Nothing but net with Nick

Kansas and Michigan started cold, but they’re on fire now

Remember last year’s Sweet 16 when Trey Burke pulled up on Kansas’ Kevin Young from 35-feet out and drained a cold-blooded 3-pointer to send his Michigan team and Kansas to overtime? It was arguably the shot of the tournament in arguably the game of the tournament, where Burke’s Wolverines edged the Jayhawks 87-85.

Both teams were led by superstars who went pro or graduated at the end of the season. And early on in this season, it showed.

Michigan stumbled out of the gates to a 6-4 record while falling out of the Top 25, including an embarrassing loss to Charlotte on Nov. 24.

Kansas, meanwhile, had landed arguably the most hyped high school player in the country since LeBron James, Andrew Wiggins, in the offseason. Expectations were through the roof in the basketball-crazy town of Lawrence, Kan.

But after Wiggins struggled to score in some games and the Jayhawks lost three in a four-game stretch from Nov. 29-Dec.10, people became wary of Kansas and almost wrote them off.

There’s a funny thing about basketball, however. It’s a long season, and by no means is any team ever out of it in November and December.

Fast forward to right now, and the best teams in the two best conferences in the country are undoubtedly Michigan and Kansas.

As of Wednesday, Michigan had won nine in a row with quality victories coming on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan State, two extremely tough venues. Furthermore, the Wolverines knocked around No. 14 Iowa at home to build perhaps the best conference resume in the country.

Burke is now the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz, but a new Wolverine has boomed onto the scene and put himself in the National Player of the Year conversation. It’s sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, who has as filthy of an all-around game as any player in the country.

Last year, the 6-foot-6 Canadian hung around the arc and was more of a shooting threat for Michigan. In this nine game stretch, he’s been scoring by getting the basket as well as connecting from deep. He’s averaging 18.7 points-per-game in those nine contests, and he has hit clutch shot after clutch shot. If you don’t believe me, ask a Michigan State or ‘Sconnie fan.

Kansas has won six straight with four of them coming against ranked teams.

For the Jayhawks, it has been a freshman who has become the talk of college basketball, but his name is not Andrew Wiggins. Seven-foot center Joel Embiid has as much raw talent as any player in basketball right now, and in my opinion, that’s including the NBA. He is finally starting to tap that potential.

In a game against Oklahoma State on Jan. 21, he had eight blocks and swatted one of the best players in college basketball, Marcus Smart, numerous times. His leaping ability is through the roof, and his turnaround jump shot is improving every game. If he can hit that shot consistently, he will be one heck of a player.

Saturday night, Wiggins poured in 27 points. He’s shown he’s capable of living up to all the hype, and if he and Embiid ever play an A-game on the same night (it hasn’t happened yet), Kansas will be darn near unstoppable.

The Jayhawks and Wolverines played one epic game last March. If both teams continue their torrid play as of late, they could give the college hoops world another great game in March, except it could be the Final Four instead of the Sweet 16.