For the first time since 2012, the Kansas basketball team is back in the Final Four. Headed to San Antonio, a familiar destination for some former Jayhawks, a long list of current and old players took to social media to react to the wild Elite Eight victory.
In an 85-81 slugfest against Duke, in overtime, the Jayhawks punched their ticket to college basketball’s biggest stage.
After two straight seasons of defeats in the Elite Eight, it made the reward of the Final Four that much more special for all of the players in the program, or those who have already gone through it and watched from a distance.
Doubted for most of the season with a lack of depth, lack of size and home losses, the Jayhawks were happy to prove people wrong again with their run through the Midwest Regional. A look at many of the reactions from KU’s victory against Duke, which includes several from Jayhawks who made it possible.
Every March — and one weekend each April — the NCAA Tournament churns out indelible moments that live on in the consciousness of college basketball fans like the very March Madness promos designed to remind us of the mega event’s greatness.
The 2016 tournament featured a phenomenal national title game, capped by a buzzer-beater for the ages by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.
But that wasn’t the only great game of the most recent postseason — nor the only Villanova matchup that kept fans on the edges of their seats.
Zac Ellis of SI.com ranked the top 10 battles of the 2016 tourney, and the Wildcats’ Elite Eight meeting with Kansas made the list, as well.
While Villanova’s 64-59 victory in Louisville will linger in the hearts and minds of KU basketball fans for years, because it meant the end of the road for the top-seeded Jayhawks, the regional final also stood out for neutral parties.
Ellis (Zac of SI.com, not Perry of KU) said Kansas vs. Villanova, which he ranked No. 6, had a “Final Four feel to it.”
See the complete top 10 over as SI.com. (You can probably guess which game topped the rankings.)
Where does KU-’Nova rank in your mind? It certainly turned out to be a more defensive-oriented game, but the effort exerted by both teams is undeniable.
The stage gets bigger every day for the top-seeded Kansas basketball team, as the Jayhawks make their NCAA Tournament run.
Friday was a day off from basketball for KU, which is one win away from a trip to Houston for the Final Four.
The Kansas players, coach Bill Self, as well as their counterparts at Villanova, and coach Jay Wright, stayed busy this afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, with media interviews previewing their Saturday night Elite Eight showdown at the KFC Yum! Center.
— Check out the highlights from the afternoon of interviews: Jayhawks and Wildcats preview Elite Eight matchup
Both the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks and No. 9-seed Connecticut Huskies had plenty of questions to answer and topics to cover Friday at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa.
KU and UConn face off Saturday night with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Players and coaches from both schools spent a chunk of Friday afternoon sharing their thoughts on the matchup between two of the nation’s most prominent programs.
— Get the media day highlights from KUsports.com’s live coverage: Jayhawks and Huskies headed toward Saturday showdown
3:23 p.m. Update:
Several KU players shared what past NCAA Tournaments taught them that they can use heading into this year's run.
2:55 p.m. update:
An open-to-the-public practice served as the last part of the Jayhawks' Wednesday obligations at Wells Fargo Arena. Here is a look at the highlights:
2:10 p.m. update:
1:50 p.m. update:
Kansas veterans Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas answered questions at a press conference early Wednesday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena.
1:30 p.m. update:
A handful of Austin Peay players give their first thoughts on what hearing the words "Kansas basketball" means to them.
When the 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket came out Sunday night, Austin Peay junior forward Kenny Jones says his eyes didn’t move too far from the No. 1 seed line.
The Governors knew they would be a 16 seed and they couldn’t wait to find out which national program they would play in the first round.
Believe it or not, most of the pre-Selection Show discussion in the AP locker room focused on whether the Governors would be in a play-in game, and they actually hoped that would be the case.
Jones says Austin Peay’s players are excited to face Kansas without the benefit of a play-in game, though. And he thinks playing in what should be a packed Wells Fargo Arena, with KU, Kentucky and Indians fans descending on Des Moines, Iowa, will be a special experience, too.
1 p.m. update:
Austin Peay senior guard Khalil Davis didn’t fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket, but he has seen on social media and through other avenues that some people have picked the 16th-seeded Governors to knock off No. 1 overall seed Kansas.
A No. 16 seed never has defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This will serve as your landing spot today as the KUsports.com team covers the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks the day before their 2016 NCAA Tournament opener against Austin Peay.
— Check back throughout the day for updates.
Now that the brackets are out and the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks (30-4) know where they’re headed (Des Moines) and who they’ll play (Austin Peay), Kansas coach Bill Self reacted to Sunday’s NCAA Tournament news at a press conference.
