The Kansas Jayhawks were finally able to get over that Elite Eight hurdle and make it back to a Final Four. They had fallen in the regional final in each of the last two seasons, and hadn’t been to a Final Four since 2011-12. The Jayhawks were able to hold off the Duke Blue Devils in overtime, thanks in large part to sophomore Malik Newman.
Kansas Jayhawk Malik Newman has been March Madness’ Best Player
Malik Newman has been the best player in this year’s NCAA tournament. While March Madness is always filled with feel-good stories and great moments, it is Newman that has shined brightest. Neither Newman’s path to Kansas, nor his time in Lawrence, have been smooth sailing, but he has stepped his game up when Kansas has needed it the most.
Newman was a highly touted five star recruit when he signed with Mississippi State out of high school. The Jackson, MS native was looked at as the savior of a down trodden Bulldog basketball program. He started 22 of the 29 games he played in Starkville, averaging 11.3 points per game. He was part of Coach Ben Howland’s rebuild project, and in hind sight may have had too much pressure put on his shoulders. The instate kid, trying to lead a revival of the state school. He being looked at to do so as a freshman surrounded by other young players. After a horrendous start to SEC play, the Bulldogs showed signs of progress winning five of their last eight conferences games.
Despite being the local kid, and a superstar talent, Malik Newman just never seemed to fit at Mississippi State. Newman was regarded as a likely one and done player coming out of high school. However, struggles as a freshman stunted that potential. Newman did declare for the NBA draft after his year as a Bulldog, but after getting feedback from the league he decided to transfer and continue to improve is game at the college level.
“I can’t lie, I was playing at times with a sense of worrying about making a mistake, and that’s not the way I need to be playing.” Newman said about his time in Starkville.
Coach Bill Self and Kansas recruited Newman out of high school before he chose to stay home. Once Newman was available as a transfer, the Jayhawks were immediately back on his radar. He sat out last season due to transfer rules, but was able to improve his game by facing current teammate Devonte’ Graham and former Jayhawk Frank Mason III every day in practice. This allowed him to compete with high level back court players, and learn the system during the year he sat out. With Mason graduating after last season, Newman was looked at to team up with Graham and lead the Jayhawks.
Coach Self has lamented Newman’s inconsistency at times this season. The talent is unquestioned, but his focus wasn’t always where it needed to be. After scoring in double figures his first six games this season, Newman then hit hard times. Newman scored nine points or fewer in eight of the next twelve contests.
However, inconsistency led to Coach Self moving him to the bench for a few games. Trying to change things up for Newman, and hoping Newman could provide a scoring punch off the bench. The sophomore scored eleven or more points in nine of the last 13 Big 12 games. This includes three 20 point games. Kansas finished the regular season strong and won its 14th straight Big 12 title. For the season, Newman is averaging 14 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists a contest.
Newman has taken his game to another level since the start of the Big 12 tournament. Postseason basketball definitely brings out the best in him. He exploded in the conference tournament, averaging 24 points a game. The Jayhawks cruised to the tournament title with three consecutive double-digit wins. After a modest ten points in the opener against Penn, Newman scored 28 in a round of 32 victory over Seton Hall. His 17 points over Clemson in the sweet 16 are more impressive by the way he scored them. The Tigers were coming off a demolishing of Auburn in which they suffocating their guards with tight defense. However, they could not keep Newman in front of them, and he lived in the paint.
In the Elite Eight against Duke, Malik Newman had a transcendent performance. His career high 32 points carried Kansas to an overtime victory. Newman made five threes, and scored all 13 of his team’s points in overtime. He also chipped in seven rebounds and two assists for good measure. His ability to drive to the basket and finish, coupled with an ever improving outside shot make him a handful for any defense.
Cutting The Nets
Kansas has already won a few titles this season. They have both the Big 12 regular season and tournament crowns, as well as being midwest regional champions. Now the Kansas Jayhawks are back in the Final Four and will match-up with the Villanova Wildcats in one of the semi-finals.
Coach Bill Self’s program has a pedigree of winning. They will look to get him his second national title this weekend. If Malik Newman can keep playing at his current level, odds are good that Kansas can cut down the nets.
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