Dallas natives Marcus Garrett, of Kansas, and Elijah Thomas, of Clemson, remember childhood battles differently
Omaha, Neb. — It might not have much bearing on Friday's battle on the court, but Clemson forward Elijah Thomas and Kansas guard Marcus Garrett have crossed paths plenty of times in the past.
While the two are not likely to face each other directly at CenturyLink Center during Friday's Sweet 16 battle between the Jayhawks and Tigers, the Texas natives on Thursday engaged in a playful memory battle during media day festivities inside each team's locker room.
“Oh yeah,” said Dallas native Thomas, when asked if he knew Garrett. “Marcus Garrett is like my little bro. He's from the same neighborhood I'm from. We played against each other in (AAU). If you all ever interview him, you all have to ask him about how my biddy basketball team used to put beat-downs on him like it was nothing. I'm talking about 40 pieces, 50 pieces. We used to smack Garrett and them around.”
While Garrett, who also grew up in Dallas, admitted to taking the losses, he wanted to clarify a couple of key things about Thomas' claims.
For one, those victories always came with Garrett and his friends playing up a couple of grade levels against bigger, stronger teams that Thomas played for. For two, Thomas did not exactly correctly recall the final scores.
“They did beat us by 30 one game because one of our players didn't show up,” Garrett admitted. “But, nah, not 50. They weren't even scoring 50 points.”
Beyond that, Garrett said things might have been different if Thomas' team had not tried to hard to take Garrett out of the games completely.
“I mean, they used to run a Box and 1 on me the whole game,” Garrett said. “Every time we played them. That team was much older and bigger than my team. We actually used to beat every team but them. They were just much older and they used to trap me the whole game.”
Fast-forward all these years later to today, where the two Dallas products from the same neighborhood are, at least momentarily sharing one of the biggest stages in college basketball and it was clear that the moment meant something to each of them, particularly Thomas.
“That's my little bro. I love him to death,” Thomas added. “I'm really good friends with his family. His mom, his dad, I've known them for a long time so, just seeing him here, it's pretty cool. It's real cool.”
Omaha, Neb. — Although the interview requests from national outlets have not come quite as fast and furious as in years past — perhaps a product of top-seeded Kansas' status as a bit of an underdog to Duke here this week — the Jayhawks remain in position to compete for a spot in the Final Four.
And from there, anything is possible.
Talking earlier this week with Omaha-based sports radio host Nick Bahe — a former KU walk-on and Creighton basketball player — Kansas coach Bill Self was asked if his teams that made the deepest NCAA Tournament during his 15 years at KU had any common denominators that could be looked at as a potential predictor of future success.
“I thought some of the most prepared teams we had maybe came up short,” Self admitted.
“We've only been to two Final Fours in 14 years, so it's not like we're just kicking butt,” Self added. “But we've been to a lot of Sweet 16's. I think this is our 10th one. And quite a few Elite Eights. So we've had some success in the tournament, but we haven't won as many of the biggest games. And that's the next step. That's what we've got to do.”
In order to do that — and the Jayhawks will get that chance on Sunday if they can get by No. 5 seed Clemson at 6:07 p.m. Friday — Self and company will be looking for this year's team to replicate some of the things that the 2008 and 2012 teams brought to the table.
Most notably, that includes things like intelligent play, physical and mental toughness, and, of course, a few breaks along the way.
“Usually the teams that are confident, that are healthy, that are fresh, that have fresh legs, those are the teams that have the best chance to win,” Self said.
On the topic of freshness, Self said Wednesday night upon KU's arrival in Omaha that the Jayhawks were as rested as they have been in months and that sophomore center Udoka Azubuike was back to full speed after a sprained MCL in his left knee limited him substantially in the past couple of weeks.
“There's a lot of teams that get to this time of year and, by nobody's fault, they're limping home,” Self said. “And we've had it, too. You're beat up, you lost a key guy, you haven't been able to practice. … Usually teams that can catch some breaks and stay healthy and teams you don't have to crush throughout the year and have fresh legs, those are the teams that have the best chance.”
These Jayhawks have been taxed in many ways throughout the 2017-18 season. But they always have seemed to be in step with what Self demands and requires. And, as with any team, winning games at this time of the year tends to be a big time cure for all types of exhaustion.