— Get the Q&A highlights from KUsports.com's live coverage of the press conference: Self reacts to KU's draw, South region
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEWS:
The spectacle of March Madness entertains and amazes the nation each and every year. But for the vast majority of the players out there deciding whose brackets get framed and whose get tossed in the recycling bin, the win-or-go-home tournament ends in pain.
Only a select few can survive The Madness and call themselves champions of the NCAA Tournament.
Over at The Players’ Tribune — a website designed to let professional athletes share their first-person accounts of athletic triumphs and trials — there is a series called “Tales of Madness,” in which former college hoops stars detail all that is great (and devastating) about The Big Dance.
Wouldn’t you know it, you can read about an early exit and "one shining moment" from the Kansas perspective, thanks to entries from a couple of all-time greats.
Paul Pierce shares his memories of a painful loss to Arizona — in the Sweet 16, in 1997 — in a piece titled “One Bad Game.”
On the polar opposite end of the NCAA Tournament experience, KU legend Danny Manning describes the joy of winning the 1988 national championship.
“I played in four NCAA tournaments at Kansas, but that 1987-88 team was a special group,” Manning says. “Whenever a team wins a championship, everything has to fall into place. The coach has to have the right gameplan, coaches have to implement it and the players have to buy in and execute it. You have to catch some breaks along the way, but you also have to be dedicated and disciplined in your actions.
“In that 1988 NCAA Tournament, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the most athletic team. But as anyone who’s ever watched the tournament knows, once you’re in, everyone’s record is 0-0. It’s all about which team can get hot at the right time.”
Pierce and his fellow Jayhawks from that 1996-97 KU team know that better than just about anybody who put on a college basketball uniform. Kansas entered the NCAA Tournament with just one loss, and it came in double overtime at rival Missouri.
KU’s previous dominance that season didn’t matter against No. 4 seed Arizona, which, much like Danny and The Miracles, started clicking at just the right time and won a national title.
“Arizona was good — they had a tremendous backcourt comprised of Mike Bibby and Jason Terry — but I didn’t have much doubt that we would win,” Pierce says. “Honestly, I thought we would crush them. Our team was stacked with NBA talent. The expectation was that we were going to bulldoze through the early rounds of the tournament. I had my sights set on the Final Four, where I figured we’d probably meet Kentucky, the defending national champs. That was the game we were all looking forward to.
“But Arizona came to play, and we weren’t at our best.”
Nine years earlier, Kansas entered the postseason as a No. 6 seed with 11 losses. Manning says coach Larry Brown’s unwavering belief in the Jayhawks helped them overcome what had at times been a bumpy regular season — the Jayhawks were 12-8 at one juncture.
Manning admits no one outside of the program expected KU in the Final Four, but there the Jayhawks were, playing in nearby Kansas City, Missouri, against fellow Big Eight program Oklahoma in the title game.
In the final seconds of a one-possession game, Manning hit two clutch free throws to push Kansas to an unlikely national title.
At The Players’ Tribune, Manning says his favorite memory from that magical ride actually came after the final game ended.
“Sitting in the locker room with my teammates after winning the national championship, we talked about our season, which was my senior season. We talked about the tournament. And that’s when it hit us: That was the last time we’d ever be together on the court as a team. It was a somber moment for me, but also a very satisfying one knowing that I was a part of a group that was able to win a national championship. A lot of hard work, sweat and tears went into it. A lot of guys made huge sacrifices for our team and for each other. We’d been through such uncertainty and endured so many tough losses, and here we were, reaping the benefits together — as a team.”
Obviously, Pierce recalls a far more agonizing feeling permeating the Kansas locker room when the season ended in 1997.
“The tournament is unforgiving,” Pierce says. “If you have one bad game, that’s it. Throughout my career I’ve had many losses, but all these years later, this is one that still stings.”
— Other “Tales of Madness” from The Players’ Tribune include accounts from Ali Farokhmanesh, Mateen Cleaves, Baron Davis, Kenny Lofton, Jameer Nelson, Jalen Rose, Jason Kidd and more.
When the season ends for Kansas, it doesn’t just move the needle in the Sunflower State, the college basketball nation takes notice.
When the Jayhawks lose before the Sweet 16, it becomes an even bigger deal. Throw in the whole in-state, previously unplayed rivalry game angle and you’ve got all sorts of intrigue surrounding KU’s Round of 32 loss to Wichita State on Sunday in Omaha.
Below is some of the Twitter chatter, photos, stories — and trash talk — that showed up after the Shockers bounced Kansas from the NCAA Tournament.
Jeff Eisenberg went as far as to include one Kansas player in his “Best and worst of the NCAA tourney’s opening weekend” feature.
Spoiler alert: The Jayhawk didn’t land in the best category.
