Selection Sunday: No. 2 Kansas to Face No. 15 New Mexico State
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Selected as a No. 2 seed, the Kansas men’s basketball team will make its 26th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The nation’s longest-active streak in the Big Dance will start against No. 15 seed New Mexico State in the Midwest Region on Friday, March 20, at 11:15 a.m. (Central) on CBS.
Kansas (26-8, 13-5) extended its unprecedented run of 11-straight Big 12 titles to conclude the regular season and, on Sunday, the Jayhawks lengthened their NCAA Tournament streak to 26 seasons in a row – the longest streak in the nation. The unveiled bracket paired Kansas against Western Athletic Conference champion New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1) in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
Head coach Bill Self stretched it to six-straight
years that his Jayhawks earned
a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.This marks the sixth-straight season that the Jayhawks have earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. In head coach Bill Self’s 12 seasons, KU has never been seeded lower than fourth. Kansas has been a two-seed seven times, including each of the last two seasons (1990, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2012, 2014, 2015).
The Jayhawks and Aggies have played twice previously, with the Jayhawks coming away with victories in each (102-51, Dec. 7, 1965; 100-79, Dec. 3, 2008).
ABOUT KANSAS (26-8, 13-5 Big 12)
Overall, the Jayhawks are making their 44th NCAA Tournament appearance. KU is 96-42 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, including 30 Sweet 16 appearances and 14 trips to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks finished the 2014-15 regular season with a 26-8 record against the nation’s toughest schedule, which included a program-best 10 victories against ranked opponents. In conference tournament action, Kansas defeated TCU and Baylor to advance to the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship finals against Iowa State. The Cyclones won their second-consecutive conference tournament to hand Kansas a 26-8 record to begin postseason play. Against the No. 1 RPI conference and the nation’s toughest strength of schedule, Kansas won the Big 12 Conference regular-season outright on March 3.
Kansas is one of seven Big 12 Conference teams to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, marking just the sixth time in NCAA history that 70 percent of a league was selected. The seven teams tied the Big Ten for the conference with the most programs represented in the tournament. In all, KU faced 10 NCAA Tournament teams in 2014-15.
Led by the Associated Press Big 12 Coach of the Year, Self guided his Jayhawks through a non-conference schedule that included the No. 1 overall seeded and undefeated Kentucky, as well as, Michigan State, Utah and Georgetown. All-Big 12 First Team junior forward Perry Ellis set the tone for Kansas and is the only player in the Big 12 that ranks in the top-10 in the league in points per game, rebounds per game and field goal percentage. As a team, KU averages 71.2 points per game and outscores opponents by a +6.8 margin.
ABOUT NEW MEXICO STATE (23-10, 13-1 WAC)
The Aggies head to the NCAA Tournament after claiming their fourth-consecutive Western Athletic Conference Tournament title, an impressive addition to their 2015 WAC regular-season championship. The tourney title, which NMSU won handily over Seattle on Saturday, marked the team’s fifth in the last six years under 2015 WAC Coach of the Year Marvin Menzies.
Redshirt freshman forward Pascal Siakam leads an otherwise veteran Aggie lineup. He shoots 57.7 percent from the floor and averages 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, earning himself WAC Freshman of the Year honors. Senior forward Remi Barry leads the team with a 13.3 scoring average and is one of four Aggies to average double-figures. Senior guard Daniel Mullings was named to the All-WAC First Team, while fellow senior Tshilidzi Nephawe earned WAC Tournament MVP honors. Running the floor, sophomore guard Ian Baker leads the team with a 47.2 three-point field goal percentage (58-of-123) and dishes 2.8 assists per game.
Aside from a 13-1 conference slate, New Mexico State will enter postseason play on a 13-game win streak. The Aggies’ last loss came on Jan. 17 at Seattle, which they avenged with an 80-61 win in the WAC Tournament championship game.
