 win over UNC

College Basketball Talk: This heavyweight Final Four all about revenge

KC Star: Buckeyes’ Sullinger gets his shot at Jayhawks

KC Star: Defense confuses Heels

SI.com: Kansas vs. North Carolina – Recap – March 25, 2012

Lawrence Journal World: Jeff Withey leads Jayhawks in victory over North Carolina | The Keegan Ratings

KC Star: Robinson the biggest of KU’s big guys

Lawrence Journal World:  Tyshawn Taylor: ‘I’m a loveable guy, man’

KC Star: Self has shaped the Jayhawks into muscle

Lawrence Journal World: KU players know it pays to listen to Bill Self

ESPN: NCAA tournament 2012 – Bill Self proves he’s worthy

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