Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Team-first Jayhawks deserve praise

April 9, 2008

The Kansas Jayhawks are perched atop the college basketball nest, and KU fans couldn't be more proud.

For the first time since the 1988 season, when Danny Manning and "the Miracles" were hailed as the conquering heroes in Lawrence, Kansas has won the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.

Kansas was the last team among 65 of the college basketball world's best. In a historic Final Four that for the first time featured all four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, the Jayhawks were the best of the best.

Yet, it was an improbable run to the title.

The Jayhawks barely got into the Final Four, dodging a last-second upset in the Midwest Regional finals in Detroit at the hands of Davidson, a frightening No. 10-seed that later turned in its Cinderella slippers for a No. 9 ranking in the final coaches' poll.

In the national semifinals, KU had to withstand a furious comeback by North Carolina - the top overall seed in the tournament - before dispatching the Tar Heels and former Kansas coach Roy Williams, 84-66. Even then, most of the national talking heads didn't embrace the Jayhawks, instead hopping on the bandwagon of the Memphis Tigers.

After a strong first half in the title game, Kansas watched its lead slip away and trailed by nine points with a little more than 2 minutes remaining. Yet the Jayhawks - with the help of Memphis' missed free throws and Mario Chalmers' near-miraculous three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining - were able to send the game into overtime and ultimately defeat the Tigers.

Bedlam ensued in Lawrence as students and fans flooded into the streets to party, and celebrations erupted in living rooms and restaurants across the state.

Despite being co-Big 12 Conference champions during the regular season and then winning the postseason conference tournament, KU's pool of talented players always seemed to take a backseat to opponents with more star power: Michael Beasley, D.J. Augustin, Stephen Curry, Tyler Hansbrough, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose. The Jayhawks were criticized as being too balanced with no true go-to scorer.

Beasley and Augustin, at least, were able to notch .500 records against Kansas this season. The others were roadkill on the Jayhawks' road to the school's third NCAA basketball title and fifth national basketball championship overall.

A team with no All-America selections - not even a first-team all-conference selection - finished the year 37-3 and as national champions.

To that we have to say, "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!"

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