The winner of (2) Kansas vs. (15) New Mexico State will advance to play the winner of (10) Indiana and (7) Wichita State on Sunday, March 22.
KANSAS PRESS CONFERENCE
Q. How much do you think yesterday’s results mattered?
COACH SELF: I don’t know how much yesterday’s result (vs. Iowa State in Big 12 Championship title game) mattered to be honest. I think no matter what, it would have been hard to pass Gonzaga as a No. 2 seed, even if the outcome was different yesterday. Maybe we could have, maybe we couldn’t (have). But I think based on what the outcome was, if we were going to be a No. 2 seed, we got what we should have gotten and that’s by being in Kentucky’s bracket, without question.
But after that, it’s a hard first game; I think New Mexico State is 23-10 but they had some injuries. That’s the reason why they lost some (games) early. We’ve played them (New Mexico State and head coach Marvin Menzies’ teams) in the past and they have given us a handful when we’ve played them.
But they are good. I watched them last night on TV just flipping channels. Of course the second-round (possible) matchup (against Wichita State) would be a dream matchup for Bob Lutz (Wichita Eagle writer) without question. But it would be a situation where you get a chance to play, if you’re fortunate enough to win, the winner of Indiana, a storied program, or Wichita State, which how in the world they are a No. 7 seed blows my mind, (with a record of) 28-4.
I thought the Missouri Valley (Conference), to be honest, probably deserved a little more credit than what they got because I thought they (Wichita State) would be a higher seed. And I thought Northern Iowa would be a higher seed, too.
But you’ve got to lace ’em up and you’ve got to play, and certainly our goal is to go win two games this weekend and we’ll adjust from there.
Q. What do you tell the team today? What was the message?
COACH SELF: You know what, if this team gets a chance to play in the Elite 8 game, then it’s been a hell of a year — let’s just call it like it is. And regardless of who you play, it would be a great opportunity, for a one-shot deal, to go to the Final Four.
But look at the other brackets, do you want to play Wisconsin, do you want to play Duke, do you want to play Villanova? The answer would be: they are all good. Kentucky has been a different level (of competition), without question. But we don’t even need to talk about that. I hope we have to talk about that next week.
We need to win a four-team tournament this weekend, and that will be the same goal of New Mexico State, of Wichita State and Indiana. It will certainly be some pretty good ball; there are some good teams playing in our pod.
Q. Will you try to get some rest for your guys? What do you think your schedule will be like?
COACH SELF: We are going to practice tomorrow. We took today off, and I’ll be candid with you: Kansas City was maybe a little more taxing on us than what you guys know, because we are beat up. I mean, we are beat up.
We’ll do a recovery lift tomorrow, and certainly if we do much tomorrow, it will be primarily shooting. I think playing on Friday helps us; we can maybe go real light tomorrow, whether it be 30 or 40 minutes, and then really get into it on Tuesday and Wednesday before we leave.
But the most important thing is try to get our bodies back fresh. Landen (Lucas) is really nicked up. Perry (Ellis) actually did very, very well, even though he’s not close to where he needs to be. These next four days are really important for him to get that bounce and that fire back in his jump and explosion.
Frank (Mason III) has played a lot minutes. He’s tired. Wayne (Selden, Jr.) played a lot of minutes in the (Big 12) tournament. We had some guys play a lot of minutes. I think a day-and-a-half of rest will probably be good for us.
Q. Have you watched New Mexico State?
COACH SELF: I watched (last night), flipping channels. I actually went through it today — but I usually don’t do this. I go through all the teams that could be in the 10 teams that would be seeded No. 15 or 16, because there are six No. 16s and there are four No. 15s. And I had New Mexico State as a No. 13, so they weren’t in my pod of teams that I selected.
So I was surprised when we drew them. I’ve said that most years, I think that as soon as you get in, your first thinking is, ‘Gosh, that seems harder than what another (team) got.’ But when you really start studying it, they are all hard (opponents).
