7:55 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
A few final notebook-y items I couldn't squeeze in earlier:
• After Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson said this morning that KU forward Justin Wesley was "his boy," here's what Wesley had to say about Henderson:
"He's a character. We went against each other my senior year in the basketball conference we play. ... He's been crazy since we were kids in middle school. He's a good player, though. He can really shoot."
• WKU coach Ray Harper said the key defensively against Jeff Withey was going to be to eliminates his easy baskets and also give him different looks.
Two other keys sees for his team: Taking care of the basketball and limiting KU's second-chance opportunities.
• Expect lots of shot from Henderson in Friday's 11:40 a.m. game against Wisconsin.
One of Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy's selling points to Henderson on a recruiting visit last year was telling the guard he would have a lot of freedom.
"Coach Kennedy was like, 'You will get to shoot any time you want to shoot. I might say some things to you sometimes if you take a crazy shot, but I don't care. That's my style of play,'" Henderson said. "I watched them, I was like, 'Good lord. This is a perfect fit.' Sure enough, perfect."
• There was a lot of talk today about Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz's signature red hair.
"If I could grow hair like that, I would rock it," Henderson said. "I want to, like, buy his hair and wear it on Halloween. That would be awesome."
KU forward Kevin Young was asked whose hair was better: his or Bruesewitz's.
"The guys always tease me, 'He's got a better fro than you.' It's pretty nice," Young said. "Right now, probably (he has a better fro). When mine's all picked out ... it's a pretty good battle right there."
With that, we're going to sign off our live coverage from Sprint Center. Be sure to check back Friday for all your pregame and postgame coverage as KU opens NCAA Tournament play against Western Kentucky.
7:30 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Journal-World photographer Mike Yoder loops some practice highlights into this video of KU guard Elijah Johnson, who says KU's experience will be valuable in March.
6:58 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
I noticed something interesting about KU forward Kevin Young when watching him answer questions in the locker room.
Notice what's buried in his hands? It's a Rubik's Cube ... and not only that, a solved Rubik's Cube.
I asked Young what the story was behind it.
"It's just something I like to do to keep my mind off of stuff," Young said. "It's a little thing I picked up a Barstow (Community College)."
The KU senior said a couple of guys were big into Rubik's Cubes on his team in California.
Young has turned into a pro at solving the puzzle, as he has a memorized pattern he repeats over and over. His best time solving one is two minutes, and he told me he'd just finished getting all the colors to match up a few minutes earlier.
Young says that particular Rubik's Cube also has significance because he got it at Barstow.
"I still remember that. I've come a long way from the middle nowhere in California and desert everywhere to snowy Kansas," Young said with a smile. "It's pretty awesome being able to come back here and get this opportunity to play in this tournament."
6:41 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Nick Krug has some great photos in his just-posted gallery.
Here are a few:
6:32 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Journal-World photographer Nick Krug related a funny story to me, as earlier today he walked into Sprint Center just in front of Western Kentucky's team.
Krug watched as Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper was stopped by security and asked if he was a fan.
One of the WKU sports information directors quickly came forward and said, in fact, Harper was WKU's coach.
Harper was asked about the incident at the podium a few minutes ago.
"I'm sure Bill Self didn't get asked the questions I got asked," he said with a smile. "They didn't know who the heck I was. I told them I was a fan, and I was here to enjoy some good basketball.
"They just stopped me. Fortunately, I had some people that I had with me that they actually believed that said, 'He coaches our basketball team.' So they allowed me to come on in.
"Hopefully, they'll let me in tomorrow night."
5:27 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Here's the Cliff's notes version from KU coach Bill Self from his time at the podium. Full audio is in the 5:13 update if you're looking for that.
• Kevin Young's role doesn't change with Perry Ellis emerging. Young is a guy KU wants to play 25-27 minutes per game. That could go down with Ellis playing well. Young might be able to play harder in shorter spurts. When guys play well off the bench, that sometimes make starters focus better. Since Ellis has played well, Self thinks Young has played better.
• Ellis' role has been the same as it's been all year long. He'll be the first big off the bench. He'll play certain minutes if the ball goes in or not, and if the ball does go in and he plays well, those minutes can be extended. But KU won't switch its lineup or change Ellis' role at this point.
• KU has watched quite a bit of tape on Western Kentucky. WKU has an athletic team that is unconventional because it plays a post guy that can stretch it. WKU can score. Self likes WKU's team. Its players are scrappy, and it's a fun team to watch on tape.
• Ben McLemore was the best prospect in the gym last year, even with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor on the team, and they'd be the first to tell you that. McLemore's had a unique path to get where he is. KU never wavered on how badly it wanted McLemore, even when his eligibility situation was shaky. KU knew he'd have a chance to be special, and it certainly turned out that way.
