Self pleased with KU’s No. 2 seed despite tough NCAA regional draw

Kansas head coach Bill Self smiles as he walks past a television camera following the NCAA tournament selection show, Sunday, March 16, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas, a No. 2 seed in the South Regional, will face No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky on Friday in St. Louis.

Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self can make a case for the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional being the toughest of all four in the upcoming Big Dance.

“Not to get ahead of ourselves at all,” Self said after it was revealed his No. 2-seeded Jayhawks would meet No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky in a South Regional opener at 3:10 p.m. Friday in St. Louis, “but in our regional, you’ve got the best team in the country (No. 1 seed Florida).

“You’ve got a team that four weeks ago was thought to be the best team in the country (No. 3 seed Syracuse). You’ve got a team in (No. 4 seed) UCLA that’s one of the hottest teams in the country. You could make a case that if everybody in our regional plays to their ceiling, our regional could be as good as anybody’s. But you just want to win two games this weekend. That’s the focus.”

If KU (24-9) defeats Eastern Kentucky (24-9) of the Ohio Valley Conference, it would meet either No. 7 New Mexico or No. 10 Stanford at a yet-to-be-determined time Sunday. KU upended New Mexico, 80-63, on Dec. 14 in Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Two victories would mean a Sweet 16 game against Ohio State, Dayton, Syracuse or Western Michigan on Thursday, March 27, in Memphis, Tenn.

Self thought New Mexico (27-6) would land better than a 7 seed.

“They beat San Diego State in their tournament on a neutral floor, and San Diego State is a No. 4 seed, and we saw how good San Diego State was,” Self said of an S.D. State team that defeated KU, 61-57, on Jan. 5, in Allen Fieldhouse.

“We played well against them (New Mexico) and made shots in Sprint Center, and their guard, (Hugh) Greenwood, was playing with a broken hand then, and their big kid (Alex Kirk) got two quick fouls in the first three minutes, which kind of changed things. We were fortunate.

“I hope we have an opportunity to advance because whoever we play, Stanford (21-12) or New Mexico, would be obviously a very tough opponent. But our focus just needs to be on Eastern Kentucky and defending the three-point line.”

Eastern Kentucky has made 303 of 776 threes (39 percent) this season. The Colonels’ opponents have made 204 of 570 for 35.8 percent.

“They’re going to play four starters that all shoot threes. They’re a lot like Iowa State in that regard,” Self said. “They stretch it.”

Self on Sunday was not surprised the Jayhawks landed a 2 seed.

“I thought we were really close to being a 1 seed, too, because of the way things played out and our RPI (3) and our BPI (5). We had 12 wins against the top 50, where some of the other teams they were considering had five or six,” Self said.

“I think that Virginia obviously deserved it (1 seed) because they won today (over Duke in ACC final), but if things had happened a little bit differently today, maybe we’d have been in consideration. I’m really happy that we’re on the No. 2 line, because I thought there was a chance we could move to a No. 3.”

Regarding playing in St. Louis, Self said it’s going to be a wild weekend with Wichita State and Kansas State also opening the NCAAs in Scottrade Center.

“That will be one of the hottest tickets ever for the first two rounds because K-State, Kentucky, Wichita State and us … I mean, it will be hard to get tickets,” Self said. “Our fans need to be creative in figuring out a way.

“Hopefully our league will definitely pull for each other, and our state will pull for each other, but it’ll be interesting because you’ve got Wichita State, who will travel, K-State, who will travel. We’ll travel great, and then you’ve got the Big Blue Nation (Kentucky) that travels as well or better than anybody.”

SMU snubbed: Former KU coach Larry Brown’s SMU team was denied despite its 23-9 record and No. 25 ranking in the AP poll.

“I feel bad for him because I know what a great season they had, how well they’ve done and how they’ve revived that program. Certainly, it’s very disappointing,” Self said.

“I can’t believe it. I talked to coach this morning, and he was confident. He wasn’t cocky by any stretch, but he was confident they’d get in, and we talked about first-round matchups.”

In fact, Brown told Self the committee would probably match Brown against his alma mater, North Carolina. The final game revealed on CBS’ Selection Sunday show was the UNC game. The opponent that popped up on the screen was Providence, not SMU, meaning the Mustangs were out.

“I forgot Providence got the automatic bid, so when it all played out going into the last deal (slot on CBS bracket), I said (North) Carolina is a No. 6, SMU is a No. 11 because that’s what coach told me this morning. And I thought that, and then of course Providence got the automatic bid, so they were out.”

Tulsa is 13 seed: Former KU great Danny Manning’s Tulsa team received a 13 seed and will meet 4 seed UCLA in a second-round game Friday in San Diego.

“I’m very happy for Danny because he has the automatic bid (in Conference USA), and that was cool. Tulsa and UCLA have an unbelievable first-round history going back to Tubby (Smith) at Tulsa, so it should be exciting,” Self said.

Tubby Smith’s Golden Hurricane beat UCLA in the first round in 1994.

Self on the status of injured center Joel Embiid: “It’s the same. He feels better. All the medical staff has been communicating, and (they say) the same thing. For me to be optimistic about this weekend would not be an accurate statement, although I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I don’t feel optimistic about it. But I do, along with the medical staff and based on how he’s rehabbing, I do feel optimistic about next week.”

 Asked if he’d rule out Embiid for this weekend, Self said: “I could rule him out if he’s not able to practice, let’s say, by Wednesday or something like that. There’s no reason for me to do that now because that’s not the case. It’s all symptom-related and how he responds. He’s responding very favorably right now, so we’ll just wait and see.”

Eyes on the competition: The Jayhawks watched the Selection Sunday show on TV in Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think the bracket is loaded on our side. We’ve got a lot of good teams, a lot of great competition,” sophomore Jamari Traylor said. “It’ll be a challenge to go out there and win games. It’s definitely loaded; 1, 2, 3, 4, every seed is a power team. We will have to be ready to play.”

This, that: KU will hold a practice that is open to the public from 2:15 to 2:55 p.m. Thursday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. … KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend was an assistant at Eastern Kentucky in 1997-98. “I had a great time there. They were basketball-crazy,” Townsend said. “We had a lot of fun in my one year there.” He left EKU to become an assistant at Michigan the following season. … KU has received its 25th straight NCAA bid, longest streak in the country. … KU’s first-round game will be on TBS. … KU and EKU have played once previously. KU won, 79-65, on Dec. 5, 1970, in Allen.