The knock on Illinois all season long has been the lack of an interior presence on their roster.
Sure, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis are 7’1″ and 6’9″, respectively, but they are not basketball big. So the Jayhawks exploited that, pounding the ball inside to the Morrii. Marcus and Markieff delivered, finishing with 41 points and 24 rebounds combined.
It was enough that, despite not taking a double digit lead until late in the game, the Jayhawks were in firm control for the duration of the second half.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
For the Illini fans, it was the end of a season that had mercilessly been extended in the round of 64 with an impressive victory over UNLV. This is a team that had all the talent in the world, but was never able to put it all together. Sunday was a microcosm of that. Demetri McCamey finished with just six points, seven assists, and four turnovers. Jereme Richmond missed his second game of the tournament with an undisclosed violation of team rules. Tisdale took more threes than free throws, Davis got to the line just once, and DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul combined for 20 points on 20 shots.
Kansas, on the other hand, got the gift of a wide open bracket.
The Jayhawks were busy dispatching Boston U. and Illnois while No. 12 seed Richmond was preparing for their Sweet 16 game and No. 11 seed VCU and No. 10 seed Florida State were busy blowing out Purdue and Notre Dame, respectively.
The Jayhawks won’t have to face a seed higher than eighth until the Final Four, should they get there.
And if they do, they’ll be playing the Southeast region’s champ. If you don’t remember, the Southeast region is the one where Pitt, who lost to Butler on Saturday, was considered the heavy favorite.
In other words, Kansas was given almost a free pass to the Final Four, and potentially all the way to the title game, depending on how things turn out. It could be a blessing, but it could also be a curse.
Richmond, VCU, and Florida State may not be Notre Dame, Purdue, and Louisville, but they are still quality basketball teams that have beaten quality basketball teams. They are all capable of knocking off Kansas, the same way that George Mason was capable of knocking off UConn in the 2006 Elite 8.
And should the Jayhawks lose prior to the Final Four, we will have no choice but to consider this team a bust. Losing to a double digit seed with an open path to the Final Four is not the way to erase the memories of a second round exit to Northern Iowa a year ago.