Final Four predictions: 5 reasons why Kansas can win the NCAA title
Kansas has won seven straight and 12 out of its last 13. Here are 5 reasons why the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks can emerge from the Final Four and capture their fourth national championship in school history:
1. The emergence of Malik Newman
The redshirt sophomore guard is playing the best basketball of his career and it couldn't come at a better time for Kansas.
He has scored 87 points so far in the NCAA tournament – more than teammates Devonte' Graham (64 points) or Svi Mykhailiuk (46), Villanova's Jalen Brunson (70) or Mikal Bridges (64), or Michigan's Charles Matthews (66), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (56) or Mo Wagner (50). Newman has scored at least 38 more points than every Loyola Chicago player this tournament.
The Mississippi State transfer has scored in double figures in his last seven games, the longest such streak of his career, dating back to Kansas' opening game in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma State. His three highest-scoring games of his career have come this month, including his career-high 32-point effort against Duke in the Elite Eight.
He is 28-of-51 (.549) from 3-point range since the postseason began and he has made at least four 3s in six of his last seven games.
2. Udoka Azubuike's unreal accuracy
Kansas managed to win the Big 12 tournament without Azubuike, who was sidelined with a knee injury, but he's vital for a potential championship run for the Jayhawks. The redshirt freshman led the country in field goal percentage this season, converting on a ridiculous 77.4 percent of his attempts. That means that he can provide the "surest bucket" of any player in the tournament. He leads Kansas with a 121.0 offensive rating.
The 7-footer also leads the team in rebounding (7.1 per game) and shot blocking (1.7 per game).
3. The ability to play defense without fouling
Kansas was 14th nationally in opponent free throw rate, holding its opponents to one free throw for every four field goals attempted. While the Jayhawks have the lowest defensive efficiency among the teams in the Final Four, they might be the best at playing defense without fouling.
Starting guards Graham (1.5), Newman (1.9) and Lagerald Vick (2.3) each average less than 2.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes. So Kansas is able to avoid putting opponents on the free throw line for easy scoring opportunities while keeping its three aforementioned starters on the floor without a serious concern for foul trouble.
Graham, this season's Big 12 Player of the Year who has played more than 94 percent of Kansas' available minutes this season, has played more games this season where he hasn't committed a single foul (11 games) than he has fouled out (just once).
4. Bill Self has time to prepare
While Bill Self-coached teams' most common NCAA tournament exit has been one game short of the Final Four – his teams have been eliminated in the Elite Eight seven times – Self's track record in March when he has five days to prepare in the postseason is incredibly impressive. He is 30-5 in the first game of the weekend in the tournament (i.e. games in the Round of 64, Sweet 16, Final Four). Villanova's Jay Wright is 15-8, Michigan's John Beilein is 14-5 and Loyola Chicago's Porter Moser is 2-0 under those same circumstances.
Self won the 2008 national championship with Kansas and the Jayhawks finished as the runners-up in 2012. Wright led Villanova to the 2016 title and Beilein led Michigan to the championship game in 2013, but of the four coaches whose teams are still dancing, Self has the most experience coaching in the season's final weekend.
5. That grueling schedule
In the regular season, Kansas played the second-toughest schedule in the country, according to KenPom.com's adjusted efficiency margin ranking for the Jayhawks' opponents. Kansas ran the gauntlet of the Big 12, winning the conference's regular season and tournament titles, in addition to facing a challenging non-conference schedule with games against Kentucky, Syracuse and Arizona State.
There isn't a team in the Final Four that has faced tougher competition more consistently than Kansas.