It is a hard first game, and certainly we’ve got to be ready come Friday, because this team has shown that when we are good, we are good, but when we are not very good, we can really labor in a lot of ways. We can’t afford to take any more five-to-10-minute breaks like we did last night.
Q. Do you agree with seven teams getting in the tournament from the Big 12 Conference?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I did. I was happy about that. I guess Texas was really the only team on the bubble because Oklahoma State was a No. 9 seed, so they weren’t on the bubble. But I was pleased for Texas and happy for Rick (Barnes, UT head coach).
Q. Do you think the selection committee has a little bit of a sense of humor, being that they put Wichita State and Kansas in the same bracket?
COACH SELF: That’s the first thing our guys said was, ‘Gosh, dang, what are they thinking?’ I told our guys, ‘You know how many bullets we have dodged throughout my coaching career on potential match-ups like that?’ There have been a lot of potential match-ups where we dodged Wichita State or they dodged us; or we dodged (North) Carolina or they dodged us, and a lot of ways that it took winning two or three games before you would have a chance to matchup.
So I don’t know, I don’t want to say that they have had a sense of humor about it, but I will say this: I was thinking they (Wichita State) were a lot better. When the brackets were coming out and I was going through it, I said, ‘Well, you know, worst-case scenario, if they gave Northern Iowa a No. 4 (seed), they (Wichita State) would be a No. 5.’ They gave a team a two-seed line higher when Wichita State won the league outright.
In our (Big 12) league, we win the league outright and get beat in a tournament, but we are lying higher. So it’s not really consistent in how they did things.
But there’s also all this criteria that goes into it. Then you try to keep teams, travel-wise closer (to home), because there’s such a problem with charter airplanes. Charter airplanes have been a problem with the NCAA Tournament because you want to play as many teams as close to home as possible, so that there are less planes that you have to use and you don’t have the problems that we had last year. I think there are a lot of different things that go into it.
Q. With the game just up the road (in Omaha), what do you expect fan-wise?
COACH SELF: In Omaha? We’ve always had a good turnout in Omaha. But if I’m not mistaken, isn’t Wisconsin ‘up the road,’ too? And they will travel great. It will be a great venue. Of course we won’t be playing — except on Sunday, potentially — when Wisconsin would be playing. Wichita State will travel great and we always travel well to Omaha. If you remember, we’ve had a couple of pretty good runs going through Omaha. We won it (the NCAA title) in 2008 and got to the Final in ’12. So I’m not at all disappointed at all about being in Omaha.
Q. What do you think about Larry Brown getting into the tournament?
COACH SELF: Well, he was going to get in because they (SMU) won it (the American Athletic Conference), but what a year. I think they are like 28-6 or something like that [27-6 in 2014-15]. I watched the game — they are good. I was really hopeful that they weren’t a No. 7 (seed) or whatnot, because I know that that would be a talked-about game. But now we’ve actually given you guys even more to talk about than that from a potential standpoint.
But I’m really happy for Coach.
Q. What was your team’s reaction?
COACH SELF: You know, our guys really don’t get too excited about too much, as you guys know how we play sometimes.
So their excitement level was basically, ‘Do we need to stay and watch the rest of this? We know who we’re playing.’ So, I mean, they are ready to move on from there. But I think that they are excited and I know one player that should be more excited than anybody else — just from a potential standpoint — and that would be Perry, because potentially, if we win and if they (Wichita State) win, potentially that sets up a pretty big matchup for a guy from that hometown.
Q. Do you remember a year when a team was as prohibitive a favorite as Kentucky?
COACH SELF: No, and deservedly so.
I think when we saw them early (in the season in the Champions Classic on Nov. 18), we obviously weren’t any good that day, but they were great. We’ve actually gained on that but the scary thing is they have gained on it, too. They are a lot better now than they were back then.
