Notebook: KU projected as No. 2 seed in tournament field preview

photo by: AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr., left, goes against Oklahoma guard Le'Tre Darthard (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Norman, Okla.

Norman, Okla. — With a month to go before it learns its tournament positioning, the Kansas men’s basketball team was projected as a No. 2 seed in the West Region in the NCAA March Madness Selection Preview Saturday morning.

If the tournament started today, in other words, that would put KU in Los Angeles for potential Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games, if it were able to get past the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

The projection featured KU as the eighth team overall, i.e., fourth and final No. 2 seed, behind No. 1 seeds Purdue, Houston, UConn and Arizona and No. 2 seeds North Carolina, Tennessee and Marquette.

“Those will change a lot between now and four weeks from now,” KU coach Bill Self said Saturday, “but at least we put ourselves in a position to still play what we want to play for. We’re not out of it by any stretch, but certainly I don’t think that we’re quite where we had hoped we were as of three or four weeks ago.”

The West Region consisted of No. 1 Arizona, No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Duke and No. 4 Auburn.

Other Big 12 Conference teams in the Selection Preview besides Houston and KU included No. 3 seeds Baylor and Iowa State.

These possible seedings did not account for the results of Saturday’s games, including KU’s 67-57 victory at Oklahoma.

The other locations besides Los Angeles where KU could end up for second-weekend matchups are Boston, Dallas and Detroit.

As for first-weekend competition, one likely location for the Jayhawks is Omaha, Nebraska.

Getting healthy

Kevin McCullar Jr. and Jamari McDowell both returned to action for KU Saturday.

McCullar, who has been dealing with a bone bruise in his knee, missed the Jayhawks’ games against Oklahoma State (Jan. 30), Baylor (Feb. 10) and Texas Tech (Monday), but was able to come back to practice ahead of Saturday’s game. He appeared to score the first basket of the game on a layup that got goaltended, but the referees reversed their call during the first media timeout.

McCullar ultimately played 35 minutes with 10 points and eight rebounds, though he shot just 4-for-14 from the field.

McDowell, though only a fringe member of the Jayhawks’ rotation, certainly had his absence felt because it coincided with McCullar’s and forced KU even to deploy walk-ons at guard at Texas Tech. McDowell had the flu, but recovered and was in uniform Saturday, then entered for KJ Adams with just over 12 minutes to go in the first half.

He played his best in the final moments of the first period when he scored on a putback and forced a miss by Milos Uzan on the last shot of the half. Point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. praised his performance in those key possessions.

OU was not so lucky on the injury front, as it was missing a pair of key role players in John Hugley IV (knee) and Rivaldo Soares (ankle). Soares went through some warmups and shot around separate from the rest of his team, but ultimately didn’t take the floor, which was a significant loss for the Sooners given his recent production (12.8 points on average in its last six games).

Coach celebrated

OU honored its legendary coach Billy Tubbs as part of Saturday’s game. Tubbs accumulated a 333-132 record in his 14 seasons with the Sooners, took them to the NCAA Tournament eight years in a row and even brought them to the 1988 national title game, an 83-79 loss to Kansas. He died in 2020.

“He’s one of those guys that you love to hate, and then after you got to know him, you hated it because you loved him,” Self said. “He was different — personality, story after story, kept it interesting.”

The game presentation at the Lloyd Noble Center was replete with Tubbs-era touches. A former player of the “Billy Ball” era, Skeeter Henry (1988-90), helped hype up the crowd pregame. At halftime, OU played a video tribute narrated by Tubbs’ son Tommy, and athletic director Joe Castiglione made remarks about Tubbs’ legacy as family members and players and coaches took to the court.

After Tommy Tubbs made a speech of his own, in which he concluded by exhorting the crowd to help deliver a win for the Sooners, a banner bearing the Tubbs name was unveiled in the rafters.


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