Kansas basketball lands No. 1 seed in Midwest region

Jayhawks open NCAA Tournament play Thursday vs. No. 16 seed Penn in Wichita

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a turnover by Kansas State during the first half, Friday, March 9, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The path that led them there may have been slightly different than in seasons past. But it took them to the same place.

The Kansas Jayhawks will enter next week’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed for the third season in a row and the eighth time in Bill Self’s 15 years leading the program.

That much was revealed Sunday evening, during the NCAA Touranment Selection Show on TBS, and came on the heels of Kansas winning an NCAA-record 14th consecutive regular season conference title and backing that up by winning three games in three days in Kansas City, Mo., to claim the 2018 Big 12 tournament title, as well.

“I really like our team right now, after this past weekend,” Self said. “It’s been an up and down season. I think we’re on an uptick right now. We’ve had some good teams going into the tournament and I think this is one of those teams.”

The Jayhawks (27-7) will head to Wichita next week to begin their run in this year’s Big Dance and they will face 16th-seeded Penn (24-8) in their first game on Thursday.

“We’re happy that we get to stay close to home in Wichita,” Self said in an interview with TBS on Sunday evening. “And if we’re successful we get to stay close to home in Omaha.”

The Jayhawks and Quakers will tip off at 1 p.m. on TBS.

Already well versed in record-setting streaks, KU’s inclusion in the 2018 field puts the Jayhawks in the tournament for an NCAA-record 29th consecutive season.

The Jayhawks, who will play in the Midwest regional, joined Virginia (South), Villanova (East) and Xavier (West) as No. 1 seeds in this year’s bracket and likely landed in the Midwest, which runs through Omaha on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio as a result of their strong showing this weekend in the Big 12 tournament combined with Xavier’s loss to Providence in the Big East tourney.

Asked Saturday night, after his team’s 81-70 victory over West Virginia, about the process of waiting for their fate to be revealed, Self explained that the waiting game at Kansas is a much more relaxing journey.

“It’s a different feel here,” Self said. “At Tulsa, I remember one of our players, when we were getting ready to watch, saying, ‘OK, just not 8 or 9 in the East,’ because that’s when Duke was 32-0. And the very first deal came up and (read) “Tulsa, 8 in the East.” So, it’s a little bit different now because, (back then) there was that anticipation and that excitement to get in the tournament. We’ve known for a while that we were going to be in the tournament, but certainly (it’s) exciting to see the pairings and who we’re matched up against.”

Now, it’s time for the Jayhawks to flip the switch from Big 12 champs to national title contenders.

“We’ve been good in the tournament and we’ve been not so good in the tournament,” Self said. “We need to build off of this (WVU victory/Big 12 tourney title) and go play our best ball and not be giddy thinking we’ve arrived because the bottom line, that game could’ve ended so differently if we hadn’t made some really hard shots.”

Self said his sole focus as the 2018 bracket was revealed Sunday evening on TBS was on the first-two game tournament the Jayhawks will have to win to advance.

“I thought it was exciting watching how you guys unveiled it,” he told TBS host Ernie Johnson. “I was looking at the 1-16, 8 and 9. That was all that I was focused on.”

Stay in touch with KUsports.com throughout the night for more on KU’s road in the NCAA Tournament and be sure to pick up a copy of our special edition NCAA Tournament section in Monday’s Journal-World.