Norm (assistant coach Norm Roberts) was talking today and said in Vegas, they (UK) are 10-to-11 to win the National Championship, and the other teams were 7-to-1 or 25-to-1 or whatever. Norm asked, “What does that mean?”
I said, “Well, it means you have to bet a dollar and 10 cents to win a dollar, where everybody else would bet a dollar to win $25, if you’re 25-to-1.” He figured out really quickly, ‘Well, they are favored then.” [Laughter]
So, I tried to explain that to them but probably didn’t do a very good job. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team that was even (close to that) — you can’t even get even money based on what I read in Vegas, which I shouldn’t be talking about Vegas [Laughter]. But that goes to show my point; that I think they (Kentucky) are a pretty heavy favorite.
Q. How would you judge the overall success of the season from this point going forward?
COACH SELF: You may not agree with how I assess our team, but we have had a really good season.
But in order to say, ‘Hey, it was a great season,’ you’ve got to do well in the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 tournament counts, but it doesn’t really count. If you win like Wisconsin, they got a chance to celebrate the Big Ten championship for five minutes and then forget about that, they go onto the next deal.
Iowa State got a chance to celebrate until about 2 p.m., today and then they will focus in and do everything else. We got a chance to feel sorry for ourselves until about 2 p.m., today and then that’s over. Our energy is totally refocused. It’s the shortest time frame that you can either be sad or you can celebrate anything.
It was disappointing, obviously, to lose (the Big 12 title game to Iowa State). But if we had have won, I’d feel the same way today as I did, because the other thing is fresh and new and that kind of stuff. So that was disappointing, but there’s not a long hangover with it.
But in order to make it a great season, we have to do well in the (NCAA) Tournament. To me, I think how we do in Omaha, at this tournament, will determine whether or not it’s a really good season or whether or not it’s a great season, to be real candid with you.
I would love to be able to go to the Sweet 16 and play maybe the hottest team in the ACC potentially and then play the best team in the country. And if you’re able to do those things; if it happens, it happens. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I do think these first two games are definitely what I would evaluate this particular team’s success on as far as to make it ‘great.’
Q. After what you lost early, would you have taken a No. 2 seed?
COACH SELF: Oh, yeah. If you had told me we were a No. 2 seed before the season — we played our walk-ons the last three minutes against Kentucky and usually, we don’t do that. Especially when you’re down 35.
After that game, I was thinking, ‘Can we even win? Can we get to 10 (wins), or can we get to 15?’ Being a No. 2 seed, it obviously means the guys have gotten a lot better and tried really hard. (I’m) Really proud of them.
Q. How do you approach Cliff Alexander going into the NCAA Tournament?
COACH SELF: I don’t even think that I should talk about Cliff anymore with you guys. There’s no new information. I don’t have any new information. I’ve already told you what our feelings were and if there’s new information, you’ll get it. But until then, I don’t even think it deserves mention because all it does is take away what’s really important. Right now, it’s just our guys getting ready to play.
Q. You talked about your team not being whole. Is there any way, as a coach, that it can be remedied?
COACH SELF: I think we can be fresher. I think Landen needs a couple of days. He’s gone from a guy that if he was beat up four weeks ago, that’s fine, sit him out, if you’ve got him, you’ve got him. Now we’ve got to have him.
Certainly, it’s the same way with Perry. You know, Perry did so well in Kansas City — because he needed to get hit. He needed to have some things that would happen, that if he waited until next week happen, this past week so he gets past that.
I think that was all a bonus right there. So I think that we can be as close to whole as we have been in the last month, probably, if we are able to get some rest this week.
Q. Did you see what happened with Wayne Selden, Jr., or see signs of it coming?
COACH SELF: No, not really. But we’ve been on him a lot and he’s been very conscious of to not settle, and I think he did a better job of not settling. Those last two games, he didn’t have a good game against TCU at all.
We did a lot of talking with our entire team on how displeased we were, because I think it’s a reflection of attitudes more than it is talent, on all those things. His attitude has been so good the last two days; he didn’t settle and he took the ball to the hole and was aggressive.
