If we’ve learned anything about this Kansas University basketball team, it’s that it plays its best basketball when it has an edge to it, when it feels slighted about something, real or imagined.
The team that can say to itself, “Nobody believes in us,” always has the intangible factor in its favor.
OK, we’re here to help.
Simply too many roadblocks stand in KU’s way to reasonably expect a return trip to the Final Four. One of the four brackets had to be the toughest, and it just so happens Kansas drew the short straw.
The Midwest region features Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed; Michigan State, which already blasted the Jayhawks by 13 points; and Wake Forest, which has counted among its victims North Carolina and Duke.
Also vying for one of the four spots in Indianapolis, site of the Midwest Regional, is Arizona, which manhandled KU by 17 points in December. On the topic of playing with a “nobody-respects-us” edge, Arizona ranks at the top because Dick Vitale said it didn’t deserve a bid.
And then there is the issue of getting past the first round. Superstitious types might point to the North Dakota State Bison having the same nickname as Bucknell, but that’s the least of KU’s concerns in confronting the Summit League champions in both the regular season and conference tourney.
The Bison’s six losses came by a total of 34 points, including by four points at USC. Senior Ben Woodside, one of North Dakota State’s six seniors, scored 60 points in one of the six losses.
Location? Fargo is a 31⁄2-hour drive from the Twin Cities. The state of North Dakota doesn’t get much national publicity, so the Bison earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament in its first year of eligibility ranks as, well, maybe the most exciting event in state history. Think I’m joking? Google “celebrities from North Dakota” and you’ll find three names: Leslie Bibb, Josh Duhamel and Kam Heskin, otherwise known as Who? Who? and Who?
North Dakota’s most famous native, Lawrence “Tiny Bubbles” Welk, host of the Lawrence Welk Show, the single most boring and depressing “entertainment” in TV history, put many an insomniac to sleep for what seemed like centuries of Sunday nights.
Toss in a game time of 11:30 a.m., identical to that of the Baylor loss, plus the fact Kansas has lost two of its last three games, and the reality is Kansas will need all the fan support it can get in Minneapolis just to advance to a potentially daunting second-round game against either No. 6 seed West Virginia or 11th-seeded Dayton.
In his one year in Manhattan, Bob Huggins didn’t beat Bill Self, but their teams play similarly tough defense and hit the boards hard. West Virginia isn’t as talented as it was a year ago, when it reached the Elite Eight, but it’s far more talented than the team Huggins coached at Kansas State.
Half-hearted efforts won’t cut it in Minneapolis. The Jayhawks must bring energy and toughness both Friday and Sunday to earn the privilege to sit at a podium in Indianapolis and say, “Face it, nobody even gave us a chance to get this far.”