NCAA Tournament: Second-Seeded Kansas Headed to St. Louis to Face EKU
LAWRENCE, Kan. – For the 25th-consecutive season, the NCAA selection committee invited No. 10/10 Kansas to the Big Dance as the Jayhawks were awarded the No. 2 seed in the South Region of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament after its 10th-straight Big 12 Championship season.
The longest-active NCAA appearance streak in the nation will lead the Jayhawks (24-9) to a meeting with Ohio Valley Conference Champion Eastern Kentucky (24-9) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Scottrade Center in Saint Louis, Mo. The game will tip-off at approximately 3:10 p.m. CT and will air on TBS.
KU and EKU have played once previously, with the Jayhawks coming away with the 79-65 victory Dec. 5, 1970 in Lawrence.
ABOUT KANSAS (24-9, 14-4 Big 12)
Overall, the Jayhawks are making their 43rd NCAA Tournament appearance and are a No. 2 seed for the sixth time since seeding began in 1979. The Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed in 1990, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2012 and 2014. KU is 95-41 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, including 30 Sweet 16 appearances and 14 trips to the Final Four – two in the 11-year Bill Self era.
The Jayhawks finished the 2014 regular season with a 23-8 record against the nation’s toughest schedule. In conference tournament action, Kansas defeated Oklahoma State in the Phillips Big 12 Championship quarterfinals before falling to eventual tournament champ Iowa State in the semifinals to hand Kansas a 24-9 record to begin postseason play. Against the No. 1 conference in the latest overall RPI, strength of schedule, non-conference RPI and non-conference strength of schedule, Kansas won the Big 12 Conference regular-season outright on March 1 with a three-game lead and two league games remaining. Kansas is one of seven Big 12 Conference teams to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, marking just the fifth time in NCAA history that 70 percent of a league was selected. In all, KU faced 12 NCAA Tournament teams in 2013-14.
Paced by the Big 12 Freshman of the Year Andrew Wiggins’ 17.4 points per game, KU averages 79.6 points per game and outscores opponents by a +9.2 margin. KU has outrebounded 28 of 33 opponents, including 11 of its last 12 foes, and holds a +7.4 rebound margin. KU leads the Big 12, and ranks in the top-five nationally, with a 49.5 field goal percentage.
ABOUT EASTERN KENTUCKY (24-9, 11-5 OVC)
Winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, the Colonels head to the NCAAs on a seven-game win streak after they defeated top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in Saturday’s title game. EKU is making its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007 and eighth appearance overall.
Led by nine-year head coach Jeff Neubauer, the Colonels finished second in the Eastern Division of the OVC regular season with an 11-5 record. The Colonels have six seniors on the roster, compared to their counterpart Jayhawks, and are led by veteran duo Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden. Cosey, a senior guard, sets the tone with 18.8 points per game, while Walden, the OVC Defensive Player of the Year, joins him in the back court and scores 14.4 per contest. The two power the Colonels to a 14.7 assist average. Although KU will have the advantage on the glass, averaging 38.1 boards per game compared to 26.2 for EKU, a small and quick Colonel lineup swipes an impressive 8.8 steals per game.
The winner of (2) Kansas vs. (15) Eastern Kentucky will advance to play the winner of (10) Stanford and (7) New Mexico. Kansas defeated New Mexico on Dec. 14 in Sprint Center.
Kansas Head Coach Bill Self
Q. Did you think you’d get the No. 2 seed?
COACH SELF: I kind of did. Of course we’re happy with being a No. 2 seed, no question about that. But I thought that we were really close to being a 1 seed, too. Because of the way things played out and our RPI and our BPI, I looked today and I think we were 3 (RPI) and 5 (BPI) and we had 12 wins against the top 50, where some of the other teams they were considering had five or six. I think that Virginia obviously deserved it because they won today, but if things had happened a little bit differently today, maybe we’d have been in consideration, but I’m really happy that we’re on the No. 2 line because I thought there was obviously a chance we could move to a No. 3.
Q. Looking at your pod, does New Mexico strike you better than a No. 7 seed?
COACH SELF: Yeah, they beat San Diego State in their tournament on a neutral floor and San Diego State is a No. 4 seed, and we saw how good San Diego State was. Of course, we played good against them (New Mexico) and made shots in the Sprint Center, and their guard, (Hugh) Greenwood, if I’m not mistaken, was playing with a broken hand then, and their big kid (Alex Kirk) got two quick fouls in the first three minutes, which kind of changed things. We were fortunate.
