Tougher road in the west could become best case scenario for top-seeded Jayhawks?
There’s been a fair amount of outrage tossed toward the NCAA Tournament selection committee in the aftermath of the committee’s decision to seed Houston above Kansas in the upcoming Big Dance.
Understandably so. The committee got that one wrong.
Kansas had by far the better resumé — it wasn’t even close — and the Jayhawks missed out on a chance to play key tournament games right down the road in Kansas City and now will have to head to Las Vegas if they’re able to win two games this week in Des Moines.
It’s funny to look at going to Vegas as punishment, but that’s because of the context. There’s no doubt that landing in the Midwest region, which runs through K.C., would have been far better for KU fans, in turn making it far better for the team.
Forget past results or even what happened at the dull and drab Big 12 tournament last week; Bill Self’s team would have benefited greatly from having a home-court environment for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in a venue that sits 45 minutes from campus.
But maybe people are looking at this all wrong.
Maybe this path actually is the best path for the top-seeded Jayhawks. After all, it’s often difficult, if not downright impossible, for teams seeded on the No. 1 line to find any extra reasons to be motivated at this time of the year. And now, these Jayhawks, a group that has loved being counted out — both individually and collectively — can take the Kansas City snub and use it to fuel their run.
Tell me that opportunity doesn’t fit Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr. perfectly. The harder the challenge the better for those guys, who have overcome far more than a few talented teams and tough tests on the court in their careers.
Sure, the top five seeds in the west region are ranked inside the top 11 at KenPom.com. And, yeah, UCLA and Gonzaga appear to be as hot as anybody in the country right now and have veteran players and outstanding coaches. But so does Kansas.
“The region’s very strong,” KU assistant coach Norm Roberts said Sunday. “Very strong.”
The Jayhawks are looking at their path in the exact right way and, really, the only way they can. They’re too experienced and have the kind of quality leadership in place — from coaches to players — to let the makeup of the bracket really bug them.
“It’s a two-game tournament,” Roberts added, echoing Self’s age-old philosophy about how to attack this event. “That’s what it is. If you don’t win the two-game tournament, even if we were in the Midwest, you wouldn’t be going to Kansas City, you’d be coming home. So, we’ve got to focus on the games at hand.”
Asked if the players were mad about the snub, sophomore forward KJ Adams admitted that it irked them. He first said he was “shocked” KU didn’t land in the Midwest but then summed up the team’s mindset and philosophy moving forward.
“It really doesn’t really matter how you fall,” Adams said after the bracket was revealed on Sunday. “It really just matters how you play.”
Added Harris: “We just have to handle business.”
Few teams, and few coaches, have proven their ability to do that quite like the Jayhawks and Bill Self, who is a master motivator and always seems to know exactly what buttons to push and levers to pull to get the best out of his guys.
They’ll lock in on Howard and spend the next few days hyper-focused on their first-round matchup because that’s how you operate when you’ve had the kind of March success that Kansas has had. In Self’s nine previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, the Jayhawks have averaged three wins per tournament. That means, on average, you’re in the Elite Eight every time you’re a top seed.
If that holds true with this run, that’s when the Jayhawks can really start to worry about the bottom half of the bracket, where second-seeded UCLA is the top No. 2 seed and third-seeded Gonzaga is the second highest No. 3 seed.
Heck, even No. 6 seed TCU, which beat Kansas by a ton in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, resides on the bottom of the bracket. The good news about being on top, though, is you can look as long and hard as you’d like at all of those teams on the bottom of the bracket and know you only have to play one of them. And, if you do, it’s in the Elite Eight, with a chance to go to the Final Four. There aren’t many teams who wouldn’t blindly sign up for that before the bracket was even revealed.
“The region’s stacked,” Harris said. “But if we just come together and stay with what we do (we should be OK). We’re going to have coach Self back, too.”
Don’t overlook that last point. While Self has long been considered one of the best to ever do it at the college level, getting him back from a health scare like the one he had last week could give the Jayhawks a lift unlike any they’ve ever had at this time of year.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Harris said. “So that’s a big bonus for us. We missed him last week, even though coach Rob did a great job. Having him back is great for us. He’s been in March Madness for a long time. He knows what he’s doing.”
And the Jayhawks will know what they’re doing, as well. No matter who or what steps into their path.