VICE Sports recently caught up with former Jayhawk Billy Preston to talk about what could have been and what never was
When he arrived in Lawrence last summer, the idea for then-Kansas freshman Billy Preston was to be entering the best time of his lone season at KU right about now.
Preston, a five-star prospect and projected one-and-done forward from Oak Hill Academy, was supposed to be the next big thing for the Jayhawks, a player with such impressive physical tools and an NBA-ready frame, that he would make a monster splash with Kansas during the 2017-18 season.
But it never materialized. After playing in two games with the team during its summer exhibition tour in Italy, Preston suited up for real just one time as a Jayhawk. And even that did not count.
During the Border War showdown for hurricane relief against Missouri at Sprint Center last October, the 6-foot-10 forward scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes during a KU victory.
No one knew it at the time, but that unofficial scrimmage marked the official end of Preston's KU career.
After playing 31 minutes in KU's two regularly scheduled exhibition games, Preston missed the season opener for a violation of team rules and then missed the next 17 games while KU, and later the NCAA, sought a clearer financial picture of a car Preston was driving during a one-car, non-injury accident.
KU coach Bill Self held Preston out of competition until some sort of re-instatement ruling came down, but it never came.
And on Jan. 20, Preston left Kansas to start his professional career overseas as a way to prepare for this summer's NBA Draft without ever recording a single official statistic. Even his stint in Bosnia was short-lived.
There's no doubt that adding Preston to this KU roster would have made for interesting basketball. But it's hard to argue that the Jayhawks would have been that much better off with him, at least in terms of the big picture.
After all, KU still won the Big 12, still won the Big 12 tournament, earned yet another No. 1 seed and finds itself back in the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row and 10th time in Self's 15 years at Kansas.
Would Preston have made all of those achievements easier? Perhaps. Would his presence, after almost an entire season of playing and learning under Self, have made the Jayhawks an even bigger threat to reach the Final Four and contend for the 2018 national title? Probably.
But there are no guarantees about anything and the only thing we know for sure about Preston during his time with the Jayhawks is that adding him into the rotation would have changed the look of this team, for better or worse.
Regardless of what the Jayhawks do the rest of the season, the Billy Preston saga is one that will go into the history books under the section titled, “What could have been.”
No one will ever know for sure how KU would have fared or what Preston's draft status would have been had he been able to play at Kansas for a year or two under Self. For what it's worth, Preston has not appeared on any of the mainstream mock drafts — either in round 1 or 2 — for months.
This year's NBA Draft combine certainly could put him back on the NBA radar. And it's hard to picture NBA GMs having forgotten about him completely. But like most of his time at KU, Preston's immediate future remains totally up in the air.
VICE Sports recently caught up with Preston overseas and published this quick look back at the whole ordeal, complete with some interesting and fresh thoughts from Preston about his wild ride.
The video is both short and interesting and worth a watch for KU fans.
Check out the latest segment of Rock Chalk Sports Talk, where Nick Schwerdt and I discuss where KU sits entering this week's Sweet 16 matchup with No. 5 seed Clemson in Omaha.
Are the Tigers as good as they looked against Auburn?
Plus, one the biggest keys for Kansas in its matchup against slow-paced Clemson could be taking care of the ball.
That and much more in this latest episode, including a birthday shout-out for Mr. Schwerdt.
The Kansas men's basketball team began final preparations for its trip north to Omaha this week to take on Clemson in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, with a spot in a third consecutive Elite Eight on the line.
After returning home from Wichita following Saturday night's Round 2 win over Seton Hall, the Jayhawks took Sunday off and went through a light workout and team meetings on Monday before running through a full practice Tuesday afternoon.
KU coach Bill Self, speaking with former KU walk-on Nick Bahe, now a radio talk show host in Omaha, said Tuesday that things looked good for sophomore center Udoka Azubuike heading into Tuesday's practice.
“We'll find out today,” Self told Bahe during a 12-minute segment on Game Time with Nick Bahe. “He took Sunday and Monday off. Others did some things, but he couldn't. But we think he'll be full-speed today and if he's full-speed today and Wednesday and Thursday, only foul trouble and flat-out fatigue will be the only way he's not in the game on Friday.”
Azubuike, of course, is still nursing an injured left knee that popped up two days before the Big 12 tournament and kept Azubuike out of all but three minutes of the Jayhawks' next four games.
