Perry Ellis went off for 27 points and Wayne Selden added 19 points, seven boards and six assists as No. 1 seed Kansas pulled away from No. 5 Maryland in the second half of a 79-63 Sweet 16.
The Jayhawks hit eight straight shots to start the second half, using a 9-0 spurt to break a 43-all tie and get some separation from the Terps. Maryland had some chances to get back into the game, but they couldn’t string together enough good offensive possessions to mount a real challenge.
Kind of a microcosm of their season, wouldn’t you say?
But we’re here to talk about the Jayhawks, as they advance to (get this) Bill Self’s eighth Elite 8 and his sixth as the head coach of the Jayhawks. It’s the first time they’ve advanced this far in the tournament since Thomas Robinson carried KU to within an Anthony Davis of the 2012 National Title.
The narrative on this team is that they don’t really have a star. Ellis has been phenomenal all season long, almost to the point that slotting him as an NBCSports.com third-team all-american is unjust. But as an opposing coach, he doesn’t terrify you the same way that, say, Buddy Hield or Denzel Valentine or Yogi Ferrell does.
No one on Kansas does, really.
And that’s kind of what makes them so good.
One night, it might be Ellis going for 27 and Selden getting 19 points and seven assists. On another night — like, oh, I don’t know, at Oklahoma — Devonte’ Graham might pop off for 27 points and slow down Buddy Hield. And while Frank Mason hasn’t had to do as much this season as he did last season, I think that he proved last year that he’s capable of putting this team on his back if it is needed.
What was impressive on Thursday night was that Landen Lucas once again looked like the best big man on the floor against a team with two pros in the pivot. Diamond Stone and Robert Carter are both going to play in the NBA one day, and Lucas popped off for 14 points and 11 boards, grabbing four offensive rebounds and blocking a shot. Stone and Carter combined for 13 points and 10 boards.
And to me, that’s the x-factor for this Kansas team.
When Lucas plays like this they can truly reach their ceiling.
Because you know what you’re going to get from most of the other guys on the roster. The question mark for this Kansas team — and, basically, for the Kansas program since Joel Embiid got injured — has been their interior play. Cliff Alexander was never the guy that could anchor the post defensively. He couldn’t block shots or rebound the way Kansas needed him to. Cheick Diallo hasn’t been able to do that, either.
But Lucas seems to have taken over that role.
And Kansas is better off for it.