The Jayhawks have known for a couple of weeks that they were going to be without freshman center Joel Embiid for at least the opening week of the tournament. While they’re at their best with him on the floor, knowing that gave them the necessary time to adapt the “next man up” mentality. The next man up on Friday was sophomore forward Jamari Taylor. The Chicago native posted a career-high of 17 points and 14 rebounds as the Jayhawks were able to hold off a very tough Eastern Kentucky team 80-69. Had the Colonels been able to contend with the Jayhawks on the glass they could have stood a chance to pull off the upset, but they were dominated on the boards to the tune of 43-19. Perry Ellis joined Taylor in the double-double club with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Andrew Wiggins scored a game-high 19 points on an efficient 7-13 shooting from the field. Defensively their game plan in the Round of 32 against will revolve around containing Chasson Randle. The Cardinal were outrebounding against the New Mexico Lobos, so the Jayhawks should once again aggressively crash the glass, especially if they’re off from three point range again. They were 0-7 from beyond the arc against Eastern Kentucky. You can either look at that as a cause for concern, or reason to believe they’re due. Either way, they cannot settle for long range jumpers as they are at their best when they’re attacking off the dribble.
The Cardinal were cruising early on against New Mexico, leading by as many as 16 at one point. Just as it seemed like they were going to cruise to the upset victory, though, the Lobos went on a run. However, thanks to some clutch free throw shooting in the final seconds from Chasson Randle and Robbie Lemons, the Cardinal survived and advanced for the first time under head coach Johnny Dawkins with a 58-53 win. Randle once against starred for the Cardinal, scoring a team-high 23 points while also grabbing five rebounds, dishing out two assists and accumulating two steals. His big game helped make up for a really disappointing effort from Dwight Powell, who was 0-8 from the field with four rebounds while fouling out after 29 minutes of action. He was going up against one of the better interior duos in Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk. Bairstow had a huge game with 24 points and eight rebounds, but the latter was held without a field goal. Kendall Williams, the Lobos’ top perimeter option, was not much better, shooting just 1-9 from the field against a very tough Cardinal defense. The Cardinal held the Lobos to 36 percent shooting from the field and 4-21 from distance. Their defense is going to be tested in a different way by the Jayhawks, who will look to take them off of the dribble continuously and utilize their quickness and athleticism. The Cardinal have to do a good job of containing them on defense while keeping them off of the glass as well. If Randle can score at his regular rate against a tough Jayhawks’ defense and Powell bounces back, the Cardinal could keep this run alive.
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