The 7-foot center made a full return to the floor against Seton Hall and recorded 10 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes to help Kansas advance.
Self and Bahe, who finished his playing career at Creighton, in Omaha, discussed several other aspects of this year's team and this year's NCAA Tournament during their quick radio reunion, which both opened and ended with Bahe and Self joking about the former guard's cat-like quickness.
“If we had that jet-quick point guard from Omaha from 15 years ago, we'd have a better chance,” Self joked. “It's been a struggle ever since you left. … Even you at half speed is probably quicker than most.”
Self also appeared on Jim Rome's show on Tuesday and had similar thoughts about Azubuike.
“He took yesterday and Sunday off. He’ll be full speed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He’ll start on Friday as long as we don’t have a setback," Self told Rome. "Hopefully I’ll be more worried about foul situations than health, because we are going to need him.
"I think we have to play through him from this point forward, no matter how long it lasts. We have to get some inside baskets.”
Here's a quick look at a few other topics Self discussed on Tuesday:
On returning to Omaha for the fourth time in the NCAA Tournament
“Omaha's a great town and the downtown is nice where we'll stay and I think our fans do enjoy it,” Self began.
“We've been up there, I think this will be our fourth time playing in the tournament up there, and we haven't always been really good. We weren't good the last time we played there (vs. Wichita State in Round 2 in 2015). But hopefully we'll remember the two times prior to that.”
One of those trips, of course, marked the beginning of KU's run to the 2008 national title. Kansas defeated Portland State and UNLV in two games in Omaha before going on to win four more to bring home the title.
The other time Kansas played in Omaha under Self came in 2012, when the Jayhawks knocked off Detroit and survived a second-round scare from Purdue en route to a national runner-up finish in that tournament.
Kansas is 5-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played in Omaha under Self.
On the turning point for the 2017-18 team
“I didn't think we were very good midway through our conference season,” Self began.
“We had our 120-year reunion and Oklahoma State came up here and spanked us pretty good in front of all those (former players). And I think that really turned out to be a blessing for us because I didn't hold back much after that. Our guys were embarrassed. Not that we lost to Oklahoma State. Not that. But you have so many people that come back, alums of 20, 30, 40, 50 years to see their team, their boys, play and that was the best we gave them. I think that that kind of set the tone that this is really unacceptable, which it was. And we got better because of it.
“Lagerald Vick started playing better, Malik Newman's really picked it up, Devonte' Graham's played at a player of the year level all year long and Udoka's continually getting better. So there were some things naturally that took place. But through a couple of tough times we had to get better and the guys really did rally around that.”
On Graham reminding him of Aaron Miles
Although it was nothing new, Self again tossed Graham's name into the ring with some pretty impressive company.
“I think he's the best leader we've ever had here,” Self said. “Aaron Miles may be the best one we've ever had up until now. I loved Aaron, but Devonte's that type of leader plus he's getting you 17 a game and also getting seven and a half assists a game. He's just been fantastic. He's willed us to win a lot of games.
“You don't ever want to put it on a guy saying, 'Hey, go win it.' But much like we have with others, whether it be Frank or whoever, we've leaned on them, but Devonte's probably performed as well as anybody we've had in late-game situations.”
On 16 seed UMBC beating 1 seed Virginia and if that'll happen again
“It's a little bit different now because you don't have four 16 seeds, you have six,” Self explained. “So the way it used to be, you have basically two 15s that are now 16s because we have the play-in games. I'm not saying that makes a big difference, but it could.
“The gap has shrunk. When you have experience and talent, it's obviously the best scenario. But sometimes with a 15 or 16, you've got good players and you've got experience and they're playing with house money and a lot of times you're playing with youth as a 1 seed.”
“I do think the gap has narrowed. I do think it'll happen again. I was really happy for (UMBC coach) Ryan (Odom) because I know Ryan a little bit, and I felt awful for (Virginia coach) Tony (Bennett) because that's something that will be remembered as opposed to the fact that they won the ACC by four games and won their conference tournament. But that's the nature of the business and nobody knows that better than us because we've had some great times, but we've had some heartaches too in the tournament.”
“The tournament can very cruel but it can also be the most rewarding (event). But it'll happen again. It won't be 135 games again before it happens again because the gap has narrowed.”
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If past matchups are any indication of future success, the Kansas Jayhawks could be in for a good time this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, where top-seeded KU (29-7) will face fifth-seeded Clemson (25-9) in the Sweet 16 at 6:07 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink Center.
