If Selection Sunday is any indication, the Kansas Jayhawks should enter the NCAA Tournament feeling lucky.
While it’s true this team experienced way too many valleys during an at times rocky regular season to make any assumptions about what’s in store for the Jayhawks this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, their potential next stop was too massive to ignore.
A nine-loss KU team that is seeded fourth has no business playing in Kansas City, Mo., in the Sweet 16. But if — and this “if” should be deciphered in a font size 10 times larger than this — the Jayhawks handle their business against No. 13 seed Northeastern on Thursday and are then able to advance past either No. 5 Auburn or No. 13 New Mexico State, they’ll be right back at Sprint Center less than two weeks from now.
That hardly seems fair for the No. 1 seed in the region, North Carolina, and its leader, former KU coach Roy Williams, should the two blue bloods advance out of the opening weekend.
But this isn’t about fairness. It has much more to do with fortuity, at least on the Kansas side. On the NCAA Tournament’s master list of seeds, Nos. 1-68, KU landed at No. 13 — considered the best No. 4 seed in the field, ahead of No. 14 Florida State, No. 15 Kansas State and No. 16 Virginia Tech. And in that spot, the Jayhawks ended up in their preferred regional, the Midwest.
Good for Kansas. Bad for UNC.
Imagine if the sneakers were on the other feet — and we’re not talking Nike and Adidas. What if KU was a No. 1 seed and playing against a No. 4 seeded UNC team in Charlotte, N.C., in the Sweet 16? Those who wear crimson and blue might have been too livid to even fill out a bracket.
So is it really fair for a No. 1 seed to potentially have to travel to Kansas City, Mo., and play KU in an arena 43.3 miles away from Allen Fieldhouse?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Bill Self said Sunday evening, after the brackets were unveiled. “But I would say that, to me, if you win two games in the tournament, you know you’re going to play a really good team. And you know it’s probably going to be a neutral deal in a situation like that (the Sweet 16). But this won’t be a neutral deal if everyone advances.”
Self’s right. If the bracket were to go chalk, KU supporters could be rock-chalking it up in K.C. next week in a year when the Jayhawks didn’t win the Big 12 regular season or postseason titles.
Dedric Lawson admitted that possibility didn’t even hit him at first as the Jayhawks watched the selection show, until an on-air analyst brought it up.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ We’ve just got to win these games and get back home,’” Lawson shared.
According to Self, even if KU, UNC and Kentucky were to move on and get to K.C., all of those blue-blood fan bases could be outnumbered if the region’s No. 6 seed, the Big 12’s postseason champs, can stay hot.
“If you throw Iowa State in, if they advance, I mean they’ll have more fans there than anybody,” Self predicted.
Of course, as Self said while discussing such scenarios, we’re all getting way ahead of ourselves. But ’tis the season.
“I still think what wins more than anything is talent and talented players playing together at the right time,” Self said.
Still, even KU’s head coach couldn’t think about the possibility of a KU-UNC Sweet 16 game without recalling the last time the two programs met up, in 2013.
“Certainly we had an opportunity to play Carolina the first weekend in Kansas City and that was a pretty significant advantage for us at that particular time,” Self remembered of a 70-58 victory for No. 1 KU over No. 8 UNC in KU’s home away from home.
The Jayhawks weren’t wearing green when Selection Sunday happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, but they’ve got to be feeling a little charmed.
Good thing, too, because sometimes when March Madness comes around, it’s better to be fortunate than proven.
A few hours before “Celebrating 60 years of Allen Fieldhouse” Monday, Kansas University basketball coaches of past and present gathered to talk hoops and the home of the Jayhawks.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, former Kansas coach Ted Owens, SMU coach Larry Brown and Kansas coach Bill Self all addressed the media at the fieldhouse to share some of their memories.
Here are a few of the highlights:
• Monday afternoon Williams walked into the fieldhouse for the first time since KU’s last practice before the 2003 Final Four. “It was a nice feeling,” he said. For him, going in the fieldhouse always was a thrill. “I wish nobody else would’ve been in there.” He would’ve liked to take it all in for himself.
• When Williams first heard about this event: “That’s a neat idea,” because it’s such a wonderful location. “It’s the best. It really is.”
• Being here has brought back some wonderful memories. Memories of the hurt feelings of when he left came up, too. “Everybody’s in an arms race” in college athletics top put up new facilities and this place has been around 60 years.
• Williams’ wife, Wanda, has been having some health issues or she would’ve made the trip, too.
• On how he wants to be remembered as a KU coach: “I wish we had won one more game on Monday night on a couple of occasions. But mainly as ”a guy who “could coach a little bit,” but really meant a lot to players.
• Self called him up and has made Williams feel so good, that made coming back easy. They talked during the summer recruiting period and Self first asked him. Williams said, “I’m in.” The Tar Heels loved it because they got a day off Monday.
• “I always worried about coming back,” Williams said, because he always loved the place. He is a Kansas fan. … “When people put your picture over the commode,” that’s a little worrisome.
• Williams turned down UNC once because he wanted to coach Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich for the rest of their careers.
• On his last game at the fieldhouse: He hopes that people in attendance knew/recognized what they had in Collison and Hinrich, and what they did for four years.
• Williams was “blown away” by all the facilities and how everything looks now. “I think it’s just sensational.” … “Kansas basketball deserves the best.”