I thought he played great over there, great. And we see that as a positive. Kelly Oubre, Jr., was great one game. Wayne was great one game. Frank had his moments where he was really, really good, and Perry then didn’t have his balance. But if we can get those four guys playing well, we’ll be hard to deal with.
Q. Is there a feeling of momentum as you head into the tournament or is it truly a reset?
COACH SELF: I think it’s both. I think if you’ve got momentum, you talk about momentum. And if you don’t have momentum, you talk about reset, and sell it however you need to sell it. I think a lot of coaches would probably tell you that.
I actually think that the first half yesterday against Iowa State, considering the circumstances and P (Perry Ellis) not being himself yet and all that stuff; hey, that’s about as good as we can play. We didn’t make shots and we still played well. And then in the second half we didn’t have the same intensity level at all and let them get where they wanted to get and then just struggled so much coming back.
Even that being said, you’re down seven (points) with five left and you still come back and tie it with a minute left and had your chance.
I was proud of our guys. For 25 minutes of that game, we were the better team; but the other 15, we were not even close. They whipped us. So there were some good things that happened there; how we defended the rebound against Baylor was a huge positive, how we rebounded the ball against TCU was a positive.
I think we have some positive things going. But we need Perry to be back healthy, that’s the bottom line. When he gets that back and he gets that explosiveness and that quick twitch back, I think we’ll be a much better looking team.
Q. All year long most people thought that the Big 12 was the best conference. How much do you think that will be validated depending on how the Big 12 teams do in the NCAA Tournament?
COACH SELF: Last year we were rated the No. 1 or No. 2 conference, too, weren’t we? I can’t remember.
But the bottom line is that we didn’t do well in the (NCAA) Tournament, our league as a whole. I think Iowa State was the only team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last year. So we didn’t do really well, as a league, and I think that did kind of devalue the regular season.
Of course, it is important to have your teams do well in the postseason and the seedings that we have, certainly reflected us — we got a No. 2 (seed) and three No. 3s (seeds). That’s almost unheard of.
So the seedings did reflect that the committee thought very favorably of our league and how good the league was, which they should have. I think to validate it, you’ve got to go play well and have some teams — whether it be three or four teams — get to that second weekend.
Junior forward Perry Ellis
On being selected as a No. 2 seed:
“Coach was saying that it was a possibility, and we’re definitely happy with that.”
On the mindset of playing every game like it could be the last one:
“I think we all know that we have enough guys to tell (each other) that we can’t go out there without a lot of energy. This team is going to be a one-time thing because teams change over years, so we have to go out there and play the best we can.”
On the possibility of playing Wichita State in the third-round game:
“Whatever happens, happens. You never know in the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough. If that happens, I’ll be excited to play them, but our main focus is on New Mexico State right now.”
On his reaction when he saw Wichita State come up on the screen:
“People talk about it all the time that they want to see us play. That’s great. Fans want to see that stuff, but our focus isn’t on that right now. All of our focus is on the first game.”
On playing in the Big 12 Tournament and finding out how his knee was holding up:
“I was glad to get out there. It’s all about confidence and the mindset. It’s getting better and better as time goes on. I’m really comfortable with it.”
Sophomore guard Wayne Selden, Jr.
On the mindset of playing every game like it could be the last one:
“Everything is magnified now. We know that every possession counts and we have to play like that. I feel like this weekend there were times we played like that and at times that we didn’t. But to finish out our season, we definitely want to play like that.”
On his performance in the Big 12 Championship and how he’ll carry that into the NCAA Tournament:
“The biggest thing is staying aggressive. It’s really been about my teammates, they’ve been getting it in front of me for a lot of easy baskets. I’m not really trying hard to score at all. A lot of it has just been coming to me with me cutting and my teammates finding me. A lot of it has just been getting into the flow of the game and being aggressive.”
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