Win that one, and it's back to the Elite Eight for the Jayhawks, who have seen their season end one game shy of the Final Four in each of the past two years.
But it's not the Jayhawks' history in Elite Eight games that serves as the indicator of how things might go this weekend, rather, KU coach Bill Self's stellar record against ACC teams during his days at Kansas.
Since arriving at KU for the 2003-04 season, Self is 12-2 all-time against current ACC teams. Considering the fact that the Jayhawks will be playing this weekend in a regional that includes nothing but ACC teams as possible opponents — Clemson, Duke and Syracuse — that past success could bode well for the Jayhawks.
Self has led KU into battle against roughly half of the current members of the ACC during his 15 seasons in charge of the Jayhawks. And Clemson is one of the eight teams Self's Jayhawks have not faced in the past 15 years.
In fact, KU and Clemson have never faced one another in a basketball game of any kind.
Self lost to the first ACC team he faced at Kansas — 79-71 to Georgia Tech in overtime of the Elite Eight — and then won five in a row over ACC teams, including a Final Four meeting with North Carolina in 2008, before dropping another game.
That loss, to Duke in the finals of the 2011 Maui Invitational, came in the same season that the Jayhawks finished as the national runners-up to Kentucky, a run that featured victories over ACC teams North Carolina State and North Carolina two days apart in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in St. Louis.
Those wins marked the beginning of KU's current six-game winning streak against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As the overall record suggests, Self's Jayhawks own a winning record against every ACC team they have faced in the past 15 seasons, including a 2-1 mark against Duke and a 1-0 mark against Syracuse, the two teams that will face each other in the other regional semifinal this week in Omaha.
KU's lone victory over the Orange — since Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013 — came earlier this season, when Devonte' Graham dropped 35 points and five assists on Jim Boeheim's squad in a 76-60 victory in Miami.
Here's a quick glance at Self's records against the 7 ACC teams he has faced while at Kansas:
• Boston College, 2-0 (home and home in 2006 and 2008)
• Duke, 2-1 (loss in Maui and two wins in Champions Classic)
• Georgia Tech, 2-1 (Elite Eight loss, New Year's Day win in 2005, regular season win in 2007)
• North Carolina, 3-0 (Final Four win in 2008, Elite Eight win in 2012, 2nd Round NCAA Tournament win in 2013)
• North Carolina State, 1-0 (Sweet 16 win in 2012)
• Syracuse, 1-0 (regular season win in 2017-18 in Miami)
• Wake Forest, 1-0 (Battle for Atlantis victory in Bahamas in 2013)
• Clemson, TBD
So we're down to the Sweet 16, with two No. 11 seeds, two No. 9 seeds and two No. 7 seeds for good measure.
While just two of the tournament's No. 1 and No. 2 seeds remain — Kansas and Villanova on the 1 line and Purdue and Duke on the 2 line — it's certainly anybody's guess as to who will make it out of this weekend and on to the Final Four in San Antonio.
I absolutely love how the bracket has shaken out thus far. For one, upsets are fun and this past weekend was as wild as I can remember. For two, it's a great look for the Big 12 Conference that its top four finishers — in both the regular season and the Big 12 tournament — make up 25 percent of the Sweet 16.
And, finally, I think it's great that the Final Four could end up being something wacky and unexpected like Nevada, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Clemson or it could take on a blue blood, more-traditional look with Kansas or Duke, Kentucky, Villanova and Michigan all advancing.
Of course, it also could wind up being some combination of the two and that's what makes the days ahead so much fun.
Regardless of who is playing who or how this team matches up with that team, there is one reality that every team still standing must deal with at this point — every game from here on out is going to be a war.
Forget the fact that Duke is playing No. 11 Syracuse and is a double-digit favorite. Ask Michigan State how that worked out?
Forget the fact that Loyola-Chicago is a super Cinderella or that Kansas State is playing mighty Kentucky and look at the reality for both teams — Loyola has found a way to win two wild games and there's no reason to think they can't do it a third time. And K-State won its two games without its best scorer and rebounder. With Dean Wade expected back for the KSU-Kentucky game, Bruce Weber's squad has a real shot of reaching the next round or beyond.
We've still got a couple of days before things get going again, but that hasn't stopped anyone from breaking this thing down to the Nth degree.
