Kansas City, Mo. — Bill Self, who played in four Big Eight Tournaments in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, grew up as a fan of the event that precedes the all-important NCAAs.
“I like it,” Self, coach of the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks and former Oklahoma State point guard, said of the conference carnival, which has upgraded to the shiny, new Sprint Center.
“My favorite part of it being in Kansas City is, it is a big deal to Kansas City,” Self added of the 2011 Big 12 tourney. “How many places will you go where you’ll get the crowd you’ll get in this particular setting? Last year when we played K-State in the finals (in K.C.), it was an unbelievable setting. I think the biggest thing is the interest level here is so great.”
How important is the Big 12 tourney to KU’s fan base and even the Jayhawk coaches and players?
“Obviously to me, the conference tournament isn’t as important as the regular season,” said Self. He has led KU to seven straight regular-season conference crowns. “Everybody would agree, unless you are in a one-bid league. What it does is gives everybody hope, everybody excitement, everybody incentive to play.”
KU today meets Oklahoma State in an 11:30 a.m. Big 12 quarterfinal in Sprint Center. A victory would mean a spot in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinals against either Colorado or Kansas State. The title game is 5 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s not the most important thing as far as from our standpoint,” Self said, noting the regular-season crown, attained over a two-month span, is more impressive than a weekend in K.C., Dallas, Oklahoma City or wherever the tourney might be.
“The NCAA Tournament ... this doesn’t compare to that. Still, it is our league and our conference championship. Anytime you lace ’em up, you want to try to be the best. Any time you play, you might as well play to win.
“We are playing in Kansas City against our rivals that would like nothing more to beat us to enhance their situation. The biggest thing, going into the NCAA Tournament, we’d like to get a little bit better, play against quality competition and certainly have to grind out some games. I think that would be the best thing for us.”
Self emphasized one of the best things about this tourney is it ends on Saturday. Prior to last season, the tourney ended on a Sunday, way too close to the beginning of the Big Dance.
“No matter what, you are (now) off Sunday. Everybody will take Sunday off,” Self said. “You’ve got time to get scouting report (on first NCAA foe) and all that stuff done, so it doesn’t affect next week’s preparation.
“If you play Sunday and turn around and have to leave Tuesday (for a Thursday NCAA game), I’d say, yes, that could be a negative. The way the league is shaped, it’s not a negative any longer.”
Self said his team enters the 2011 Big 12 postseason event focused on winning the crown — not losing early, resting up and getting re-energized for the NCAAs.
“If you are going to play, you might as well do everything you can to win,” said Self. “When I was at Illinois, we lost in the second round, which was on a Saturday back then. That helped our team rather than playing on a Sunday. But in this situation, it’s our goal to go win the tournament, like it is every other team’s goal, too.”
KU junior Marcus Morris said the Jayhawks wouldn’t overlook anybody, but insisted it’d be nice to have rematches against the teams that beat KU in a 29-2 regular season.
“If we win our first game and K-State wins, we’d get that rematch,” Morris said. “If we win that game, I’m hoping Texas wins so we get that rematch. Definitely if we get Texas, I think it’d be one of the best games we play all year because we’d be so ready to play after what happened the first game this season (74-63 loss in Allen).
“K-State the same way,” he added of KU’s 84-68 loss in Manhattan. “I felt we overlooked those guys, and they are getting better.”
As far as the strength of the Big 12 this year, many pundits figure six squads will receive NCAA bids compared to seven of a year ago.
“Some people have to do some work (but) there’s opportunity for teams,” Self said. “I don’t want to say our league is better than last year. I thought last year’s league was very strong, but look at it, can K-State get to the Final Four? Yes. Can Texas get to the Final Four? Yes.
“Are there are other teams that can make great runs in the tournament and have a chance to play the second and third weekend (in NCAAs)? Yes, there are. You’ve got to get hot at the right time. You can say that about any league in the country. I would put our league against anyone’s.”
Morris honored: KU junior Marcus Morris on Wednesday was named first-team all-district by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Players in 24 districts are now eligible for the State Farm Coaches’ Division I All-America teams, to be announced on Saturday, April 2, in Houston. Morris was joined on the District Eight first team by Jordan Hamilton, Texas; Alec Burks, Colorado; LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor; and Tristan Thompson, Texas. Markieff Morris was named to the second team.
Players are ready: Kansas seniors Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed and junior Marcus Morris are enthused about playing in the tourney.
“It gives you momentum into the NCAA Tournament if you play well,” Morningstar said. “It gives you good thoughts going into Selection Sunday and first-round games. It’s a big weekend for us coming up.”
“Obviously, it’s close to Lawrence. Usually, it’s a lot of Crimson and Blue over there,” Reed said. “It’s nice to have our fans be able to watch us.”
“The fans who come ... we already have the best fans in the country. They are all going to be there,” Morris said. “The fans support us like a sixth man. It’s the best thing.”
Sizzling: KU hit 56.3 percent the first half and 54.4 for the game in a 92-65 victory over Oklahoma State on Feb. 21 in Allen.
“Shoot, I don’t want to say that. I don’t want say that and jinx myself,” Page said, when said the odds may be against KU shoooting that well again. “They were shooting unbelievable in Lawrence. We’re just going to try to do what we can to stop that.”
Physical play: OSU forward Matt Pilgrim had an ice pack taped to his lower-left back in the locker room after Wednesday’s victory over Nebraska.
Asked how he had gotten hurt, he said: “From that 300-pound monster (Nebraska Andre Almeida) that I just pushed. That’s a big guy. They’ve got (Jorge Brian) Diaz. It’s like they’ve got a rotation that you just pound and pound and pound. It’s fun, but it’s just funny at the same time.”
Pilgrim said he’s not beaten down.
“We’ve got 24 hours. I’ve got ice and Gatorade and a room,” he said.