I hope we have an opportunity to advance because whoever we play there, Stanford or New Mexico, would be obviously a very, very tough opponent. But our focus just needs to be on obviously Eastern Kentucky and defending the three-point line.
Q. What have you learned about Eastern Kentucky in the last 20 minutes?
COACH SELF: Not a lot. I’ve got a cheat sheet here, though, but I have looked at their stats, and they’re going to play four starters that all shoot threes. They’re a lot like Iowa State in that regard. They stretch it. I think they shot 776 threes, something like that, for the season, and their opponents have shot 570, so they’re averaging six or seven more threes a game than their opponents, which is a lot. That’s a big difference.
We’ve definitely got to guard the line, because they’re not real big.
Q. Seems like they’re a team that pressures, too?
COACH SELF: Yeah, I haven’t had a chance to watch tape yet, so we’ll watch that. I think based on what I’ve been told through my assistant coaches in the last 15 minutes, that they’ll do some things zone-wise that can be a little bit different to give you some different looks and things like that, so we’ll have a lot to practice on this week.
Q. Were you happy to get the St. Louis?
COACH SELF: Yeah, but I would have been fine going anywhere. Sometimes when you play closer there are more distractions. I thought last year when we played in Kansas City there was more pressure on us to perform well there than there would have been if we’d got away, and it was pretty evident how we played in the first round and we how played the first half against North Carolina. Then we finally relaxed and played a little bit. Yeah, we’re happy.
That will be one of the hottest tickets ever for the first two rounds because K-State, Kentucky, and Wichita State and us, I mean — it’s going to be hard to get tickets. Our fans need to be creative in figuring out a way.
Q. Is it kind of cool that all the Kansas schools except for Baker made it?
COACH SELF: Well, I don’t know if it’s cool or not. I think if you were going to ask K-State, they’d probably say we’d like to not have Kansas in it, and if you ask our fans, we may say the same thing (about KSU). I’ve said this before because we’ve been in the same first two rounds with K-State before. I think we were in Omaha with them; isn’t that right? So this isn’t unusual, but hopefully our league will definitely pull for each other and our state will pull for each other, but it’ll be interesting.
It’ll be interesting because you’ve got Wichita State who will travel, K-State who will travel, we’ll travel great, and then you’ve got the Big Blue Nation (Kentucky) that travels as well or better than anybody, so it’ll be an interesting weekend.
Q. I kind of felt all year like Larry Brown was going to be coaching in the tournament.
COACH SELF: Yeah, I can’t believe it. I talked to Coach this morning, and he was confident. He wasn’t cocky by any stretch, but he was confident they’d get in, and we talked about first-round match-ups. When it all played out, I forgot Providence got the automatic bid, so when it all played out going into the last deal, I said (North) Carolina is a No. 6, SMU is a No. 11 because that’s what Coach told me this morning; I’ll bet they put us against Carolina. And I thought that, and then of course Providence got the automatic bid, so they were out.
But I feel bad for him because I know what a great season they had, how well they’ve done and how they’ve revived that program. Certainly, it’s very disappointing.
I’m very happy for Danny (Manning, Tulsa) on the flipside because he has automatic bid, and that was cool. I forgot who Danny plays in the first round — so they’re in our regional, not in St. Louis; isn’t that right? I am very happy for Danny.
Tulsa and UCLA have an unbelievable first-round history going back to Tubby (Smith) at Tulsa, so it should be exciting.
Q. You mentioned defending the three-point line in the tournament. Is that the area that concerns you the most defensively going in?
COACH SELF: Well, I think there’s a lot of things defensively that we’ve got to get (better at) — we’ve been saying it all year long, and we have shown signs of getting better in some ways. I’ve watched the tape (vs. ISU), and so much of our problem defensively has been when we don’t play with the energy because we’re not great defensively, but we can play great defensively when we play with energy, and that’s been proven. But when we don’t, there’s too big of a dropout. We don’t go from being a high-energy team to being a really sound fundamental team. We’re not that defensively, so we need to be high energy all the time. When you’re high energy you can camouflage some mistakes.
We played Oklahoma State pretty good defensively but we didn’t do near as good a job against Iowa State. On that particular day that would have been a hard guard for anybody. They were really good. We made a mistake probably — and it’s my mistake — being so concerned with the three after they go 8 for 12 the first half that really we may have been better off to give them some dare shots and hope the law of averages prevailed because they got inside of us, and that’s where they really hurt us in the second half.