One of the most popular things for college basketball analysts to do this time of year is to reseed things after each break in the action. Sure, Kansas and Villanova remain as the only 1 seeds left, but does that mean they're the favorites?
Far from it.
So say the folks who setting the betting odds, as well.
According to Bovada.lv, the Jayhawks have just the sixth best odds of winning it all of the 16 teams remaining, at 17/2, with Duke (13/4), Villanova (9/2), Gonzaga (7/1), Kentucky (7/1) and Michigan (8/1) all ahead of them.
As for that whole reseeding thing, that appears to be a little murkier.
Medcalf has the Jayhawks ranked as the 10th best team remaining and Katz lists Kansas as the fourth best team still alive.
Medcalf's picks are based largely off of how the teams played in the first two rounds and not as much their overall body of work.
Bill Self might be approaching his most impressive postseason feat. The Jayhawks are playing a four-guard lineup that works best when Udoka Azubuike is healthy and avoiding foul trouble. That wasn't the case Saturday against Seton Hall, as he was hindered by a sprained MCL and drew his fourth foul with 8:53 to play, but Kansas still beat Angel Delgado and Seton Hall with a strong finish.
On a day when Devonte' Graham finished 1-for-7 from the field, Azubuike played only 22 minutes and still had 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Azubuike changed the game in limited time. And Kansas continues to find a way in challenging circumstances.
Katz, meanwhile, believes that KU's experience has served them well thus far and will continue to do so in the rounds ahead.
The Jayhawks rolled through the Big 12 tournament and haven’t stopped. Penn gave Kansas a game for a spell, but then the second gear took over. Seton Hall certainly pushed the Jayhawks, but Kansas had the look of a champion in the final minutes. Experience matters at this time of the season and the Jayhawks are using theirs to the max.
Time will tell how things shake out and we'll be there every step of the way that the Jayhawks are playing to bring you everything you need from Omaha.
We'll kick start this week's coverage with a new KU Sports Hour podcast this afternoon and then start to breakdown that KU-Clemson matchup, set for 6:07 p.m. Friday on CBS.
So check back with KUsports.com often throughout the week for all of the latest from the Jayhawks' charge toward San Antonio.
And, if you haven't taken our latest quiz yet, check it out and enter to win a $25 gift card.
Quick grades for five aspects of KU’s 83-79 2nd Round NCAA Tournament victory over Seton Hall in Wichita.
Even on a night when leading scorer Devonte' Graham shot 1-of-7 from the floor, the Jayhawks had enough offense to reach the Sweet 16. Malik Newman was terrific, finishing with 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting and the Jayhawks, after starting 3-of-13 from 3-point range, made 6 of their last 8 3-pointers to knock out the Pirates. The Jayhawks, as a team, shot 50 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and got to the free throw line 10 more times than Seton Hall (26-16).
There were a few key stops and the Jayhawks forced Seton Hall into 15 turnovers — many of them coming in the key stretch that opened the game and gave Kansas control — but overall, the Jayhawks had very little answer for Angel Delgado, got beat up inside during the 18 minutes when Udoka Azubuike was not in the game and, according to KU coach Bill Self, did not do a very good job of making Seton Hall play bad at any point in the game. Still, they scrapped out enough key plays and made enough big shots to survive and advance.
Mitch Lightfoot did all he could do but simply was not built to bang bodies with a man so much bigger and stronger than him in Delgado. And Silvio De Sousa too often looked lost on the floor again to play more than four minutes. Luckily for the Jayhawks, Azubuike proved that his injured left knee has made major improvement and he was able to gut out 22 crucial minutes to the tune of 10 points and 7 rebounds, neither number coming anywhere close to illustrating Azubuike's impact on the game.
Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk bounced back from sub-par nights in the opening round with big nights in this one, combing for 44 points to help pace the KU offense. Both players were at their best driving to the rim, which either led to tough buckets inside or trips to the free throw line. Lagerald Vick also had an under-the-radar solid game, finishing 5-of-9 from the floor for 13 points and four rebounds in 33 active minutes. Vick looked turned up all night and really appears to be playing an aggressive brand of basketball on both ends when it counts the most. Marcus Garrett had an off night and Devonte' Graham did, as well, finishing with five times as many turnovers as made shots. But the play of Newman, Mykhailiuk and Vick more than carried the day for the Kansas backcourt and Graham dished nine assists to keep all of them involved.
