Selection Sunday: No. 1 seed Kansas to meet No. 16 Penn Thursday in Wichita
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Picked as a No. 1 seed for the eighth time in the last 12 years, the Kansas men’s basketball team will make its 29th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The nation’s longest-active streak and the best all-time will start against the No. 16-seed Penn Quakers in the Midwest Region on Thursday, March 15, in Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena.
Kansas (27-7, 13-5) extended its NCAA-record run of 14-straight Big 12 titles to conclude the regular season and, on Saturday, the Jayhawks won their 11th Big 12 tournament title with an 81-70 victory over West Virginia. The unveiled bracket paired Kansas against Ivy League Tournament champion Penn (24-8, 12-2) in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
This marks the ninth-straight season that the Jayhawks have earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. In head coach Bill Self’s 15 seasons, KU has never been seeded lower than fourth. Kansas has been a No. 1 seed 14 times, including each of the last three seasons (1986, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018).
The Jayhawks and Quakers have played three times previously, with the Jayhawks coming away with victories in each (89-71, Dec. 8, 1997; 61-56, Nov. 17, 1998; 105-59, Jan. 4, 2000).
ABOUT KANSAS (27-7, 13-5 Big 12)
Overall, the Jayhawks are making their 47th NCAA Tournament appearance. KU is 103-45 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, including 30 Sweet 16 appearances and 14 trips to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks finished the 2017-18 regular season with a 27-7 record against the nation’s second-toughest schedule, which included six victories against ranked opponents. In conference tournament action, Kansas defeated Oklahoma State and Kansas State to advance to the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship finals against West Virginia. The Jayhawks claimed their third win over the Mountaineers this season and their 11th Big 12 postseason tournament title. Against the No. 1 RPI conference and the nation’s second-toughest strength of schedule, Kansas won the Big 12 Conference regular-season race by two games.
Kansas is one of seven Big 12 Conference teams to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, marking just the seventh time in NCAA history that 70 percent of a league was selected. The seven teams are the third-most to be representing a conference in the tournament. In all, KU faced 12 NCAA Tournament teams in 2017-18.
Led by the Big 12 Coach of the Year, Kansas head coach Bill Self guided his Jayhawks through a non-conference schedule that included Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arizona State and Syracuse, all tournament teams. Big 12 Player of the Year and Sporting News First Team All-American, Devonte’ Graham is the only player in NCAA Division I averaging 17.0-plus points, 7.0-plus assists, 1.7-plus steals and fewer than 3.0 turnovers per game. As a team, KU averages 78.5 points per game and outscores opponents by a +10.6 margin.
ABOUT PENN (24-8, 12-2 Ivy)
The Quakers head to the NCAA Tournament after claiming the Ivy League Tournament title, an impressive addition to their 2018 Ivy League regular-season championship. The title, which Penn tied for with Harvard, marked the team’s 26th and first since 2007.
Four Quakers score in double figures and are led by sophomore guard Ryan Betley, who scores 14.4 ppg. Betley is the team’s top 3-point threat after averaging 2.5 threes per game and shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore forward and All-Ivy First Teamer A.J. Brodeur is the team’s top rebounder at 7.0 per game and adds 13.0 ppg. Brodeur is also the team’s most efficient scorer, making over 54 percent of his field goal attempts.
Penn is led by head coach Steve Donahue, who was named the Ivy League’s Coach of the Year. Donahue is 47-40 in his third year in Philadelphia.
Aside from a 12-2 conference slate, Penn will enter postseason play with wins in seven of its last eight outings. The Quakers’ last loss came on March 3 at Yale, 80-79.
The winner of (1) Kansas vs. (16) Penn will advance to play the winner of (8) Seton Hall and (9) North Carolina State on Saturday, March 17.
KANSAS PRESS CONFERENCE
Head Coach Bill Self
Q. So what have you learned about Penn in the last hour?
BILL SELF: I know the record, and I know their coach, and I’ve known Steve a long time. But I’ve been doing media stuff. When I get finished with you guys, I’ll study them a lot harder. Yeah, we’ll be up here. We’ll be up here all night tonight working on that.