• Travis Releford is the foundation of KU's team. He's the guy that allows everybody to do what they do. He's KU's best perimeter defender. He's as competitive as anybody KU has. He's elevated his offensive game. And he's as well-liked as anyone in the program. Everyone wants to see him do well.
• Experience is great in the tournament, but talent will trump experience. Experienced talent is the best. The older guys at KU have been great with the younger guys and especially Ben McLemore.
• WKU coach Ray Harper has won the most championships of any coach in Kansas City this weekend (winning them at lower college levels). Self says Harper's a terrific coach. He's done a great job wherever he's been. The other coaches in KU's four-team field are really good as well (Villanova coach Jay Wright and UNC coach Roy Williams). Coaches don't play, but there are some heavyweight coaches in this regional.
5:13 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
4:15 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
North Carolina coach Roy Williams started his time at the press conference by joking that he knows he's old when he sees a former player in the seats and that guy looks older than him.
He was speaking about Kansas radio man and former Jayhawk Greg Gurley.
"You didn't know this was going to be a roast, did you?" Williams said to Gurley with a smile.
Here are some more notes from Williams' time at the podium:
• Williams said he's never been on the floor at Sprint Center. His first time will be when UNC practices in a few minutes.
• Williams says his four-guard look has been interesting, but it also has been scary. Most coaches have things they are comfortable with. He's still not comfortable with it. But your job as a coach is to do things that work. UNC decided to make the switch after getting blown out by Miami (Fla.). By going small, UNC has been able to spread the floor better, and opponents have turned it over more. UNC also hasn't rebounded as well since the switch either. The switch has been good for everybody, though, and that includes the coaching staff.
• Williams hasn't given any thought to the reception he'll receive Friday from fans. He gave KU 15 years of his life. He gave his heart, body and soul. A guy stopped Williams in the airport and said, "I'm a big Jayhawk fan." Williams said, "So am I." Williams says it's not immoral to love two different schools. KU is still his second-favorite school. Williams has enough to worry about not including whether he's going to be cheered or booed by fans.
• Guys leaving early for the pros has changed college basketball. It's difficult. UNC has lost 11 players early to the draft in the last eight years. The landscape has changed. You almost have to recruit like a juco and be happy if you get a guy for one season. It's sad to Williams because he's a college basketball fan and a college basketball guy. College basketball has become a bus stop for a lot of players and families on their way to the NBA.
• The positives with the four-guard lineup is that UNC, a lot of times, has three good three-point shooters on the floor at one time. That stretches the defense, which also helps UNC's drivers. UNC doesn't block any shots, though, and has struggled to rebound. So far, the coaches believe the positives outweigh the negatives. Coaching is putting together the puzzle pieces. The UNC coaches think this lineup puts the best players on the floor.
• Williams think his coaching philosophy has changed because players change. You hope to recruit guys to play the style you want, but sometimes guys change and sometimes guys get hurt. You can't be stubborn as a coach. Sometimes you have to be smart to make a change.
3:48 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson still remembers being a freshman at Utah — after his team failed to make the NCAA Tournament — and watching BYU guard Jimmer Fredette.
"I'm watching the tournament, watching Jimmer, and I'm just like, 'Gah, that man is so lucky. He got the opportunity to put himself in a position to do that, and he did it," Henderson said. "We've put ourselves in an opportunity, in a position to make a run here. We've just got to do it now."
Henderson knows that the NCAA Tournament can make superstars, naming off Fredette along with Davidson's Stephen Curry as players that greatly increased their stock in March.
The senior guard knows these next few weeks are vitally important for his own basketball future.
"I'm trying to get paid here soon, because I'm tired of doing all this stuff for free," Henderson said. "This is where you make your money: the NCAA Tournament is where you make a name for yourself. You can go down in history."
There's a balance, of course. Henderson can't help his own future if the Runnin' Rebels don't win.
"You've got to do it for the team. You've got to win. All you do is win," Henderson said. "Every team that makes the Final Four, every single player on their team is making money somewhere in the world."
A couple other tidbits from the entertaining Henderson:
On what he thinks of Kansas:
"I was at Texas Tech in the Big 12. I like Kansas. One of my guys goes to Kansas, Justin Wesley. I played a lot of ball with him in high school. North Carolina's out here, too. I'm not a big fan of North Carolina. I'm all about Duke, baby. Blue Devils."
On if he'd like his style of play if he was playing against himself:
"I just keep it real all the time. If there's someone doing that out there, I'm like, 'Man, that dude goes hard.' I'd probably like it. I think I would like myself."