He started the second half, so Azubuike was only a part-time bench player on Saturday night. But boy were those bench minutes enormous. The big guy helped KU's defense survive Delgado and also gave KU a real threat in the paint on the offensive end. He's not fully recovered from that ailing left knee, but you never would've known that from watching him play. He was aggressive, played hard and attacked the ball and rim whenever possible. Azubuike's play alone earned the bench an A. And, provided all goes as well next week as it did this week with his healing, that likely will be the last time we see him come off the bench for Kansas.
More news and notes from Kansas vs. Seton Hall
- Dominant Dok: Azubuike plays big role to lift Jayhawks past Seton Hall
- Tom Keegan: Nudge in right direction awakens Malik Newman
- Graham survives injury scare, breaks program record for minutes in a season
- Angel Delgado’s historic performance not enough to beat Kansas
- The Keegan Ratings: Malik Newman shoots Kansas into Sweet 16, tops ratings
- KU’s supporting cast pushes Jayhawks past Seton Hall and into Sweet 16
The matchup is set, the second round is now just a day away and we all know that top-seeded Kansas will face No. 8 seed Seton Hall at 6:10 p.m. Saturday on TBS.
So what, exactly, does that mean?
Well, throughout the rest of the day, we'll get an opportunity to find that out, as we get into both locker rooms and ask the players and coaches about the matchup.
But in the meantime — KU's locker room opens around 1:00 and Seton Hall's opens around 2:00 — let's take a quick look at the basics.
Here are three quick reasons to smile and three reasons to sigh from the KU perspective.
We'll have much more throughout the day, but here's a little something to hold you over until the main course.
3 reasons to smile –
1 - I'll be honest, I thought NC State looked like the better matchup for Kansas, both from a stylistic standpoint and because of the fact that KU senior Devonte' Graham knows those guys so well. But that one would've been more of a game of similar styles facing off against one another. In this one, it's a little bit of that size against speed thing that we saw against Texas A&M earlier this season. That's not to say Seton Hall is quite as big as A&M or that KU's quickness advantage will be that pronounced. But I think it's there. Seton Hall has big guards who move heavy in half-court sets and could have a hard time matching up with Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and even Malik Newman and Marcus Garrett. If KU's offense plays at a crisp pace, attacking off the bounce and getting the ball moving, it should give the Pirates problems. That's in the half-court. If KU can get out in transition, that will make the advantage even greater. Even though Seton Hall is also comfortable on the run, they're not quite as fast.
2 - Seton Hall may have just played its best game. Watching courtside, it was clear that the Pirates were playing for their lives and played incredibly hard to advance. The Jayhawks did, too, of course, but the challenge was not quite as great — especially for the KU defense — and there was just something about that Seton Hall-NC State game that looked like it took a greater toll on the players. I'd expect the Jayhawks to put the Pirates in a ton of pick-and-roll situations, both because it's best for Kansas to keep the ball in Graham's hands and let him dictate everything that happens and also because Seton Hall's defense is vulnerable against ball screens.
3 – Throughout the years, Bill Self coached KU teams have been pretty tough to beat on short notice. Self and his coaching staff have always done a fantastic job of quickly coming up with a game plan and, more importantly, communicating it to their players in a way that both makes sense and does not overwhelm them. Devonte' Graham should help a lot here, as well, as there's pretty much nothing that guy hasn't seen. Add to that the fact that KU did not play its best game by any means in Round 1 and it's easy to see the Round 2 effort looking much more relaxed and efficient. Mykhailiuk and Newman, in particular, seem to be due for big bounce-back games. If that happens, Graham does his thing and the Jayhawks get anything from their three-headed big man monster — remember, without Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and De Sousa averaged 15 points and 13 rebounds in 3 games at the Big 12 tourney — it should be advantage Kansas. Let's not forget the home-court edge in atmosphere that will be 100 percent in KU's favor.
