The last underdog left in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket will try to take down one of college basketball's titans today. That's the narrative of Kansas vs. VCU, which will tip at 2 p.m. Eastern from San Antonio, according to the 2011 NCAA Tournament schedule. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr will have the call on CBS; is there any chance they'll be announcing a VCU victory?
Kansas finally played a complete game from tip to buzzer against Richmond in the Sweet 16. After struggling at times with both Boston University and Illinois, the Jayhawks wasted no time burying the Spiders, putting together a first half of offense and defense that put them up 41-22 at halftime and allowed them to do little more than guard the three-point line in the second period. (Richmond shot 33.6% from the field for the game, and made four of 26 threes.) When Kansas gets that sort of defense out of its sometimes streaky players, and the sort of bench scoring Thomas Robinson et al. provided — 31 points against the Spiders — the Jayhawks are the nation's best team. It's unlikely that they put forth another effort as good as their demolition of Richmond, but the Jayhawks are certainly the current heavy favorite to both move on to the Final Four out of the Southwest Regional and win the national championship. Anything less would be a bit shocking and very disappointing to the Jayhawks faithful.
But what has VCU been doing this NCAA Tournament, if not disappointing bigger schools and shocking the pundit class? Shaka Smart's Rams play smart when they absolutely have to and play the "havoc" style that produces turnovers and transition points for the rest of the 40 minutes. Joey Rodriguez has been a superb distributor in the NCAA Tournament, notching double-digit assists against Purdue and Florida State; Bradford Burgess had 49 points over those two games, and has been lethal from behind the arc. If those two and Jamie Skeen can play well enough to keep it close, Kansas' reputation for tightness and inconsistency could help the Rams make the Final Four. But playing "well enough" may require clearing a new bar of competency for VCU, which hasn't played a team two-thirds as talented as this Jayhawks squad is.
Star Watch: Brady Morningstar is Kansas' leading scorer not named Markieff or Marcus Morris in this NCAA Tournament, and has made eight threes over three games. If he heats up from behind the arc, the Jayhawks' margin of error elsewhere gets a little bit wider.
Prediction: VCU thrills for the first half and is no worse than four points off the lead at halftime. Then Kansas bears down and grinds out possessions at both ends, pulling away for a 73-61 victory.
More Reading: SB Nation's Kansas blog Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City have plenty more on the Jayhawks' Final Four bid, while SB Nation DC has been following VCU's NCAA Tournament run. And check out the SB Nation NCAA Tournament hub for more on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.