3:07 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
One of the most fascinating — and, to me, cool — stories at this site is Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans.
The 6-foot-6 senior is the only Div. I player I know of that uses a jump shot on free throws.
The senior was a 74-percent free-throw shooter his sophomore year and a 73-percent shooter last year before hitting a mental block this season. In late February, he was stuck around 40 percent and had just fired up another airball from the stripe.
Evans knew it was time to make a change, and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan helped make it happen.
During a practice in late February, Wisconsin players were instructed to shoot 100 free throws. At the halfway point, Evans had made 20 of 50.
"Why don't you go ahead and try the jump shot?" Ryan asked Evans.
The senior did. And he made 45 of his next 50 attempts.
"I've never been someone who really worries about what other people think too much in my life," Evans said. "My job is to do what's best for me and what's best for my team at the end of the day. And that was a change that needed to be made."
Since that point, Evans is 11-for-19 from the line (58 percent).
Evans also has become an inspiration after NBA players like Shaquille O'Neal refused to change their free-throw styles despite poor results.
Evans has had three youth coaches tell him that their entire team now shoots jump-shot free throws.
He's also had some younger players contact him to say they've had the courage to jump on their free throws after he started doing it.
"I guess it's a trend-setter," Evans said with smile. "It is neat. It's something that's different. You can't be scared to be different in life."
2:14 p.m. update: By Jesse Newell
Just halfway through my tape, and there are too many quote Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson quotes to not share.
Henderson said he was at home Tuesday watching Kentucky's NIT game against Robert Morris:
"I'm laying on the couch watching the Kentucky, and the announcer's like, 'Oh, Kentucky's not ready for this atmosphere.' I'm like, 'Give me a freakin' break.' In my mind, I was like, 'They're ready for that atmosphere.' I'm like, 'I don't think they're ready to play.'
"I mean, who wants to play in the NIT? Especially if you're Kentucky. If you don't make the NCAA Tournament, obviously, you've failed with your season.
"I'm sitting there watching ESPNU, and all of a sudden they're talking about the game, and they're like, 'Oh, look what Marshall tweets.' I'm like, 'OK, that's weird.' It's cool, I guess. People tell me I need to watch what I say sometimes, but it's their choice to follow me."
Here's Marshall's view on some other topics:
Are you worried that your antics rub teammates the wrong way?
"I think I probably should have worried about that at the beginning of the season." (smiles)
On being Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz, whom he will go against Friday:
"I've watched Wisconsin a lot on TV. I've heard Bruesewitz gives some of those interviews, and he seems like a colorful guy. People will trash on him a lot when they go on the road and stuff. I obviously feel him on that. But he seems like a cool dude. I can't wait to actually meet him."
On whether the coaches not selecting him first-team All-SEC was meant to send him a message:
"I don't, but that was pretty dumb, because we won the tournament. It wasn't just for me, either. It was for (teammate) Murphy Holliday. (LSU's) Johnny O'Bryant better than Murphy Holliday? No way."
On the "land shark," another signal he broke out at the SEC tournament (see above photo) that started as a celebration for Ole Miss football players when they got a sack:
"I was making fun of (the Ole Miss defensive players). I was like, 'You all have been doing that land shark thing this whole time, and I'm the one that makes it famous.'"
1:02 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
I wanted to be sure to get here early to talk to Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, who has become the most controversial figure in college basketball because of his on-court antics and harsh off-court words about coaches and opponents. That included a Gator chomp down the sideline against Florida in last week's SEC championship game.
When I first walked in, this was the scene in the locker room around Henderson — one of the largest I've seen around a player in an opening-round NCAA site.
With an Ole Miss sports information director by his side, Henderson represented himself well. He was engaging, interesting, and definitely not afraid to speak his mind. I left wishing there were more college guys out there like him ... while understanding why coaches would be wary of letting players speak as openly as Henderson does.
I'll have more one-liners from Henderson later when I make it all the way through my tape, but in the meantime, here's Henderson saying he believes Ole Miss is as hot as an team entering the NCAA Tournament.
12:50 p.m.: Update by Jesse Newell
Welcome back to the NCAA Tournament blog, coming live to you from Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas will play Western Kentucky in at around 8:50 p.m. Friday, and today is the main media session for all eight teams in this regional.
Here's the interview schedule for today:
11:20 a.m. — Ole Miss
12:05 p.m. — Villanova
12:50 p.m. — Wisconsin
1:35 p.m. — Kansas State
3:45 p.m. — North Carolina
4:30 p.m. — Kansas
5:15 p.m. — LaSalle
6:00 p.m. — Western Kentucky
Be sure to check back throughout the day as we keep you updated on the latest happenings here.