This is an article from the March 14, 2016 issue
THE NCAA tournament is unpredictable, but national champs tend to have a certain statistical profile. Since kenpom.com began tracking efficiency in 2001--02, title winners have finished with an average ranking of 7.2 in adjusted offense and 9.8 in adjusted defense. Two teams rank in the top 10 of both categories—Virginia and Kansas, the latter of which is No. 2 in overall efficiency and looks to be the greatest team in a good-but-not-great field.
The five-month college basketball season is a journey of self-discovery: For a team, figuring out the best version of itself by March is even more important than identifying the flaws of its opponents. Kansas coach Bill Self spent the first three months struggling to settle on consistent playing time and shot allocations for a roster that was too deep to accommodate all of its options. Landen Lucas saw just nine minutes off the bench in KU's season opener, and three other players started at center before the 6'10" junior became a first-teamer on Jan. 23. The Jayhawks are 12--1 since, and Lucas's interior defense has helped them lead the Big 12—the nation's best conference—in two-point field goal percentage allowed (42.8).
In a 79--73 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 17 in Chicago, just 22.7% of Kansas's shots were threes, despite having six accurate, long-range gunners in junior guards Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene; sophomore guards Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk; and star senior forward Perry Ellis. During their current 10-game winning streak, the Jayhawks have taken 35.6% of their shots from deep and made 42.6% of them.
By finding its optimal rotation and leveraging its strengths, Kansas is peaking at the perfect time. Self has an analytically sound, veteran team for which every starter has NCAA tournament experience, and in two out of the past three trips when that's been the case (in 2008, '11 and '12), KU has reached the national title game, winning it all in '08. The Jayhawks are due for a return—and another championship.
Points per game for Kansas, 16th in the nation, which is the highest since Self arrived in Lawrence in 2003--04.
Players (Ellis, Selden Jr. and Mason III) with 1,000 career points, the first time KU has had three such scorers since '04--05.
Consecutive regular-season conference titles for the Jayhawks, which is second only to UCLA's in NCAA history.
Sometimes I think they overpenetrate. They're going to high-low you to death. They don't even try to hide it. Ellis is very valuable defensively because he's so smart. When he goes out, you can score at will on them inside. I think Selden disappears sometimes. He has one of the best bodies you'll see on a two guard, but he's not a physical guy. If you can get someone who can move without the ball, he has trouble. Their weakness is low post scoring at times. So they're even more dependent on making threes and scoring in transition than usual.