Open road for Jayhawks
TULSA, Okla. – If the Kansas Jayhawks win the NCAA tournament’s Southwest Regional next weekend in San Antonio, someone needs to tie a bow around their trophy.
All week long, Kansas coach Bill Self’s squad will hear about how its road to the Final Four is “gift-wrapped.” The comment may be unfair – but it’s certainly understandable. Other than No. 1 Kansas, all three of the region’s remaining teams are double-digit seeds.
The Jayhawks – who defeated Illinois 73-59 Sunday – take on No. 12 Richmond on Friday at the Alamodome. A victory would catapult Kansas into an Elite Eight showdown against either No. 10 Florida State or No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday.
“[Seeds] 10, 11 and 12 are left, but it’s not about seeds, it’s about matchups,” Self said. “Davidson was a double-digit seed [in 2008] and they had the best player in the tournament that year. They were one basket away from beating us. So I don’t put much stock in that.”
Interesting that Self brought up the 2008 season, which ended with Kansas winning the national championship. To get to that Final Four, the Jayhawks defeated No. 16 Portland State, No. 8 UNLV, No. 12 Villanova and a No. 10 Davidson squad that featured Stephen Curry.
Even though this season’s potential opponents aren’t necessarily “name” schools, their resumes are more impressive than the teams Kansas faced in 2008.
Virginia Commonwealth opened the tournament in the “First Four” and throttled the same USC team that lost by just two points at Allen Fieldhouse in December. Shaka Smart’s squad then defeated Georgetown and Purdue – the second-best team in the Big Ten – by 18 points apiece. Smart is regarded as one of the nation’s top young coaches and may be a candidate at Marquette (among other schools) if Buzz Williams leaves for Arkansas or Oklahoma.
Richmond, Kansas’ next opponent, also owns a victory over Purdue. The Spiders’ road to the Sweet 16 includes an opening-round win over Vanderbilt. Richmond coach Chris Mooney is believed to be a candidate for the vacant Georgia Tech job.
Florida State is coached by Leonard Hamilton, who was Self’s coach when he played at Oklahoma State. The Seminoles have perhaps the nation’s best defensive player in forward Chris Singleton, who recently returned from a foot injury that was feared to be season-ending.
“All of the teams left in the tournament are good teams,” Kansas guard Brady Morningstar said, and that includes Kansas, which can finally breathe easy after advancing to the Sweet 16.
Last season, the top-seeded Jayhawks lost to Northern Iowa in the second round.
“These guys have been reminded of Northern Iowa every day for the last 365 days,” Self said. “So it was good to get that monkey off our back, so to speak. There are bigger fish to fry. Now it’s time to go play.”