The Kansas Jayhawks’ run to the Elite Eight has been virtually unstoppable. They crushed No. 16 UC Davis in the first round of the tournament, 100-62, then steamrollered No. 9 Michigan State, 90-70 before running No. 4 Purdue out of the building Thursday night, 98-66. As of Friday, it is the only team left in the tournament with more than one game scoring more than points.
The fact a No. 1 seed is making an appearance in the Elite Eight is nothing new, but there were some serious concerns around Kansas heading into the big dance. Noting a number of red flags that often foretell upsets, The Post’s own Mike Hume highlighted its inability to defend the three-point line and poor free throw shooting as two reasons to doubt the Jayhawks could make a deep run. But this Jayhawks team has not only shored up those deficiencies, they have put on a shooting clinic that is going to be tough to stop.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, Kansas allowed opponents to get clear looks, particularity in transition. Opponents’ effective field goal percentage on the run was 49.6 percent during the regular season, but that has since fallen to a mere 40.9 percent over the last three games, with just two made transition baskets by its opponents from beyond the three-point line.
The free throw shooting has improved too, with Kansas hitting a robust 80.7 percent, a huge improvement over the 66.6 percent they made heading into the NCAA tournament.
But the biggest improvement has been in the team’s pace of play and overall shooting, which is why Kansas could overpower any of the other remaining championship hopefuls.
Kansas’s offense is generating almost six more offensive possessions per game in the tournament than it did during the regular season, giving the eighth-best offense (120.8 points per 100 possessions after adjusting for opponents) heading into the tournament per Pomeroy’s college basketball ratings, more opportunities.
Not only are there more attempts being made, Kansas has improved its spot-up shooting from 43.6 percent from the field during the regular season to 53.8 percent over its last three games, with its effective field goal percentage jumping from 59 to 72.1 percent in that span. That’s created a multiplier effect that has them cruising through the bracket. A great example is Devonte Graham, whose effective field goal percentage on open threes was 55.3 percent during the regular season. Over the last three games it is 80 percent.
Against Purdue, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk drilled a wide-open corner three to put Kansas in the lead before halftime. Mykhailiuk’s effective field goal percentage has improved from 55.9 to 76.7 percent in these situations.
It’s not just the perimeter shooting that has improved. Josh Jackson is hitting 45.5 percent from beyond the three-point line but has also converted 12 of 15 shots near the rim, well above his 60 percent shooting around the basket during the regular season. As a team, the Jayhawks’ field goal percentage in the paint and restricted area is 72.3 percent, the highest of any tournament team with at least as many possessions (45).
If No. 3 Oregon is going to have any chance at an upset it must slow Kansas down and force the Jayhawks into bad shots by putting pressure on the ball screens and not allowing the Jayhawks to get out in transition. But the Ducks haven’t been able to do that during the tournament — opponents are shooting 34.2 percent from beyond the arc compared to 31.1 percent during the regular season — and the Ducks allow a higher percentage of shots from three-point range (37.7 percent) than the Jayhawks normally take (35.7 percent), indicating we could see Kansas’s three-headed, spot-up shooting monster of Graham, Mykhailiuk and Jackson with more opportunities than expected.
Plus, this game is being held at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., just a 45-minute trip from Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks’ home court, making it a virtual home game for Kansas. According to Pomeroy, Kansas has a 68 percent chance of moving on to the Final Four, which may be selling the Jayhawks short given their recent play.