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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Top-seeded Jayhawks motivated, aiming to enjoy ‘playing every minute’ of NCAA Tournament

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks for a shot to fall during the first half, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) looks for a shot to fall during the first half, Thursday, March 8, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

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It's the top team in the most competitive conference all season against the smartest group of the bunch.

The Kansas men's basketball team on Sunday earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest region — its third in a row — and will face No. 16 seed and Ivy League champion Penn (24-8) at 1 p.m. Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita.

“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,” joked KU coach Bill Self on Sunday night. “But we'll have great respect for them and will know more after we watch film here in the next couple of hours.”

The reality of KU's road in the upcoming NCAA Tournament has much more to do with Kansas than it does any of their opponents or even potential foes.

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Kansas guards Devonte' Graham, left, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) take questions about their seeding following the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday, March 11, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks will take on Penn in the first round, Thursday, in Wichita.

With Duke and Michigan State hanging out in the bottom of the region as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the Midwest, most people came away from Sunday's revealing of the 2018 bracket believing the Midwest was the toughest region.

Self was in total agreement.

“That's hard,” he said. “We've got three teams that people were talking about being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in our bracket. But the reality of it is, if you're fortunate enough to play in that game, the Elite Eight game, you're going to play a good team regardless.”

Kansas (27-7) knows that as well as just about anybody in this tournament.

The Jayhawks' quest to get back to their first Final Four since 2012 has ended in that game in each of the past two seasons. But the regional final loss to Villanova in Louisville in 2016 and last year's Elite Eight loss to Oregon in Kansas City, Mo., are serving as fuel for this start of this year's run.

“It's definitely something that you think about, falling short in the Elite Eight in back to back years,” KU senior Devonte' Graham said. “Getting over the hump and getting to the Final Four is something that we definitely want to do and it's our last chance to do it so we're just going to be extra pumped and making sure everybody's ready to play and focused.”

That type of motivation seemed to really be the focus for last year's team entering the 2017 NCAA Tournament. But this year's bunch seemed a little more focused on taking things one step at a time and enjoying the process along the way.

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Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self talks NCAA Tournament bracket, Udoka Azubuike's progress

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self met with the media Sunday after the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed and discussed first-round opponent Penn, how Udoka Azubuike has surpassed expectations in his recovery from a knee injury and how Silvio De Sousa's emergence can help the team.

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That makes sense given the current status of this squad, which has had an up-and-down season all year but played some of its best basketball of the season last weekend in winning three games in three days to take the Big 12 tournament title in Kansas City.

Because of that, Self said he thought failing to get through the Elite Eight during the past two seasons would only matter if the Jayhawks get there again.

“People talk like that and, yeah, it could be motivation,” Self said. “But each team is so different. I mean, this team is nothing like last year's team. So the motivation for Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Devonte' and Lagerald (Vick) may be different than all the rest of our guys who've never been through anything like that.”

The Jayhawks, who opened as a 15.5-point favorite over Penn, joined Virginia (South), Villanova (East) and Xavier (West) as No. 1 seeds in this year's bracket and likely landed in the Midwest, which runs through Omaha on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio, as a result of their strong showing this weekend in the Big 12 tournament combined with Xavier's loss to Providence in the Big East tourney.

“I really thought, after we won (Saturday) night, that we'd be in the Midwest,” Self said.

Graham confirmed that notion, saying his team knew it needed to play well in the Big 12 tournament to put itself in the best position possible entering the NCAA Tournament.

“We felt like we played pretty good in the tournament we could lock that 1 seed up,” Graham said.

Asked if reaching that goal meant much given the national-championship-or-bust aspirations of the KU program, Graham admitted that earning a 1 seed carried with it a sense of pride.

“It's definitely an accomplishment,” he said. “And then you get to play closer to home and the fans can travel and you get that home-court advantage.”

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Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with media members following the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday, March 11, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks will take on Penn in the first round, Thursday, in Wichita.

That all only matters if the Jayhawks find a way advance through each round. Winning three two-game tournaments is the way Self likes to look at the challenge.

Graham said he thought KU's roster, for the first time all season, truly understood what was required to win these types of high-stakes games and play at a high level for a sustained period of time.

Self agreed and said the key was to play with free minds and have fun doing so.

“This team's shown that we can play as a 1 seed or we can play as a team that doesn't make the postseason tournament,” Self said. “We've shown that. So who knows what we're going to bring? But we should not wish to get through a game. We should look forward to playing every minute of it.”

With that said, and even with their ultimate goal of winning the national title and, first, breaking through to the Final Four, clearly on their minds, Graham and Self said the focus for the next couple of days would be on one thing and one thing only.

“We're focused on Penn,” Graham said. “That's it. We ain't worried about anybody else.”

The Jayhawks will practice Monday and Tuesday in Lawrence and head to Wichita on Tuesday afternoon.

