When choosing a national champion, there are some common criteria to look for. Champs, such as Villanova last year, North Carolina the year before, etc., tend to play solid defense, have an experienced and productive point guard, and avoid turnovers. Kansas does neither of those things well. Kansas does have a productive point guard in Devon Dotson. Dotson is so quick in getting to the basket that it makes him hard to defend. The problem is that, as a freshman, he has zero tournament experience. Also, he has a high turnover rate. In March Madness, every possession is important and Kansas is not good enough to overcome too many mistakes.
In fact, far from even making it to the title game, teams that commit a lot of turnovers tend to get upset early in the tournament. An example of such a team is Michigan State, which ranked top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but also had a high turnover rate and lost in the second round to Syracuse. Another example is the 2017 27-win Baylor team, which was blown out in the Sweet 16, and 2016 three-seed West Virginia, which was upset in the first round.
The problems with the Jayhawks’ defense help explain why they rank 121st in opposing points per game. They defend the perimeter poorly, allowing a high ratio of three point attempts. In March Madness, opposing guards are liable to catch fire. When Kansas lost to Iowa State on January 5, the Cyclones shot well above their average capability from beyond the ark because open shots were available through sufficient ball movement and because they caught fire. For example, a big reason why UMBC upset Virginia last year is that the Retrievers shot 50 percent from three. A defense is more likely to allow its opponent to perform that highly when it allows many open, uncontested threes.
The interesting aspect about Iowa State’s upset win over Kansas is that the Cyclones barely did anything inside. Center Michael Jacobsen missed a lot of shot attempts from point-blank range and the team was more efficient from three-point range. Despite his off day, the easy scoring chances were available because Kansas missed center Udoka Azubuike to a wrist injury that has officially ended his season. Azubuike is a huge part of Kansas’ inside game and interior defense. Last year, he was the most efficient scorer from two-point range and he ranked 70th in block rate. At 7″0, 270 pounds, he was unstoppable and Kansas does not have a way of replacing him.
When the Jayhawks made the Final Four last season, they had a healthy Azubuike. They also had a senior point guard in Devonte’ Graham who avoided turnovers, had a solid assist rate, and was a strong three-point shooter. Even that team did not win it all due to poor defense. So it does not make sense to think that, with a downgrade at point guard in terms of offensive productivity and experience and with a downgrade in the interior, Kansas can win it all this year. The Jayhawks also don’t have a lot of depth, ranking 265th in bench minutes. Depth is important for maintaining endurance during a game and throughout the season. Also, if another important player were to go down, Kansas would be in even more serious trouble.
BetOnline has made a big statement about Kansas’ chances. Kansas is +1800 to win it all after opening at +800. There are too many other teams that are worth considering ahead of Kansas because they fulfill important criteria. Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee, and Gonzaga are four high-profile teams that have a highly-ranked defense, an experienced and productive point guard, and that avoid turnovers.