3 reasons to squirm
1 - Angel Delgado is a beast and he could be a handful for the KU big men. The second-team all-Big East player has a relentless motor and plays with a lot of passion. He can play all over the floor, loves the spin move in the post and has a decent but inconsistent jumper for a guy his size (6-10, 245). In all honesty, though, if Delgado is pulling jumpers, KU will be absolutely ecstatic. If KU center Udoka Azubuike were completely healthy, this would not be nearly as big of a concern, even though Delgado's quickness could still give Azubuike problems. This, to me, seems like a pretty good matchup for Silvio De Sousa, much the way going up against Sagaba Konate was last weekend. That's not to say De Sousa will have the same kind of success against Delgado that he had against Konate, but KU will need him to be on that level. I'd also look for a lot of doubling of Delgado on the catch. KU has done a terrific job at this all season — and, really, throughout Self's time in charge — and in addition to taking him out of the game a little, it could force Delgado into forcing passes out of the double team and into turnovers, which would aid KU's quest for transition.
2 – Offensive rebounding is a real strength of Seton Hall's and it goes beyond Delgado, who ranks eighth nationally at almost four per game. As a team, the Pirates rank 37th nationally in offensive rebounding, getting 12.2 offensive boards a game, and 28th in the nation in getting 34.1 percent of available opportunities. KU, meanwhile, as you all know, ranks 280th in the country in giving up offensive rebounds, allowing opponents to get 31.2 percent of their misses back. KU's guards have shown they can hit the glass, especially Newman and Svi. And all five of them will have to be willing to do that kind of work in order for KU to neutralize what should be Seton Hall's biggest edge.
3 – The experience edge, as a whole, goes to Seton Hall, as the Pirates have a bunch of seniors and upperclassmen who are playing for their lives and have a better understanding of what a loss means. KU has the same thing going for it with Graham and Svi, but those young guys, even though there's no doubt that they want to win for their seniors, might not fully understand everything that goes into the win-or-go-home mindset. Even with a younger lineup, KU has much more NCAA Tournament experience than the Pirates because of KU's ability to go deep in the past couple of tournaments. As much as the experience/urgency factor could favor the Hall, it also could go against them, as there has been a tendency for teams to tighten up when they know their season is on the line.
Much more where this came from. This was just a quick look. So stick with KUsports.com throughout the day and leading up to game time on Saturday for all kinds of coverage on this second round matchup.
Wichita — He may have stopped short of saying he was excited to play the Jayhawks, but Seton Hall senior Desi Rodriguez sure sounds ready.
Speaking after eighth-seeded Seton Hall's 94-83 victory over No. 9 seed NC State at Intrust Bank Arena, Rodriguez explained that he already has a little familiarity with Kansas.
And it has nothing to do with knowing any of their players or coaches leading up to Saturday's showdown.
“It's funny because I watch them,” Rodriguez said. “I'm a fan of Kansas. But now I'm not no more, just for this game. But I watch their games a lot. Their games come on TV a lot. Just going through a variety of games, that's the best game on TV. They always give you a good game.”
Rodriguez expects to learn much more about the Jayhawks in the next 24 hours, but said he was pretty content with his head-start.
“Other than the other scouting report my coach is going to give me, I got a great scouting report myself,” Rodriguez said. “I've been scouting them myself all year, watching all their games. That's a tough team.”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard interrupted.
“You're doing a scouting report?” Willard asked.
“Yeah. I've been doing scouting on Kansas. I can tell you a little bit about it. But I've been watching their game. Great team, great coach. We're just going with a focused mindset to try to get a win.”
Added Seton Hall's Khadeen Carrington, who led the Pirates with 26 points against NC State: “Yeah. I watch Kansas a lot, too. I watched them a few times this year. They got great guards. They got great bigs. So I'm sure coach is going to have a great game plan. I'm not bringing up a scouting quote like Des. I'm just listening to the coaches.”
Said Rodriguez, defending himself and paying KU a compliment in the process: “It's always good to watch good teams. Good teams play, you can learn. And I've been watching them and hopefully we can get a win.”
As for Willard's understanding of the Jayhawks, he appears to have some catching up to do.
“I have not watched Kansas one bit,” the Seton Hall coach said. “It's just not what I do. I just don't think I'm smart enough to watch more than one team at a time, to be perfectly honest with you.
“I know Bill (Self). And I have unbelievable respect for his program and have watched them play. So I know how they play. Bt this time of year, you kind of get in a bunker and you hold down. We'll watch a lot of film with the team tonight and put our game plan together. But you know you're going to play the 1 seed and you know it's going to be a challenge because the 1 seed is the 1 seed for a reason. And Kansas is Kansas because they're a phenomenal program with great players.”