Certainly, you know Steve was the coach at Cornell — I don’t know if you guys remember — when it was a one-possession game here at Allen Fieldhouse. So I’ve known Steve a while. They had a huge, huge, great win today. I didn’t see the finish, but I heard it was terrific.
We know that — I told our guys, the thing about it is, from an academic standpoint, thank God we’re not competing against them in all those areas, but certainly we’ll have great respect for them. But we’ll know more after we watch film in the next couple of hours.
Q. Being in the Midwest and driving distance and all that stuff, is there an advantage just being able to stay in your own gym, in your own beds, as long as possible?
BILL SELF: First of all, the way it’s set up now is nobody stays in their beds any longer if you play next door. You’re required to be at the site two days before and all that stuff. Regardless if you were playing in California or in Wichita, we’d be leaving on Tuesday at the same time getting there. So there’s absolutely no advantage to me in that.
The advantage is obviously your fans, the more fans get an opportunity to come see you play. The disadvantage, I guess, is, if there is one, is the fact that you don’t get a chance to — you’ve got to win two weekends before you can get on a plane. Sometimes I think that’s something that’s very rewarding to the players is to go someplace they haven’t been and that kind of stuff.
We’ve never been to Wichita and certainly look forward to doing that, but if we’re fortunate enough to win two games, Omaha, that’s kind of home away from home here for us during the NCAA Tournament. I don’t know how many times we’ve been up there, but it’s got to be at least four, I would think. So we should be familiar with a city in our state, and we should be familiar with playing somewhere else if we’re fortunate enough to advance that far.
Q. Did you feel like that was on the table this weekend? Had you given any thought to moving from 4 to 3?
BILL SELF: I really thought, after we won last night, I thought we’d be in Omaha. I thought we’d be in the Midwest — not in Omaha. I thought we’d be in the Midwest. And the way it’s set up now, when you say be in Omaha, that’s the way you look at it because you look at the regional sites because the first round sites is strictly geographical for many of the teams. So we anticipated last night that we would go to Wichita and then be in the Midwest.
Q. Do you feel like you’re playing your best ball right now?
BILL SELF: I think that we played our best game. I don’t think, if you look at our body of work, we weren’t worth a flip in Stillwater. We were much better against OSU in Kansas City. We weren’t worth a flip against K-State. And then we were really good against West Virginia. I think we played our best game. I think we should be on an uptick. But our body of work playing at that level certainly isn’t extended by any stretch because I don’t think we played very well at all on Friday.
Q. How is Udoka (Azubuike) coming along?
BILL SELF: He’s doing good. He did a workout on the court today. It was a one-on-zero, very, very light. It was not anything that would tell us that he’s going to practice tomorrow or anything like that, but his recovery that he’s made so far has been even more than what the doctors and the trainers originally thought it would be. So we’re very, very optimistic that we can have him this weekend.
We’re very — now, whether or not we do on Thursday with this type of injury, 48 hours makes a big difference. But we’re hopeful that he can play some on Thursday, and if we’re fortunate enough to advance, we’re more confident that he could be used on Saturday.
Q. Does the play of Silvio (De Sousa) this weekend, particularly in the game yesterday, weigh into your decisions?
BILL SELF: No, I don’t think so. I think it could weigh into our decision is we’re not going to — we wouldn’t put him out there before he was ready anyway, but it could weigh into our decision with the mindset thinking that we have to have him in a certain situation. I mean, I thought Silvio played well enough that we should have confidence using Silvio in pressure situations, like we would think that we needed Doke to be in all the time.
Q. Does he have to be 100 percent?
BILL SELF: That’s up to the trainers and doctors. I don’t know that he can be 100 percent. But there’s a lot of guys that sprain an ankle and they’re not 100 percent, but obviously you still play because there’s no further risk of hurting it more. It’s just sore. So that would be a doctor’s call and a trainer’s call, certainly not mine.
Q. You started Silvio the second half. Would that be something, if Doke isn’t ready to go, that you could do?
BILL SELF: I don’t know. I’ll probably reserve that for practice to see. Silvio, obviously, was much more effective than Mitch because it was at least strength versus strength when he and Konate were guarding each other. I think that was a bad matchup for Mitch. So I want to wait to see how that plays out.
