Kansas in a new role: the underdog?

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NEW ORLEANS – Kansas is one of the best basketball programs in the history of the sport.

They are five years removed from a national title and have sent 11 players to the NBA since then. They have one eight straight Big 12 titles. They are, without a shred of a doubt, one of the nation’s preeminent blue bloods.

But heading into this year’s national title game, Kansas doesn’t feel like a juggernaut. They hardly feel like a two-seed. Even with the runner-up for National Player of the Year and a Cousy Award nominee on the roster, this group has the feel of a plucky underdog. Maybe it’s because of their preseason expectations (which, according to both Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, were to have a shot at the Big 12 regular season title by the end of the year). Maybe it’s because this team has a rotation full of kids that have ridden the bench over the course of their career. Maybe it’s because they’ve been far from convincing during their five game NCAA tournament winning streak.

Whatever the case, if feels like Kentucky is playing Butler, not Kansas, on Monday night.

To be fair, that probably has as much to do with Kentucky as it does with Kansas. With the exception of a healthy UNC team or a Syracuse team with Fab Melo eligible, anyone and everyone is going to feel like an underdog going up against the machine that Coach Cal has built in Lexington this season.

Kansas has yet to put together a complete game in this tournament. They allowed Detroit to hang around in the opening round and followed that up with a come-from-behind win over Purdue. The Jayhawks nearly blew a late lead to NC State in the Sweet 16 and needed a late rally to pull away from the Kendall Marshall-less Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. And, of course, last night the Jayhawks spent much of the first half trailing by as many as 13 points.

This wasn’t isolated to the tournament, either. If you remember, Kansas had to come back from 19 down to beat Missouri at home.

“Sometimes we take some shots because we know it’s a close game,” Taylor said after the game. “We might take some pressure-looking shots and defensively we might not be as in tune. I don’t of that to be sure for a fact, but it just seems that way. When we get down, we like ‘Ok, we gotta lock up, we gotta get a stop now and we gotta get a good possessions.'”

Whatever works, right?

Kentucky is a different beast, however. I would strongly recommend for Kansas to play every possession as if they are down 15, but if you get down 15 to Kentucky, you aren’t coming back.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.