Wayne Selden Jr. received the unappealing label of “Player who shrank in the spotlight”:
“Selden scored a quiet six points in a victory over New Mexico State on Friday and then went scoreless on five shots in a 78-65 loss to Wichita State two days later. Granted Kansas' game plan was to pound the ball inside against the smaller Shockers, but Selden still acknowledged after the game that he had let down his team by not being aggressive on offense and not playing well on defense.”
A couple of former KU players felt pretty good about their Jayhawks before the game, but since then we have social media silence on the subject.
There might not be basketball games going on Saturday in Omaha, but there certainly is pre-game buzz at CenturyLInk Center for Sunday’s Kansas University basketball game against Wichita State, in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32.
The locker rooms for both the Jayhawks and Shockers were packed with media members as the anticipation for the Sunflower State’s postseason matchup grows.
This will be your landing place for all the quotes, audio, video and photos the KUsports.com team gathers, so check back as we update it throughout the afternoon.
— 4:54 p.m. update —
Kansas sophomore forward Landen Lucas understands why this Kansas vs. Wichita State game means so much in the Sunflower State, and to the fans especially.
That just makes it more exciting for the players, too, Lucas said.
— 4:49 p.m. update — By Matt Tait—
Just another quick hit from WSU guard Ron Baker, a Scott City, Kansas, native, who was asked on Saturday about the idea of playing KU and K-State on a more regular basis in the future.
“Every Kansas school would like that, I think," Baker said. "Obviously we're not the BCS school and I can see how KU and K-State wouldn't want to have a home-and-home. It's just kind of how the RPI and BPI and all that stuff works.”
“I think it would be good for the state if we had like a Sunflower Showdown. Even if we're not playing each other, maybe the three schools played different opponents in the same location. That way Kansas can kind of bond and watch those three games in a day. Something simple like that would be neat.”
Great idea. Needs to happen.
— 4:30 p.m. update — By Matt Tait
Had a chance to talk with both Perry Ellis and Wichita State's Evan Wessel about their friendship and time playing together in high school at Wichita Heights.
Interestingly enough, the two guys are pretty similar. Both quiet. Both polite. Both hard-working dudes who have made the most of their abilities.
I asked a few KU guys what they would want to know about Ellis if they had the chance to talk to Wessel and their answers were pretty funny. Evan Manning, Tyler Self and Josh Pollard said they've heard stories about how Ellis used to get technical fouls when he was younger and may even have thrown a chair once. Wessel didn't recall those incidents and said it might have happened before they started playing on the same teams.
Landen Lucas wanted to know if Wessel remembered whether Ellis would actually dance at school dances or just kind of hang back against the wall. Wessel didn't remember any specific incidents of Ellis dancing or not dancing but said he was certain that Ellis was never the one out there leading the dance party.
KU freshman Kelly Oubre might have given the most interesting answer when he was asked what he'd want to know about Ellis from Wessel: "They're the opposition right now."
I asked Jamari Traylor what he would want to know and he said he had been around Ellis for so long now that he could not really think of anything.
"I know everything I need to know about Perry," Traylor said. "I've been around him for a while now. I know I'd trust him with my wallet."
Wessel, who averages 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds a game in 23 minutes, said the one thing he always liked the most about Ellis' game was how unselfish he was.
"He could always be the best player on the floor when he's out there," Wessel said. "But he still was unselfish. He's a great teammate and a lot of fun to play with."
As for the upcoming battle between these two former Wichita Heights teammates, both sounded excited about the challenge and each said he hoped he would guard the other guy, which seems pretty likely according to players and coaches in both locker rooms.
"It's going to be a great opportunity," Wessel said. "Great teammates back in high school and it will be fun to play against him here tomorrow."
Added Ellis: "We have been competing since we were young and he's a great guy and it's going to be fun to get to play against each other again."
— 4:09 p.m. update —
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall knows this is a big game for his program, but he also realizes the ultimate goal here in Omaha is moving on to Cleveland.
It's exciting. I'm not going to tell you that I'm not excited about being in the third round against a wonderful program, a great team, a great coach, but when that ball is tossed, I'm just going to coach my team, and it's going to be just like any other game, with tremendous energy and intensity. And last year, Kentucky, that was a wonderful basketball game! It was electricity all through the building; it was one play after another, and tomorrow's game could very well be like that. I just hope we come out on the different end.
— Hear Marshall's press conference: Gregg Marshall looks ahead to Sunday's game vs. Kansas
— 3:58 p.m. update —
You might have heard that Wichita State junior Ron Baker grew up a Kansas basketball fan. He talked about that Saturday in the Shockers' locker room.
— 3:42 p.m. update —
Bill Self said it didn't take long for Kansas to turn its focus to Wichita State.
Yesterday was a great win for us, I think anybody that plays in the tournament that won would say it's a great win, but we got forgot about 30 minutes after we played and focused in on the next task, and that's a talented and well-coached Wichita State ball club.