Q. When you play a tough schedule, obviously you might see some teams you’ve already seen during the season, but what’s your general philosophy on rematches in the tournament?
COACH SELF: Maybe you could make a case that the team that lost (in the regular season) has a chip on their shoulder may have the advantage, but you could also make a case the team that won has confidence.
I know with our own team during the regular season, if somebody beat us a first time in conference play, then we were usually better the second time because that was the motivation. If you’re talking about New Mexico, we played them December 14th maybe, so that’s been over three months ago. They’re a different team, we’re a different team and so I don’t know really how much of a past performance really plays into this at all if we’re both fortunate enough to win. So I really don’t know if there’s an advantage.
Q. The younger guys you have that haven’t been to the tournament, have you prepped them about all the distractions?
COACH SELF: We’ve talked about it all year long. We talked about it this week, and we talked about it again today.
The thing about it is, it’s not exactly how it appears from the outside because I don’t know that anybody can really grasp that there’s so much more than just being with your team and your team being together. It’s agents, it’s runners, it’s family members, it’s distractions. That can be things that are legitimate and things that people want to put things in people’s heads that aren’t so legitimate.
The most focused team we’ve ever had was the ’08 team. I mean, those guys did anything and everything that we asked them to do, and that was a wild crew, but for three weeks they just totally, totally gave up themselves to do exactly what we said, and they trusted what we told them was good.
With teams, it’s great to have rules, but sometimes players think the rules are great for everybody else, not necessarily for me. So the ones that will buy into, ‘Hey, this is what we do, we’re going to be really good,’ and the ones that say, ‘Well, that’s what you should do but I’m okay, I can handle it,’ that’s when you start getting more distractions. We’ve got to be mature and not do that. But it is different, and the further you advance, obviously, the more distractions there are.
Q. Are you happy with Andrew Wiggins the last few games heading into the tournament?
COACH SELF: Yeah, Andrew has played great. Andrew played great against Iowa State, he just didn’t make shots early, didn’t get to the free-throw line early, which kind of put us in the hole, but Andrew is playing great. I thought Perry (Ellis) was aggressive, obviously, offensively. We didn’t do a lot from the other positions and didn’t shoot the ball well at all in Kansas City for the most part. But I think Andrew is playing very well.
Q. Did you think you might go Midwest regional?
COACH SELF: I didn’t know. I had no idea. Whatever regional you’re in, you always feel like, well, the committee did us no favors. No matter what regional you’re in. I think we’ve got a really tough regional, obviously, but I think the Midwest is loaded, also.
Q. What stands out to you about the South?
COACH SELF: Without going into it too much, you obviously just worry about winning a two-game tournament. You don’t worry about what can potentially happen next week, you worry about what could potentially happen next week if you win two games this week.
Not to get ahead of ourselves at all, but in our regional you’ve got the best team in the country; you’ve got a team that four weeks ago was thought to be the best team in the country (Syracuse); you’ve got a team in UCLA that’s one of the hottest teams in the country. You can make a case that if everybody in our regional plays to their ceiling, our regional could be about as good as anybody’s, there’s no question about that. But you just want to win two games this weekend. That’s the focus.
Q. Does it feel like that looking at the entire bracket because of all the upsets, it seems like every team has knocked somebody off? Every single regional looks pretty darned tough this year the way that the basketball season just shaped up.
COACH SELF: I think what you’re saying, there’s more good teams and less great teams. I think Florida is a great team. I think that you could make a case for Wichita State and certainly Arizona being great teams over the course of the year. But the bottom line is everybody can be had, and that’s been proven — I think that’s your point. That’s been proven throughout the year that there’s more good, solid teams that could be what were perceived to be maybe the better teams. There’s not that much difference at all. I would venture to guess the difference between a two seed and a seven seed or an eight seed or whatever it is, is probably as narrow as it’s ever been.
Q. What is Joel Embiid’s status?
COACH SELF: It’s the same. He feels better. All the medical staff has been communicating and (they say) the same thing. For me to be optimistic about this weekend would not be an accurate statement, although I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I don’t feel optimistic about it.
But I do, along with the medical staff and based on how he’s rehabbing, I do feel optimistic about next week.
Q. I think you used the word “longshot” before on Joel Embiid. Would you rule him out?
COACH SELF: Well, I could rule him out if he’s not able to practice let’s say by Wednesday or something like that. There’s no reason for me to do that now because that’s not the case. It’s all symptom related and how he responds. He’s responding very favorably right now, so we’ll just wait and see.
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