Silvio does not deserve the start ahead of Mitch based on what Mitch has contributed to us all year long, but it may be better for our team if he does. But I’ve got to watch tape and see how practice goes on Monday and Tuesday first.
Q. I know you haven’t looked past this weekend, but in general, Duke, Michigan State is like three-fourths of the Champions Classic. What do you think about that?
BILL SELF: It’s hard. We’ve got three teams that people were talking about being a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in our bracket. But Virginia’s got Arizona is a 4 seed in theirs — I think it’s Virginia — and people say they’re playing as good as anybody in the country. I think, if you’re fortunate enough to play in that game, the Elite Eight game, then you’re going to play against a great team regardless.
But the eye test, it pops out pretty good at you when you have those two programs in the same region because I think, obviously, everybody thinks — and I actually agree with what everybody thinks — if Michigan State and Duke both play well, they would be two of the heaviest favorites to win the National Championship.
Q. Last year with Villanova being the year before and knocking on that door, it seems like guys in here on this day were talking about revenge or getting back to that point and getting farther. Does it double now that it’s two years in a row?
BILL SELF: It probably would if we’re fortunate enough to get to that moment again. People talk like that. Yeah, it can be motivation. But each team is so different. I mean, this team is nothing like last year’s team. The motivation, obviously, for Svi and Devonte’ and Lagerald may be different for what it may be for all the rest of our guys who have never been through that.
Q. What do you think of the Big 12, what they got?
BILL SELF: I really felt like seven was what we’d get, especially after Davidson won, especially after San Diego State won the Mountain West, because there’s obviously teams in there that were going to get automatic bids. At least the theory was that they stole a bid. I can’t say this because it’s hard for me, without being in the room and knowing what goes into it, can say, well, this team definitely deserved to be in and this team didn’t. I can’t go there because those people in that room have studied it to the point where they know everything that’s going on. So how can we say their decision was wrong? Because I don’t think it was a wrong decision.
I think I am disappointed for our league, though, knowing that nine teams could have got in and we got in seven. But I’m happy for the ones that got in. They deserved it. But I still think a couple more teams could have easily been in if things had fallen a little bit differently.
Q. Considering they were an 8-9, were you looking to see if they would put Missouri in your —
BILL SELF: I actually went through and looked at what the bracketology and what Jerry Palm said. Basically, teams that were on the 8-9 line were basically the teams they had on the 8-9 line too. So obviously, if we were a 1, it would be a 1-in-4 chance that we could be playing Missouri. And also, I felt like it would be a 1-in-4 chance we’d be playing Wichita State, I mean, if we were able to advance because I felt like they’d be on the 4 line. But those are things all coaches do try to guess. So certainly, I thought that was a possibility.
Q. I know it was a long time ago, but is there anything specifically about that Cornell game that you remember or anything that stuck with you?
BILL SELF: Not as far as the actions they run and everything, but they had the kid Wittman that was a great, great player. Unbelievable college player. Sherron (Collins) got an and one when we were down by one with 20 seconds left. I can remember those two things. I can actually remember what we ran when Sherron scored. It worked that time, and we ran it many more times after that. It was a great game. It was a great game.
I think they went on and played Kentucky in a 1 versus 8-9 game that year. I think they played Kentucky pretty tough before Kentucky knocked them out. I could be wrong, but I think that’s right.
Q. Penn is second nationally in three-point defense. Does that tell you anything about Thursday?
BILL SELF: Not yet, but I’m glad you brought that up because that was certainly one of our biggest offensive weapons. You’re going to make me look really foolish by asking me questions about stuff I haven’t studied yet. I do think that anybody that defends the three well is going to be something that, obviously, we’ve got to combat because we’re going to play to shooting the three.
Q. You look at coach’s perspective on this thing. Fans love the tournament. It’s such a big deal. Is it fun? Is it stressful? How would you describe the tournament from a coach’s perspective?
BILL SELF: I think my best times in the tournament have been where we had the most fun. I mean, the most productive my teams have been is when we’ve had the most fun, and the most pressure, it seems like to me, is when we’ve been dealing with crap or distractions. And everybody deals with them. Everybody — it could be agents. It could be runners. It could be family members. It could be whatever. It could be injuries. It could be a lot of things.
