March Madness is mere hours away now (If you don't count the First Four matchups, of course) and with all three local teams making the national tournament, Kansas City is buzzing. Of course, it would be buzzing more had one of the three local teams ended up in the Midwest region given the fact that Kansas City is hosting games for said region. Gotta love it when the committee just decides to name the #2 overall seed as a team that lost to *checks notes* Temple and Memphis and had the 100th strongest schedule. Meanwhile, Kansas sits with the TOUGHEST SCHEDULE IN THE ENTIRE NCAA along with 17 QUAD 1 WINS (That all of the sudden don't matter) at the #3 overall seed. Gross incompetence of the committee aside, all three local squads have themselves a tournament to play, let's analyze just how far each will go.
Let's start with Kansas this time. Kansas has the quality wins to show for it as well as the roster to go quite far in this tournament. The only problem? Inconsistency. Kansas can look like world-beaters one game and completely fall flat on their face the next. Some of those examples of KU falling on their face were wins, yes, but a lot of them were ugly losses. Frustrating losses at that, a prime example being the Big 12 Championship. Staying in the game for most of the first half only to get drubbed by 20 points against Texas. These types of flat performances can NOT happen in the Big Dance. Dajuan Harris passes have to be crisp and clean, Gradey Dick has to shoot well, the bench has to contribute, and it can't be left on the shoulders of potential NPOY Jalen Wilson like it has in most of these flat performances. This has to be a full team effort, and in a hostile environment out west against teams from out west like Gonzaga and UCLA, it needs to be on full display. This team can easily make it back to and win the championship, but if they don't play the game we all know this team can play, the game that won them 17 victories over Quad 1 programs, they could very well be out by the 2nd round. It's boom or bust for KU, and without quality performances from your main contributors at the VERY least, it could easily result in a bust.
Kansas State honestly should have had a First Team All-American in Markquis Nowell. Dude is an absolute game changer and proved it on multiple occasions. Perhaps the tournament can prove a lot of those folks that vote on that thing wrong, and with the road that K-State has, it's pretty doable. Yes, names like Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, Marquette, and Tennessee are scary, but Kansas State competed and competed well against the toughest conference in basketball. The losses against West Virginia and TCU hurt, but this is a team that can catch fire at any time. The duo of Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell, along with a very effective bench, lead the charge generally when the Wildcats win big, and that is exactly what the Cats will need to win in the tournament against stiff competition. They have a tough road, but if K-State plays their best game they can easily make a Final Four run. They've been beaten twice in a row now, so confidence is low, but a confidence boosting win over Montana State will help that. Obviously, that's not a guarantee, but if KSU can win and win big over the Bobcats, this puts them in a healthy mindset to take on a fairly weak and unstable (compared to past years, this team still is not to be trifled with) Kentucky squad. Knock Kentucky out and take it step-by-step, game-by-game. That's how KSU goes back to having a fun March like they've had in the past.
When Utah State isn't the underdog (In the betting world at least) there's a problem. This being said, Missouri is better than this Utah State team, and if they can show it and put confidence back into their squad, this Tiger team could be dangerous. Getting that first win and winning big here is crucial. With Kobe Brown, Nick Honor, and DeAndre Gholston at their best, Missouri is one of the toughest, scrappiest teams in the entire nation, and they can show it by coming out and bludgeoning an inferior Utah State Aggies squad (The term "Aggie" should burn the ears of every Mizzou player, coach, fan, and alum, looking at you Texas A&M and what you did to the Tigers this year) Once Missouri gets past the first round, yes it doesn't get any easier, but it certainly is still manageable for a team that hung with or even beat the best teams in the nation throughout the year. Arizona comes from a weak conference, Missouri can beat them too and beat them bad if they're on. It goes back to the game-by-game mantra I mentioned when talking about Kansas State. Keep building that confidence after the crummy way you ended conference tournament season and keep fighting. This is when confidence and grit is at it's utmost importance, and Missouri has shown they have that.
Overall, this should be an interesting tournament to watch. We can complain about the seeding all we want, but winning against what's in front of you is what matters now. All three of these teams have done a great job of that this year, which is why they're here. Now comes the time to prove the committee wrong if you're Kansas, prove to your fanbase you're for real and here to stay like Kansas State, and prove that you're the team that is going to be an absolute problem not only next year, but during the tournament too such as Missouri. Lots to prove, lots of chips on shoulders, let's dance baby.
Burn Notice: 10/10 The smell of burning brackets wafts through the air. March Madness is here.