David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Through the first 140 minutes of March Madness, the Kansas Jayhawks’ dangerous offense wasn’t all that impressive.
After cruising past the No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers, Kansas held off the No. 9 Creighton Bluejays 79-72. The fourth-seeded Providence Friars held a late second-half lead in the Sweet 16 before the Jayhawks recovered to win 66-61, and the No. 10 Miami Hurricanes jumped out to a six-point halftime edge in the Elite Eight.
Kansas had played at a much higher level throughout the season. While not as simple as one scorer underperforming, the Jayhawks’ best player wasn’t making his regular impact.
All-American guard ochai agbaji entered the 2022 men’s NCAA tournament averaging 19.7 points. He’d shot 40.5 percent from the perimeter, knocking down 2.8 triples per contest.
Three-and-a-half games into the Big Dance, however, Agbaji had fallen well short of that production. I have finished 5-of-14 from the floor opposite both Texas Southern and Creighton, netting 26 points combined. He ended 2-of-8 against Providence with five points. He entered the break with a passive six-point showing as the Jayhawks trailed Miami.
And, most glaringly, he’d totaled only two triples—less than his per-game average in pre-Madness action.
This reality was no reason to slap the “overrated” label on Agbaji or Kansas. Cold streaks happen, even to excellent teams. KU, nonetheless, kept finding ways to win despite the shaky stretch. In particular, the offense-driven Jayhawks were able to lean on their defense and strong rebounding.
For the Big 12 champions to upend Miami and truly remain a title contender, though, they needed the regular-season version of the offense to show up again.
The last 60 minutes have looked familiar.
Not coincidentally, Kansas has excelled.
Agbaji sparked the Jayhawks’ second-half dominance of Miami, scoring 12 more points to close the 76-50 win. Then on Saturday to begin the Final Four, he buried 6-of-7 triples en route to dropping a tournament-best 21 points on the Villanova Wildcats.
After outscoring Miami 47-15 in the second half last Sunday, Kansas jumped out to an 19-8 edge on Villanova behind Agbaji’s four quick trifectas on Saturday. The Jayhawks led by as many as 19 points and never allowed the Wildcats to close the gap within seven.
And now, Kansas is a victory away from a national title.
This story isn’t all about Agbaji, either. Given his below-standard play by him, the Jayhawks desperately needed their depth to shoulder a heavier share of scoring duties—and it clearly has.
Arizona State transfer Remy Martin picked up the slack for Agbaji early on. Finally healthy, he racked up 58 points in the first three NCAA tourney games and added nine against Miami.
Veteran big David McCormack, maligned at various points throughout the year, scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting opposite Miami. Saturday, he torched Nova for a game-high 25 points with a 10-of-12 mark and grabbed nine rebounds.
Wing players Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson—the main complements to Agbaji—have both notched four 10-point showings during this five-game run to the championship.
For good measure, Dajaun Harris hit three triples against Villanova and dished four assists in each of the last two games. Altogether, the Jayhawks drained 13 of 24 attempts from beyond the arc to topple Villanova in their national semifinal.
Kansas was already tough enough to beat with Agbaji, Braun, Wilson and an occasional surge from McCormack, Harris, Martin or even Mitch Lightfoot.
The last 60 minutes of regulation have included no fewer than five of them producing.
Perhaps the perfectly timed surge doesn’t continue Monday night when Kansas takes aim at the program’s first national title since 2008. As much as we like to predict the results—and predict we will—these outcomes are random.
However, the Jayhawks are entering the championship brandishing the peak version of their offense. And after an unremarkable start to March Madness, they could hardly ask for a better outlook.