Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Another March Miracle for KU?
by Jeff Herr,posted Apr 2 2012 2:07PM
More than any team in recent memory this Kansas team “feels” like it’s destined for a great ending to this season. Many other more talented Jayhawk squads have dealt with and succumbed to that feeling of impending doom that comes with being a college basketball blue blood. This team has cast those aside and feels different than many of the powerhouse teams of Bill Self’s tenure.
By all accounts this team shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t have beaten Purdue, North Carolina State, North Carolina, or Ohio State. Yet, here they are. As fans, players, and coaches, everyone knows that there’s no external force propelling this team to victory. Even so, similarities between this and championship teams of the past keep creeping in to everyone’s heads.
The 1952, 1988, and 2008 championships were all won in leap years. This year is a leap year. Both 1988 and 2008 championship runs started in Nebraska. This year’s run started in Nebraska. The 2008 championship ended against a juggernaut Memphis team coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina. This year’s run ends (one way or another) against the juggernaut Kentucky squad coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina.
While these similarities are nothing more than coincidental they only strengthen the ‘team of destiny’ feeling this squad has. En route to this National Title game appearance they’ve put to bed many of the issues this Kansas program has faced in the tournament over the years.
Facing a 10 seed in the second round and trailing for the greater majority of the game is usually a recipe for disaster for Kansas.
Not this team.
A double digit seed in the second weekend has spelled doom in the past for KU. Not this team. Trailing with less than 4 minutes to go in the Final Four usually isn’t a good sign for the Jayhawks teams of past.
Not this team.
This Kansas unit has been able to shrug off all of the weight of past failures and won all those games. No matter what has happened, this group of young men has refused to quit and they have made themselves a part of something special. By overcoming the upset bug that has hit more talented teams of the past, this team has become what they fear the most: a team playing with nothing to lose.
There has been no external factor the team can point to other than the fact that nobody expected them to be here. More than anything, this team seems to love proving people wrong. Final Four teams that lead by 13 points in the second half don’t usually lose the game, but that’s exactly what KU forced Ohio State to do. The only mantra this team has been able to repeat is that they have had every opponent right where they want them, not expecting KU to fight back.
In the last 25 years, the two Kansas teams that have won a National Championship have had the word ‘miracle’ attached to it. ‘Danny and the Miracles’ and ‘Mario’s Miracle’ were both unexpected championship occurrences that made those teams and those runs memorable. A championship victory by this team would constitute another miracle and make them just as memorable as the previously mentioned squads.
In order to do that, they’re going to have to beat a Kentucky team that is as good of a team as we’ve seen in the last 25 years. Every starting position has an NBA-caliber player. Many of them were recruits Kansas went for and lost out on. Losing out on those recruits is one of the reasons many thought KU would be in a “rebuilding year” in 2011-2012. Despite all of that, this team has made their way to the pinnacle just as the supremely talented Kentucky team has.
A victory over this Kentucky iteration may just require a 3rd miracle in the last 25 years. We all know stranger things have happened in the NCAA tournament. It was going to take a miracle for NC State to beat Houston in 1983, and it happened. It was going to take a miracle for Villanova to beat Georgetown in 1985, and it happened. It was going to take a miracle for Kansas to beat Oklahoma in 1988, and it happened.
Now, here comes the dose of reality. The problem with those scenarios is that none of those losing squads were as talented as Kentucky. Occasionally there are teams that are above the superstitions and past failures. Just as this Kansas team has overcome the past issues of the university, this Kentucky team looks poised to overcome the upset jinx of past dominant squads as well.
Despite all the external factors that may point to a Kansas victory, Kentucky appears to have the advantage with all the internal factors. Even with Kansas’ “never say die” attitude, at some point it’s going to be too much. Jeff Withey might be able to corral Anthony Davis the same way he did Jared Sullinger (MIGHT being the key word here). Tyshawn Taylor might be able to handle Marquis Teague, but what about the rest?
This season has shown the greatness of Davis, but has also shown the less heralded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as one of the most talented players in the country. KU has no answer for such a player. Same goes with Terrance Jones, and the rest of the talented Kentucky roster. While Elijah Johnson and Travis Releord have performed better in the tourney than anyone expected, if the game comes down to the those matchups it does not lean in Kansas’ favor.
Everyone wants to believe that it was meant to be for this Kansas squad. It would make for one of the most remarkable NCAA tournament runs if they do indeed pull off the upset. But sometimes, tradition, superstition, and everything else doesn’t matter. Kentucky has been on a collision course with the National Championship since day one of this season. They came here to win, they have the talent to do it and all indications point to that tonight.
After all, those other similarities with past Kansas championship teams are just coincidence, right?