Comments

Bryce Landon 9 months ago

It sounds to me like they are entering this year's tournament with the right mindset. Doesn't sound like they are tight or nervous.

Joe Joseph 9 months ago

Doesn't matter if Michigan State and Duke are in the bottom half of the bracket. KU was going to have to beat somebody good to advance to the final four regardless. I would welcome a matchup against either of those teams because it would mean Kansas has another chance at making the final four. Bring 'em on!

I have a healthy amount of respect/fear for every team in the top half of KU's bracket, but I actually think KU has as favorable a draw to the regional final as any of the #1 seeds. Gonzaga and WVU are under-seeded 4/5 seeds. Arizona is a talented, scary 4 seed. And Kentucky just sounds scary given its tradition (plus it's playing well at the right time).

Joe Joseph 9 months ago

I would happily play some other team NOT named Duke or Michigan State to advance to the final four, of course!

Adam Bengtson 9 months ago

I am not trying to be difficult or that guy, but this game is not at Koch Arena. Got to have better research and detailed information than this....

Steve Zimmerman 9 months ago

Any seeds, any regions, any teams, I think, our boys are ready to fight and march on. Coach looks confident, team's spirit is high, the only thing that will prevent us from going further is mental collapse - fear of the other team.. As long as everyone is healthy and ready to have some fun, play to their very last breath, no one will stop the Jayhawk!! Let's get it done, boys!! Rock Chalk!!

Aal Jayhawks 9 months ago

I think KU will be fine overall. A lot of people are making a big deal out of the first round match up with Penn. As long as we stay focused, which I know we will, Ku will be fine. The bracket is tough but I dont think it is overly tough in the Midwest. Also keep in mind we should have a homecourt advantage in Wichita and Omaha. Rock Chalk

Dustin Peterson 9 months ago

Matt, you writing that KU will be playing in Koch Arena is probably the closest that ever gets to reality, haha!

Matt Tait 9 months ago

Yeah. Total oversight. It's fixed now and I have no idea how/why I did that. Crazy few days. About to get crazier!

Dave Miller 9 months ago

We get it.. You're pumped about the tourney, KU, and all that stuff -- just like the rest of us are. lol

Craig Carson 9 months ago

all I care about right now is getting Azibuike back fully healthy and them avoiding making disastrous history on Thursday..Penn is suppose to be the best of the 16 seeds and they are suppose to play good 3pt defense...we all know KU is an average team if they arent hitting 3s..so I am a little nervous

John Fitzgerald 9 months ago

I don't get the talk about Penn having a chance against KU. Even Ken Pomeroy tweeted:

"Stop predicting Penn will beat Kansas. It won't happen if people keep predicting it."

I have a few problems with this. 1.) Are people really picking Penn over KU? Or even considering it? How is this a conversation? 2.) Obviously Ken would like to see it happen judging by his pleading for people to stop predicting it.

All year this team has heard "you can't" and all year they've proved people wrong. I really hope they keep on this same path.

Brad Farha 9 months ago

Don't take the oxymoronic Fighting Quakers lightly! :)

Dave Miller 9 months ago

People want a Cinderella team. They want to root for and see the underdog win. It's just human nature. I just don't want it to be Kansas as a #1 seed when it happens. With the parity in BB these days, it will happen - it's only a question of when. I'd much rather see that "distinction", that bit of history, go to Duke or Kentucky.

Jay Scott 9 months ago

A dozen teams have a real shot to win. The Jayhawks will likely have to beat three of them. Every other team has essentially the same challenge. The 4 and 5 seeds in the Midwest are the weakest. The 2 and 3 maybe the toughest. Not a bad road.

Ryan Zimmerman 9 months ago

Penn by far is the toughest 16... but come on... we're Kansas. We ain't losing that game:) The spread is even pretty tight for a 1/16 game... those are usually 20+ and we are right at 15

Harlan Hobbs 9 months ago

Yahoo has KU on the "upset alert" board right now against Penn. Guarding the 3 point line in the Ivy League is a lot easier than guarding it against a good motion team like KU.

KU is too quick and talented for Penn, and the "Hack a Dok" potential isn't as formidable now given the play of Silvio and Mitch in the Big 12 tournament.

Hopefully, KU is peaking at the right time, like they did in 1988 and 2008. Another year ending in "8", so go get em!

Jonathan Allison 9 months ago

Time to go out and prove that 1998 was a fluke year and that KU was supposed to win the national championship that season. We all know that it's true.

Kurt Eskilson 9 months ago

All season long there's been worry about the short bench leading to tired legs by season's end. If anything, it appears all those games with little rest have just made these Jayhawks tougher. Look at how hard they competed the second half Saturday in their third consecutive game of the Big 12 Tourney! Now it's just two games per weekend with a day's break between. Piece of cake for these hardened players. P.S. That piece they did on TV about Hudy's "electro-shock therapy" for their leg muscles was fascinating. She's the best of the best.

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