Omaha, Neb. — In the first round, it was upset-minded 16 seed Penn. In the second, it was monster power forward Angel Delgado.
It's true that things are supposed to get harder as the NCAA Tournament moves along. And that may still prove to be the case for top-seeded Kansas.
But even if Friday's Sweet 16 showdown with fifth-seeded Clemson turns out to be a duel to the death, the Jayhawks figure to be much more comfortable with this matchup than the two that got them here.
The reason? Clemson's strengths match up quite well with those of the Jayhawks.
“(Their success) has a lot to do with their guards, kind of like us,” said KU point guard Devonte' Graham. “We've just got to contain them, try to keep them out of the paint, making them take tough, contested jumpers and keep them off the glass and out of transition.”
No one would be surprised if similar words were seen scribbled onto the white board in the Clemson locker room. And that's what makes this matchup so intriguing.
The Jayhawks (29-7) have relied heavily on their five-man backcourt rotation all season and they'll need them to play well in this one to move on.
The specifics of each attack, of course, are not exactly the same. And Clemson's players pointed that out clearly on Thursday.
“They can shoot the ball really well,” said Clemson junior Marcquise Reed. “Just their ability to shoot the 3 and finish at the rim. We like going up against good guards. We like matchups like this. But this is something brand new. I think we have the best backcourt in the ACC and they have a pretty good backcourt. But the ACC and the Big 12, it's different basketball.”
Drinking it in
Whether the Jayhawks are down to their final game or win the next four, the end is coming for KU seniors Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk and this exact version of the Kansas basketball program is on borrowed time.
Because of that, Graham said he was trying to spend a few extra minutes each day soaking up everything about the experience while remaining focused on the task at hand.
“It's just a reality that I could have one day left or I could have 10 or 11,” Graham said. “Either way, it's going to come to an end in the next two weeks and it's just something you've got to deal with.
“Coach talked to us the other day: We want to keep being together as long as we can, have three or four more film sessions and keep practicing and keep traveling. So just trying to take it one day at a time and enjoy the guys because I know it's going to end soon.”
Graham feels 'great'
Despite his heavy usage all season — Graham now owns the KU record for minutes played in a single season — the KU point guard said he felt as good as he had in a while heading into the clash with Clemson.
“I do feel pretty good for the minutes that I've been playing,” he said. “My body feels great. We do a good job of getting recovery, so I feel great.”
Asked if he was aware of that he owned the record — Graham's 1,355 minutes this season surpassed Danny Manning's total of 1,336 in 1987-88 — Graham said he was unaware.
While he can't catch Manning's career total of 4,961 minutes played, he has locked up second all-time, moving ahead of former teammate Frank Mason III in last weekend's win over Seton Hall.
“Oh yeah,” Graham asked. “Yeahhh. Setting records, man!”
Svi for 3
KU guard Svi Mykhailiuk is just four 3-point makes shy of tying Kirk Hinrich for fourth place on KU's career 3-point shooting list. But more importantly, the senior from Ukraine needs just two 3-pointers to break Terry Brown's record for most 3-pointers in a single season.
Mykhailiuk enters KU's Sweet 16 matchup with 110 3s this season and 232 for his career.
Graham, with 287 career triples, already has locked up second place on the career 3-point list — behind Jeff Boschee's 338 — and the senior point guard from Raleigh, N.C., has 101 for the season, marking the first time in KU history that teammates have topped the century mark in the same season.
As a team, KU's 361 3-pointers this season thrashed the old record of 318 set by last year's squad. The 2015-16 team ranks third, with 304, marking three consecutive seasons that Self's teams set the record for shots made behind the arc.
Big 12 pride
A big topic during Thursday's media sessions was whether the Jayhawks would be rooting for the three other Big 12 teams remaining in this year's NCAA Tournament — specifically ninth-seeded Kansas State.
Without hesitation, the answer was always yes.
“I'll definitely watch the game, probably root for them,” Graham said. “I just want to see the Big 12 do good unless we're playing against them. It's kind of like a brotherhood at the end of the day.”
Added KU coach Bill Self: “Even if we're watching film, we'll have two or three TVs on, so we'll follow that (K-State) game... In order to probably get the recognition that the year deserves from the league, you need to perform well in the tournament. And hopefully our four teams will play well this weekend to kind of solidify what we already know, that it's an unbelievable basketball league.”