• There’s never a day goes by that Williams doesn’t know what’s going on at KU from a win-loss perspective.
• Williams remembers a game vs. Oklahoma when he thought there was no way the Sooner at the free-throw line would make his two shots because the crowd wouldn’t let him. The result? “Brick, brick.”
• “Time heals wounds,” Williams said of returning. Over time people understand things better.
• “This is a little different than the training room where we used to meet after the game,” Owens said upon entering the press conference.
• On how he’d like his KU career to be remembered: By the relationship with his players and the productive lives they lived.
• Did Jo Jo White step out of bounds in overtime of a regional semifinal in 1966? Owens was completely across the court when the play happened against Texas Western… the Jayhawks thought they had scored to go to the Final Four. “Today with all the camera angles you have, there would be no question.” It looked like White’s heel was never out of bounds. The official saw where White landed and called it based on that.
• Even though Texas Western is associated with breaking barriers, Owens came to KU in 1960 and the Jayhawks were starting black players at that time.
• Owens remembers former KU coach Dick Harp as the man who gave him an opportunity to coach at this level. He was a personal and professional mentor for Owens.
• What has changed most at Allen since Owens’ time is the floor. The court wasn’t down until the day before they started practice each season back in the day. Before that players worked out at Robinson Gymnasium in the offseason. When they brought in recruits in the offseason, “it was a big old barn.” … Owens, growing up in the Great Depression, learned not to complain about anything. He thinks sometimes as coaches you have to complain or make others realize what you need to be competitive.
• On Bud Stallworth’s 50-point game: A great day, on national TV. To do that against Missouri made it even better. “If he had done that today, he would’ve had 63 points.” There wasn’t a three-point line back then.
• The architects and contractors built a beautiful building. It combines a solid structure with the rock of a high-profile program. It’s a nice combination of the old and new.
• On his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse: It was pretty amazing. He played for Dean Smith and the reason he got to KU was because of the things Smith said. Considering all that came before him and what they meant to the sport, “it was a remarkable feeling” to know he would be part of that at Kansas.
• “My first experience here wasn’t the best.” He was a sophomore at UNC and sat in the second row of the bench. It took him a long time to get down to the floor and it took him so long to get his warmups off that probably ate into the time he was allotted to play.
• Even with all the updates to Allen through the years it is still about the basketball court and the program.
• Brown looks back on his career and he wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for all the coaches he played for and worked for/with.
• Williams and Self are a big part of Brown’s life. Self has allowed him to be a part of KU. Self and Williams are “the very best” at what they do.
• Danny Manning was “the best college player ever” in Brown’s mind. Manning probably could’ve won three national championships if they hadn’t run into so many injury problems. “He probably would’ve won three if he had a better coach.” … Brown is excited for what Manning is going to accomplish at Wake Forest.
• “I’m 74 doing this. I’ve been stealing a long time.” Brown always has enjoyed practice time more than the game and being around players who want to get better. SMU has given him that opportunity and he hopes he can keep doing it.
• Self called Owens and asked Williams in Brown in person — it was “harder to say no” in person. Self wanted to make sure all three of them were there to make it be what it needed to be.
• Self’s favorite games at Allen are: (besides the time he played and scored 12 points as a a freshman for Oklahoma State) the last game against Missouri and the game against Texas in which KU had to come back from a big deficit to win it and win the Big 12. There are lots of great memories, including the game against Oklahoma State when Wayne Simien and the Cowboys all played at a very high level offensively.
• Self saw Kevin Durant a couple years ago, and Durant said one of the coolest things he experienced in college was the ovation the fieldhouse crowd gave him (then a Texas star) when he returned to the floor after getting injured.
• The building ties into the love of the place and how players are treated and that makes it a way of life. That’s what makes it difficult to ever want to leave. The way the people treat you here was more of a pull to keep him here (when Oklahoma State was in the market for a head coach).
• On being here with Williams and Brown: “We’re not trying to get each other’s recruits,” and they don’t have to scout against each other tonight, which will make it a lot of fun.
• This is a very unique night for the fans to re-live some great memories with four coaches who have spanned 51 years of the program’s history.
• Allen Fieldhouse has taken “a treasure” and added amenities to make it very modern. The gameday atmosphere is unique. Self hasn’t been to Cameron Indoor or The Palestra but it would be very difficult for any building to rival this one by the time they get Naismith’s rules and the DeBruce Center set up.
• Self hopes Brown will retire before he does. Brown is a basketball genius and “has forgotten more ball than I’ll ever know.” Self can’t see doing it this as long as Brown has, but hopes to do it quite a while longer.
• The idea for the 60 years celebration came about as a way to raise money for charity and all the coaches’ charities of choice will benefit from this. KU sold 52 tables for the event in a day and a half.
• Going back to 2003 to 2007, the building needed a pick-me-up or boost and they were able to do that. Now KU can bring a kid in on a non-basketball game day and still blow him away with the facilities. It’s a very attractive place, even when it’s not full.
• Brown doesn’t remember times when he was mean; he only remembers being nice. When Self’s Tulsa team beat Cincinnati in the NCAAs, Brown called him up and said he had to do one thing for him: Brown wanted him not to frown or have bad body language or say anything negative. Great advice: take the pressure off the kids and let them enjoy this.