Journey to the Tourney: KU’s March Madness history
If No. 4 seed Kansas can win NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games 1,077 miles from its campus Thursday and Saturday, it will earn a spot in the Sweet 16 just down the road at the Sprint Center.
Yes, the 2019 tournament committee placed the Jayhawks in the Midwest Regional, which this postseason happens to culminate with games March 29 and 31 in Kansas City.
If the Jayhawks (25-9) defeat No. 13 seed Northeastern (23-10) approximately 3 p.m., Central time, Thursday in Salt Lake City, then knock off the winner of the first-round contest between No. 5 seed Auburn (26-9) and No. 12 New Mexico State (30-4) on Saturday, they’d potentially meet No. 1 seed North Carolina (27-6) on March 29 at the Sprint Center.
Winner of that possible Sweet 16 matchup between KU coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks and current UNC/former KU coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels would face a potential final against No. 2 seed Kentucky (27-6) or even No. 6 seed Iowa State (23-11).
“Yes,” KU coach Bill Self said, asked flat out if he was surprised KU landed a spot in the Midwest Regional. “Almost shocked that we were in the Midwest. It’d be nice if we’d driven to Des Moines and Tulsa also, but usually when you are a 4-seed you don’t get everything catered to you like we have sometimes in the past because we’ve been a 1.
“I like the fact we are in the Midwest. I’m not going to think about this, but if favorites win according to the seed line, having Carolina and Kentucky in one regional … I mean that sounds more like a Final Four than a regional. A lot of things have to happen for all teams for that to occur. Certainly we are just focused on a two-game tournament. We’ve got to put all our emphasis on that and don’t even think past that.”
Self said, “I’m not going to get into that,” when asked if it would potentially be fair for a No. 4 seed to play a top seed such as UNC just 45 minutes from KU’s campus.
“I would say to me, if you win two games in the tournament, you know you are going to play a really good team and you know it’s probably going to be a neutral deal in a situation like that. This won’t be a neutral deal if everybody advances. You throw Iowa State in … if they advance, they’ll have more fans there than anybody. I still think what wins more than anything is talent and talented players playing together at the right time.
“Certainly we had an opportunity to play Carolina the first weekend in Kansas City (70-58 win in second game of 2013 NCAA Tournament). That was a pretty significant advantage for us at that particular point. That is getting way ahead of what we should be thinking about.”
What the Jayhawks currently are looking forward to is a trip to Salt Lake City.
“I didn’t get a chance to ask every individual (player) if they’ve passed through there. I’d venture to guess a vast majority have not,” Self said with a smile of his Jayhawks. “I think it’s probably been four weeks since I’ve been to Utah. I went recruiting up there not too long ago. I’m a veteran when it comes to the city and cultures and all those things.”
Self is recruiting Tristan Enaruna, a 6-7 senior small forward from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah. He’s the No. 25 rated player in the recruiting Class of 2019 according to Rivals.com.
“I’ll show you I’m more than a basketball coach,” Self said good-naturedly after a news conference Sunday to discuss the NCAA Tournament.
He showed his cell phone to a reporter, calling up a picture of snowcapped mountains in Utah from his drive from Provo to Mount Pleasant.
“I thought it was pretty neat so I took a couple pictures,” Self said.
KU senior forward Dedric Lawson said KU’s players are happy to be heading to Utah this week.
“Marcus (Garrett) was like, ‘Where are we going?’ I said, ‘Utah,’’’ Lawson said. KU’s players and coaches watched the NCAA Selection Show together on Sunday. “He said, ‘Utah, Utah.’ It was like he wondered how far it was. It’s good to get away from home, play in another state. I know a lot of guys haven’t been to Utah. I know I haven’t been. We’ll be enjoying the city and things like that.”
Of possibly playing in KC, Lawson said: “I didn’t know until the commentator said it. He said, ‘Kansas being in Kansas City.’ I was, ‘Oh wow.’ We’ve got to win these two games to get back home and get that energy to get us and push us forward.”
As far as KU’s first round foe, Northeastern is a 23-10 team from Boston. The Huskies won the Colonial Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.
They are a very talented team with talented guards. It’ll be a tough game for us,” Lawson said. “We’ve got to buckle down and get a win.”