KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas took its most significant step toward winning a second NCAA title in three seasons with a Big 12 tournament championship after winning the top-rated conference by four full games during the regular season.
This was a coronation for the Big 12. Now it’s on to the NCAA tournament, where Kansas will likely be the top seed overall, protected in Oklahoma City for the opening rounds before heading to St. Louis for the regional finals.
Some quick thoughts here courtside at the Sprint Center where Kansas fans have once again gobbled up the tickets faster and in more numbers than probably any other team in the country save Kentucky.
Kansas’ Sherron Collins is arguably the best closer heading into the tournament. If you want a big shot then you can take your pick of Kentucky’s John Wall, West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler or Ohio State’s Evan Turner. But Collins is the one that tends to take over the game. He was sensational down the stretch in the 72-64 win over Kansas State. He played the role of Lucy from Peanuts, constantly pulling that football from Charlie Brown Saturday night. Every time Kansas State had this feeling that it could get close, Collins was there to yank KU back in front. Collins finished with 12 points, seven assists and two turnovers in 36 minutes.
The Morris twins may be the most underrated role players in the country. Marcus and Markieff each have a significant role on this squad in winning the national title. Marcus Morris seems to finish plays, especially broken ones, with 18 points while Markieff was able to get to the free-throw line for five free throws and grab six boards.
A sleeper contributor that doesn’t get much play is Tyrel Reed. Reed was 7-of-9 from the free-throw line. He could prove vital in a late-game situation in the NCAAs. While Xavier Henry came up with quality 3s in the semifinal win over Texas A&M on Friday, he struggled to make his mark Saturday going 1-of-7. Henry could be a difference maker for the Jayhawks, but it’s clear they can win without him being the most significant second option.
Kansas State did show it’s more than just Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, as Curtis Kelly made a few key plays, including a blocked shot, and Jamar Samuels proved he can be a big-time player when asked to do so. Samuels scored 27 points in the quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State off the bench and then made four 3s in a reserve role against Kansas.
The Wildcats should be fine once they’re rid of Kansas and the rest of the Big 12 teams. K-State’s toughness should prove valuable once the Wildcats get into the NCAAs.
This week did wonders for the K-State nation. The Wildcats can feel like they’ve closed the gap with the rest of the Big 12 to a second or third position (with Baylor and Texas A&M right there with them, and of course Texas can never be dismissed). But until the Wildcats knock off Kansas they will still be treated as if they are a step below.