Behind dominance of Udoka Azubuike, Kansas should be NCAA Tournament favorite

With the way Udoka Azubuike played for Kansas vs. Baylor, there isn’t a team in college that can stop the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.

Udoka Azubuike was unstoppable for Kansas in the win vs. then-No. 1 Baylor on Saturday. If he plays like this the rest of the way, the Jayhawks will be cutting the nets down as NCAA Tournament champions.

Azubuike looked like Wilt Chamberlain in the 66-63 win over Baylor who had won a Big 12 record 23 straight conference games. Azubuike finished with 23 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, a significant improvement from his six points and 11 rebounds in the loss to Baylor in Lawrence earlier this year.

Baylor had no answer for the big man who was bolstered by an improved game plan by Kansas head coach Bill Self who was able to design plays to get the ball in Azubuike’s hands and let him go to work. He dominated and there is no answer around college basketball to limit him when he’s on and the scheme works.

“When teammates see the chance to pass the ball or throw the lob to me, when I’m ready, I’m always going to catch the lobs,” Azubuike said. via The Athletic. “You can throw it anywhere around the rim, I’ll go get it.”

Kansas counterattacked Baylor’s tendency to send backside help when Azubuike got the ball. Baylor wanted to prevent him from dunking, which fuels him and his teammates. It worked for Baylor then but it didn’t work on Saturday.

“He was great,” Self said, via ESPN. “They did such a great job winning the first time because we had nothing from a scheme standpoint to help him, and today we were able to fill the ball over the top quite a bit. That’s about as well overall as I’ve seen him play. He was terrific.”

A rubber match could be in the works for Baylor and Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament Finals provided neither team slips up in the earlier rounds. Just like the rematch, the rubber match likely will be one of the best games of the year and likely will determine who is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite being behind Baylor in the polls for the last five weeks, Kansas has played as well as any team in America since losing to Scott Drew’s Bears. They used that loss as fuel to motivate them through the rest of their Big 12 opponents. Azubuike and Devon Dotson have been the top duo in college basketball this year but it’s the former who is the key to Kansas cutting down the nets.

And that’s a backward philosophy when it comes to March Madness when it’s typically the point guards, and veteran point guards at that, who are often cited as the most important pieces for a run in the tournament. That old adage isn’t wrong, but the key for Kansas the rest of the way is making sure those performances by Azubuike vs. Baylor are the norm, not the outlier.

As effective as he is as a rim and lane protector, Azubuike has to be more assertive on offense at times. Either he has to take the initiative or Kansas has to make it a bigger priority to feed the 7-foot, 270-pounder from Nigeria.

Three out of the last eight games have seen Azubuike finish with six, five and six points in wins vs. West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, respectively. In total, Azubuike has seven games when he’s finished in single-digit points scored. He is an efficient scorer, making 74 percent of his field goals, but at times, the field goal attempts haven’t been enough.

It hasn’t been a large concern with Kansas winning and winning comfortably in most games, but to achieve their ultimate goal of hanging another banner in Allen Fieldhouse, the big man needs more shots.

When he’s on, he’s unstoppable. When he’s a rim protector and gobbling up rebounds, he’s still an effective player, but he’s not the world-beater he can be and what Kansas needs.

With Kansas having the blueprint to unleashing Azubuike, don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks don’t lose again this year en route to cutting the nets down in Atlanta on April 6.

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