Trip to KC should determine Jayhawks' March Madness map
Anyone who has spent spare time during the past couple of months checking in on the always fluid NCAA Tournament bracket projections by now knows the destinations by heart.
First- and second-round games will be played next week in San Jose, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; Columbia, S.C.; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
So where will the University of Kansas men’s basketball team be sent? That all depends on what happens in a few days in Kansas City, Mo.
As of Monday afternoon, ESPN projected Kansas as a No. 4 seed in the East region, playing in Hartford. CBS Sports also forecasted KU on the 4 line in the East, but had the Big 12’s third-place team opening the tournament out west, in San Jose. The Athletic, meanwhile, deemed the Jayhawks a 4 seed in the West regional, with their March Madness road beginning in Des Moines.
The man who will be coaching the Jayhawks in one of those cities or another hasn’t exactly come across as distraught about any of this.
"People have said that we may not be playing close (to Lawrence). To be honest, I don't care,” Bill Self said Monday during his press conference inside Allen Fieldhouse.
What Self is concerned with, though, is getting more out of his Jayhawks (23-8) this month than he did during an, at times, hectic regular season.
Asked if he had an idea about what KU would need to accomplish at this week’s Big 12 tournament to assure itself of a shorter trip for the opening round of the Big Dance, Self didn’t venture into specifics, but gave the sense that he expects the Jayhawks should be in good shape geographically if they avoid disaster in Kansas City.
“If you're a 3 seed, you’re going to be playing close. If you're a 4 seed, the chances are you're probably going to play close — now close meaning Des Moines or Tulsa — but it's not a definite,” he added. “If you're a 1 or 2, it's a lock.”
There are far too many teams in front of the Jayhawks for even a Big 12 tournament title to skyrocket them to such a favorable position. While seeding on Selection Sunday won’t be decided by the NCAA’s new NET rankings alone, KU enters this week at No. 20 on that list used to sort the nation’s best basketball teams.
Obviously that number — and KU’s NCAA seed line — could take a hit, too, should Kansas come out and drop its Thursday night quarterfinal versus Texas.
“So, we've got a lot of work to do,” Self stressed, while discussing his team’s postseason travels beyond this week. “We could certainly fall out of favor with that.”
If the NCAA’s selection committee still used the RPI as a go-to gauge, KU would be in great shape. That formula ranks Kansas No. 1 in the nation, with the No. 1 strength of schedule to boot.
The Jayhawks, of course, could help their standing in the eyes of the committee and in the NET rankings by adding wins to their resume in KC. Eight of the Big 12’s 10 teams rank in the top 50 of the NET, with the only outliers being No. 82 Oklahoma State and No. 110 West Virginia. And Kansas isn’t likely to meet either of them.
Big 12 teams in NET top 50:
No. 9 Texas Tech
No. 20 Kansas
No. 23 Iowa State
No. 24 Kansas State
No. 36 Baylor
No. 39 Texas
No. 40 Oklahoma
No. 47 TCU
A victory over any team not named OSU or WVU at Sprint Center would be what the selection committee refers to as a Quadrant 1 win — a home victory over a team ranked in the NET top 30, a neutral site win against a foe ranked in the NET top 50 or a road win versus an opponent ranked in the NET top 75.
Kansas entered Monday with a 10-7 record in Quadrant 1 games, ranking Self’s team behind only Virginia (11-2) and Michigan State (11-4) in Q1 wins, and tied with Kentucky (10-4) for third most.
“We have an opportunity to get, I think, three more quadrant one wins this week — so does everyone else in the tournament, as well,” Self pointed out. “It would be hard to put us too far down if we lead the country in quadrant one wins and, you know, have played the hardest schedule and all those things.”
Self could be proven wrong, he’s not buying the idea that the selection committee is planning on shipping Kansas to some first-round outpost that won’t be a manageable drive for the program’s fan base.
“I think whether or not we travel will be determined on how we play this weekend,” he said.
No matter how things go for the Jayhawks at Sprint Center on Thursday (and maybe Friday and Saturday), though, don’t count on them being able to return there two weeks from now for the Midwest Regional.
Self isn’t expecting the selection committee to reward the Jayhawks to that extent. Whatever seed line KU ends up on, it is far more likely to be in the South, West or East regions.
“Would I like that? Absolutely,” Self said of a Midwest assignment and potential Sweet 16 game at Sprint Center on March 29. “But the reality of that happening, that may not be. You wouldn't want to put us as a 4 seed in Kansas City where there's a No. 1 seed, potentially. That wouldn't be fair to the 1 seed. So I get that that's probably not going to happen. But we'll see. Who knows?"