The Big 12 tournament exploded into life Thursday afternoon with a stunner: Kansas, top-ranked and top-seeded, was shocked by eighth-place TCU, 85-82, in the second of four quarterfinals in Kansas City.
With the game tied at 82 with under five seconds left, Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk flew out to the corner to contest a TCU 3-pointer, and blocked the shot, but clattered into the shooter, TCU guard Desmond Bane, and was whistled for a foul.
What a crazy finish! Here is foul on the 3-pointer on TCU's last possession. pic.twitter.com/PgyQAhlfmv
— Adam Barnes (@CoachBarnes1) March 9, 2017
Bane made all three free throws, and Kansas’ final play was unsuccessful. Devonte’ Graham missed a 3-pointer for the tie at the buzzer.
The upset has vital implications for the Horned Frogs, who weren’t within touching distance of the NCAA tournament heading into the day, but now are, and could be a semifinal victory over Iowa State away from an at-large bid.
But Kansas’ loss, for a few reasons, is about as irrelevant as a loss by a top-ranked team to an unranked team can be.
Most importantly, the Jayhawks are still all but assured of a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. They finished the regular season 28-3 (16-2), and topped one of college basketball’s two toughest conferences by a whopping four games. They have eight top-50 wins and 16 top-100 wins. They beat three top-15 teams (and four top-25 teams) away from home. They were the RPI No. 1 heading into Thursday.
The loss to TCU could cost Kansas the No. 1 overall seed come Sunday, especially if Villanova goes on to win the Big East tournament. The Wildcats trounced St. John’s Thursday, and were right on par with Kansas at the conclusion of the regular season. The early exit could even bump the Jayhawks below North Carolina. But Kansas will still head to Tulsa for the first and second rounds, and to the Midwest regional in Kansas City, so the difference between the top overall seed and the second of the four 1-seeds is negligible.
Additionally, the loss isn’t worrying going forward. That’s because Kansas was without Josh Jackson, its second-best player and arguably one of the 10 best players in the country. Jackson was suspended for the quarterfinal for traffic citations that he failed to report to coach Bill Self and the program.
Without its freshman star, Kansas’ potential was blunted on both ends of the floor. On the defensive end, Jackson’s length and athleticism often makes up for the team’s lack of a rim protector. Without his presence, Kansas looked like a relatively ordinary defensive team. TCU swingmen Kenrich Williams and Desmond Bane combined for 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting. The Horned Frogs scored 1.10 points per possession.
On the offensive end, Kansas missed the multi-faceted scoring threat that Jackson gives them. Lagerald Vick was serviceable in his absence, but isn’t the all-around player that Jackson is. He and Graham combined for 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting from the field. Frank Mason III brought Kansas back from an 11-point second-half deficit, but he and his 27 points didn’t get enough help.
Jackson, however, will return for the NCAA tournament, and Kansas will be fine. Thursday’s loss, aside from costing Kansas a shot at a Big 12 tournament title, didn’t really mean all that much. The Jayhawks’ overarching goal is still in front of them.
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