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Sunday, March 14, 2021

KU coach Bill Self says 3rd-seeded Jayhawks ‘in as good a shape as we can be in’

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and Kansas head coach Bill Self react after being called for a foul during the second half on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) and Kansas head coach Bill Self react after being called for a foul during the second half on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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The Kansas men’s basketball team received a No. 3 seed in the West region in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, and KU coach Bill Self said that the COVID-19 issues that kept the Jayhawks from finishing the Big 12 tournament had not created any further problems.

“Knock on wood, we think we’re in as good a shape as we can be in,” Self said in a Zoom call with reporters after the bracket came out. “We’re going to Indy (on Monday) with a healthy group; it's just a smaller group. We’re minus three bodies right now.”

Two of those three — junior David McCormack and sophomore Tristan Enaruna — were ruled out before the start of the Big 12 tournament. Self said he expected both to rejoin the team at some point this week in Indianapolis.

The third player, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday morning, remains unnamed and is expected to be out for KU’s first two games of the NCAA Tournament, in accordance with the tournament's protocols.

While that leaves the Jayhawks shorthanded as they prepare to kick off a postseason run for an NCAA-record 31st consecutive NCAA Tournament, Self said the rest of the team had tested negative multiple times since Friday and that he was appreciative that the Jayhawks’ first game of this year’s tournament was not until Saturday.

“I'm actually glad that we have an extra day,” Self said. “Not only for (the guys who’ve been out), but for all our bodies and (so we can) practice together closer to game time. So I thought that the draw we got was fair.”

When the full KU gang gets together again, the Jayhawks (20-8) will prepare to face 14th-seeded Eastern Washington, which earned a spot in the field by winning the Big Sky postseason tournament and is 16-7 overall. This is Eastern Washington's third trip to the NCAA Tournament and the first since 2015.

KU will face EWU at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.

Kansas landed in the same region as No. 1 seed Gonzaga, which defeated KU in the season opener on Thanksgiving. Iowa is the 2 seed in the West, and Virginia and Creighton round out the region’s top five.

The winner of KU’s game with Eastern Washington will play the winner of the 6-11 matchup between USC and the winner of the First Four matchup between 11 seeds Wichita State and Drake.

Self said that while every team in the field deserved respect, nearly all of the teams in the West region had something in common.

“The one thing that jumps out in our bracket that would be the hardest thing, and I think there’s 15 other teams that can attest to this, is that Gonzaga is in our bracket,” Self said. “To get to a Final Four, you're going to have to eventually probably go through one of the better teams our sport has seen in recent memory.

“Since that's the draw we got, I might as well be comfortable with it and like it,” Self added. “I certainly don't dislike it.”

Gonzaga ran through the regular season and West Coast Conference tournament at 26-0 and enters the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

Despite that potential challenge looming, which senior guard Marcus Garrett said was “definitely something we’d look forward to,” Self said his team’s focus was solely on Eastern Washington, USC, Wichita State and Drake.

“That's all I'm going to think about,” Self said. “The NCAA Tournament is a series of two-game tournaments. You have to go into a weekend and win a two-game tournament, and that's the only bracket I'm thinking about.”

There were other things on Self’s mind on Sunday. Most notable among them was the pride he felt in his team for elevating itself to the position of a 3 seed.

After finishing the month of January at 3-5, with a stretch of four losses in five games, the Jayhawks were reeling and talked about by many as one of the worst teams Self has had at Kansas. Plenty outside of the program also projected that Self’s stretch of never being seeded lower than 4 during his days at KU also could come to an end this year.

“To go from that to being a 3 seed, I think, is a pretty strong statement (about) how much our team got better and how much the players improved,” Self said of his squad, which enters the NCAA Tournament having won eight of its last nine games. “I actually am probably about as excited as I’ve been on a Sunday of the selection show. I’m really proud of (this team) and I’m excited.”

While the experience of seeing their names called on Selection Sunday was still new to most of the Jayhawks’ roster — especially given the fact that last season’s tournament was canceled at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic — Self said he sensed an element of pride from the players as they watched Sunday’s bracket come out.

“I think that they were proud of themselves, to be honest,” Self said. “I think they feel good about themselves. But not good in a way that we've accomplished anything. Just good in a way of, ‘Well, so far so good. We put ourselves in a decent position; now we have to take advantage of this opportunity.'”

That there’s an opportunity awaiting at all was reason enough for KU's leading scorer, Ochai Agbaji, to get excited.

“It’s been tough,” Agbaji said of staying patient and upbeat during the past few days. “Kind of (started) getting the same feel from last year when we didn’t play the Big 12 tournament (or NCAA Tournament) at all. But we’ve been sitting around (and) practicing, and we’re thankful that we still have the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.”

Comments

Barry Weiss 1 month, 1 week ago

well, it sounds like the covid problem is easing up a bit. If we can get to the NCAA's only down one player, that is great. When this first hit, I thought we might not even be able to compete. It will be outstanding if we can still be in it for the second week-end.

Tony Bandle 1 month, 1 week ago

All things considered, the Jayhawks have a decent shot to get to the Sweet Sixteen. But after that, however, Iowa, Virginia and Gonzaga look like a pretty rough row to go.

Still, considering this season, 22 - 9 won't be the worst record in the world.

Adam Bengtson 1 month, 1 week ago

“Unnamed player”

Cause this is highly classified info that no one knows....

Shannon Gustafson 1 month ago

Adam, Self can't mention who it is because it's a HIPAA violation to do so.

We (and OU) are not in the clear yet. Typical incubation time is 5-7 days which means if Wilson gave it to anyone else in the game Friday, those positive tests would most likely show up between Wednesday and Friday. We can all hope that won't happen but if we go all week with no positives and then get multiple in the last day or two of the week, right before the game with no time to game plan for those missing players, it will be a real kick in the nuts.

Josh Galler 1 month ago

Shannon will find out player this week somehow anyway if don’t see that player with the team

Joe Black 1 month ago

Shannon just said Wilson in the previous post.

Joe Black 1 month ago

Why does the NCAA put Wichita State in our bracket when we are having a down year? On another note neither Wichita State nor Michigan State should even be in the tournament. Their net rankings were not better than Louisville, Colorado, Memphis, Ole Miss or St. Louis.

Stuart Swaziek 1 month ago

Would love to see us beat the crap out of the Shockers tho :-) Would be a good problem to have.

Ralph Huge 1 month ago

Net rankings are subjective, especially in this season of COVID. WSU won the AAC regular season championship (over Houston, a #2 seed in the big dance), beat Ole Miss at their place and has exactly 1 tier 3/4 loss (to an improving Cincinnati in their conf. tournament). They've done enough to justify being in the tournament. Don't let bias cloud your judgement.

Dan Leftwich 1 month ago

Hey Matt, I'm a KU fan in Boulder (also a Buffs fan). Oregon was the Pac-12 regular season champion, not USC. Colorado beat the Trojans 3 times, and the last win in the tournament was on a tip dunk with a few seconds left. Evan Mobley is very talented, they are long on the front line and their guards are good, but USC is not anywhere near the same level as Texas. Kansas an opportunity to do something special if they can get their full team back. I think an Elite 8 appearance would be something special. Let's do this!

Armen Kurdian 1 month ago

Pac-12 has not been good to us come tourney time since 1989. UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Stanford have all beaten us in upsets, including the most painful loss I've ever experienced (1997). Would like to get another shot at Michigan State. Don't like having WSU as a possible opponent again in the 2nd round, would rather both teams go deep than just one of us at best.

No gimmes this year, nothing easy, EWU is no lock. This will be the biggest mountain we've had to climb since Coach Self came aboard.

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