So I think, when you can go into it with fresh minds and fresh bodies, and certainly you’re in it for the right things, to go out and take it rather than go out and protect it, I think those teams usually do the best and the teams that have the most fun playing in it. That’s why I was so encouraged by last night’s performance. I don’t think we’ve had a team that in recent memory has enjoyed playing the game more than what those kids did last night.
I think there’s been a lot of games where we’ve enjoyed playing the game, but I think last night was about as good as I’ve seen it. And that’s been something, as you guys know, that’s been a pet peeve of mine all year long because we haven’t shown that visibly when we’re out there playing. I hope we’re in the right mindset that we can go out and have fun and enjoy it.
A lot of times I think — like this could happen a lot. So you win the league by two games. When you want to go to the Big 12 tournament, instead of having the mindset let’s just go have fun, whatever, no, we need to go validate what we did. Sometimes, now we’ve got a 1 seed, we’ve got to play to that seed. I’ve thought that at times. I’m not going to do that this year. This team’s shown that we can play as a 1 seed or play as a 12 seed. We’ve showed — or a team that doesn’t make the postseason tournament. We’ve shown that.
Who knows what we’ll bring? But one thing I do think we’ll do much better at is if we’re enjoying playing rather than thinking we have to do something. We should not wish to get through a game. We should look forward to playing every minute of it.
Q. Do you think Graham’s leadership then will truly help you in that part of it because he seems to have so much fun?
BILL SELF: I think so, but Devonte’ was Devonte’ last year too in that regard. I do think Devonte’, that’s where he’s probably as valuable to us as any player is in the country to their respective team because he gives us so many intangibles.
Q. With how well Malik played in Kansas City, is there any reason why you don’t think he should be able to continue that the rest of the way?
BILL SELF: I don’t think — yeah, I’m all for it, and I hope that he makes every shot moving forward too, but the reality of it is he played better even if he didn’t make shots. That’s what I liked about it. The making shots obviously gave him a lot of confidence and those sorts of things. We’re a team that’s going to shoot threes. So we need to make shots. He played ball the right way and wasn’t worried about scoring, so we scored more. I think that was a very positive sign for us.
Q. You guys tip at like 1:00 p.m.?
BILL SELF: 1:00. So I’ll look at it strictly from a positive standpoint. I’ll look at it from a positive standpoint. If we’re successful, then we can go to bed earlier. But if you look at our games this year when we played, the 11:00 to 1:00 starting times haven’t been the times when we’ve been at our very best. So I really am surprised that we’d be playing early because it seems like most tournaments we play last game a lot.
But our guys — I really don’t think the starting time makes much difference. But we will be playing one of the very first games in the tournament. So there will not be time for us to sit around and watch anybody else play before we play, which is going to be a little bit different.
Senior Guards Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Q. Devonte and Svi, were you guys — was there any suspense in this, or did you kind of have a good feel where you were going?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I felt like I knew we were going to be a No. 1 seed. We were just anxious to see who was going to be in our bracket.
Q. What’s your reaction to the bracket?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think it’s pretty good. We just got to take it one game at a time, like Coach always tells us, and go into each weekend thinking that it’s a two-game tournament.
Q. Did you guys watch any of the Penn game today that was on?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I didn’t.
Q. All year you guys have kind of taken that people don’t pick us, people don’t think it’s going to happen. I mean, when you see Duke, Michigan State, thinking a lot of people are going to pick them, does this set up for you guys where it’s the same sort of scenario where maybe not everybody will pick Kansas?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Well, maybe. Probably not. You know, it really doesn’t matter. Like we always do, we believe in each other, believe in our coaching staff, and we’re going to take it one game at a time. Whoever we face, we’re going to try to prepare as best as possible for that team. Right now we’ve got to focus on Penn and getting that W first.
Q. The big thing, right, it doesn’t matter. All this stuff is you’ve got to go play the game. Is there any significance in your mind to being a 1 seed again, three years in a row now? Is that an achievement or an accomplishment?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: It’s definitely an accomplishment in that you get to play closer to home and the fans can travel, and you kind of have a little bit of home court advantage. You definitely want to try to get the 1 seed and try to play close to home as possible.