— Listen to the complete press conference: Bill Self discusses Saturday's showdown with Wichita State
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— 2:20 p.m. update —
You can tell some of the Jayhawks aren’t as excited about the two-programs-from-Kansas angle of this game as the media. Which is completely fine and understandable.
Kansas would want to win this game if Indiana was the opponent, too. The players don’t mind all the WSU buzz, but the subplots didn’t seem to exactly intrigue them. They’re just trying to get to the Sweet 16.
The NCAA Tournament already is in full swing in some cities, but in Omaha, Nebraska, the games don’t start until Friday. That means today at CenturyLink Center, players and coaches from Kansas University, New Mexico State, Wichita State and Indiana will only be talking basketball (and going through a pseudo practice which will be open to the public).
This will serve as your landing spot for the media day, and we’ll check in as we can to update you on what’s being said about Friday’s Round of 64 games — and the Sunday could-be game between KU and WSU, when that inevitably gets brought up.
Check back in throughout the day for updates.
— 7:43 p.m. update— By Matt Tait
Just filed this story about New Mexico State big man Tshilidzi Nephawe that includes where his nickname "Chili" came from, what he's playing for and why he's proud of his homeland of South Africa.
Had a lot of fun interviewing him and writing this one. Just a really, really good dude.
— 5:08 p.m. update—
KU sent sophomore Wayne Selden Jr. and freshman Kelly Oubre jr. to the bright lights of the stage for Thursday's press conference.
Said Oubre of his upcoming first tourney:
"Guys like Wayne, Perry, Jamari, they've pretty much just calmed me down throughout this whole process and told me to take every game, one game at a time, one possession at a time; don't take anybody for granted and pretty much just play with a free mind. Try to take care of business for the name across your chest."
— Listen to what they had to say: Selden and Oubre discuss preparing for NCAAs
— 4:55 p.m. update —
At his press conference Thursday afternoon, Kansas coach Bill Self opened by talking about the excitement and urgency of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
"Obviously we're excited to play in another Tournament and something that we definitely do not take for granted, and the guys have worked real hard to put themselves in a position to be here. And, of course, being in Omaha is like a double bonus to us. It's certainly close for our fans. But even more importantly to us, it's a great venue, it's a great setup and a great city, and we have experienced a little bit of success the last couple of times we've been here, so we're very happy to be here in Omaha."
— Listen to the complete press conference here: Bill Self talks expectations, New Mexico State
— 4:47 p.m. update — by Matt Tait
The Jayhawks were in, by far, the smallest locker room I've seen them in during an NCAA Tournament (New Mexico State's was not any bigger) and it was incredibly packed during the entire open locker room session.
Jamari Traylor was so far back in the corner of the locker room that he just hung back in his locker and stayed out of sight. I was able to get back into the corner eventually and I asked him how the past four days had been for the health of the Jayhawks.
"We're good, man," Traylor said. "Everybody's healthy, feeling good and ready to go."
Down the row from Traylor, Brannen Greene held the edge and that made the access to him easy in and easy out. I talked to Greene a lot about the difference between the feeling he has this year at the tournament and the feeling he had last year, as a true freshman.
The basic answer was this: Instead of having his head on a swivel and being a little bit in awe of all that takes place here, from the media hype to the fan frenzy to the intensity of the games himself, Greene feels much more comfortable and enjoys that he knows what to expect.
"Your energy has to be at an all-time high at a tournament like this," Greene said. "And I think we all know that now. Instead of worrying about all of the things going on around us, we can focus more on basketball and getting ready to play."
— 4 p.m. update —
The Kansas locker room was crowded with working media Thursday afternoon, but our photographer Mike Yoder got in there for video.
— 2:20 p.m. update —
You can't tell a whole lot from these open "practices" that the NCAA Tournament holds for the fans, but Brannen Greene — just like his teammates — worked on his shot during the session.
Some fell, some didn't. But that's the way it goes when three or four players are shooting at once.
If KU wants to turn a corner and start playing at a higher level on offense, they'll need Green to find that shooting touch again.
Here's a look at all of the perimeter players going through drills Thursday afternoon.
— 1:33 p.m. update —
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— 12:53 p.m. update —
— 12 p.m., from Benton Smith —
Just got back from the New Mexico State locker room and the Aggies seem loose and confident.
They pride themselves on playing disruptive, turnover-focused defense and they hope that creates easy offense for them.
NMSU opponents average 13.2 giveaways a game this season, so it’s not a ridiculous number. But that mindset can get under opponents’ skin, and that can be just as beneficial.
Both point guard Ian Baker and sixth man D.K Eldridge talked about that peskiness and pointed to it as one of NMSU’s strengths.
Check back for video from the locker room and quotes from the Aggies (23-10).