Q. Did you think going into this weekend that that was at stake, so you had to go play well?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: We definitely knew that. We felt like, if we play pretty good in the tournament, that we could lock that 1 seed up, and we went in and won it. Felt like we knew that we would be the 1 seed.
Q. Devonte, seven Big 12 teams made the tournament. Were you surprised that Oklahoma State and Baylor didn’t get in?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Actually, I kind of was. That’s two good teams who got wins over good teams. But I don’t make the selection, so just happy that we’re in it.
Q. Svi, you shaved? Any reason?
SVIATOSLAV MYKHAILIUK: Yeah. I was actually not, but I messed it up a little bit. So just got to take it off.
Q. For both you guys, I guess this is your last run. How do you feel going into March, any different from previous years, maybe more of a different sense of urgency?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Answer a question (laughter).
SVIATOSLAV MYKHAILIUK: We feel great, you know, coming out of three wins and getting out in front of the league. Silvio is definitely going to help us in the long run. I think we’re just rolling right now, and I think we’re just getting ready to go.
Q. Last year some of that talk was in here this same day with Landen, I think, it was unfinished business or whatever after losing to Villanova the year before. Now that that’s happened twice, do you take that kind of a chip into your tournament run and think about that kind of thing?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: It’s definitely something you think about falling short in the Elite Eight back-to-back years, and getting over that hump and getting to the Final Four is something we definitely want to do. It’s our last chance to do it. We’re just going to be extra pumped and making sure everybody’s ready to play and not come out flat. Just being focused.
Q. Do you feel like this team, your roster, 1 through 9 or whatever it is, is as prepared all year as it’s been for that, that focus that it takes?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think we’re — yeah, I think we are. I think this past weekend helped out a lot with a lot of confidence. It could have been — I think Doak being hurt helped out our big guys’ confidence a lot.
Q. Have you guys seen Doke today? Is he walking around better, getting better?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Yeah, he said he’s feeling good. Hopefully we have him Thursday.
Q. Obviously, it’s one game at a time, not looking ahead. Looking over your bracket, any potential matchups that excite either of you guys?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Well, if we win the first game, my home state, NC State, was the last two teams I picked. Playing against them would be fun for me.
Q. You know most of those guys, don’t you?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Yeah, I know a lot of them. Play with them during the summertime, yeah, when I go home and stuff like that. So I got a lot of friends on that team.
Q. Will you leave it alone, or are you going to text and reach out and do those kinds of things with some of those guys in the next few days?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Some of them already texted me that used to play there or that’s on the team now. I just, like it’s just my friends. It will be a good, fun game for me personally.
Q. You said that the Big 12 tournament was a big confidence booster for your big guys, but that grind it out, that game after game, day after day, you get a little bit of a break kind of in the NCAA Tournament, but how does that or did the Big 12 tournament prepare you guys for a long run in the NCAA Tournament?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Like you said, just grinding it out back to back to back days and going to war every night, and just the Big 12 in general just preparing you for the NCAA Tournament because every night you’re facing a good team. At one point, it was like top 25 teams back to back to back nights and stuff like that. So it’s going to be the same thing in the Tournament, and you get a day to prepare for them.
I felt like the Big 12 has just mentally and physically prepared you for the Tournament.
Q. Devonte’, what gives you guys confidence you could survive an off shooting night from three at some point in this Tournament?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think we’ve been pretty good defensively. You know, all we’ve got to do is focus in on the scout report and what coaches and them tell us to do. If we get stops and not score — and not shoot the ball that well, I feel like we could still win.
Q. When you look at 8-9s, did the team discuss possible scenarios? Because Missouri ended up getting one, and you guys already played them. Did you have any feelings about that?
SVIATOSLAV MYKHAILIUK: Go ahead. He asked you.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I don’t even know what you said. What did you say again?
Q. Did you talk about maybe playing Missouri or Wichita State?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: No, we’re focused on Penn. That’s it. We’re not worried about nobody else.
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