Bill Self says he’s elated his Kansas men’s basketball team on Sunday landed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the past 11 seasons.
He’s also pleased his 28-4 Jayhawks “get to stay fairly regional” by opening the tourney in nearby Tulsa, Okla., with Kansas City’s Sprint Center the destination for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight if the Jayhawks make it through the opening weekend of the Midwest Regional.
Yet he acknowledges shock at what he perceives a difficult road to the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz.
“It’s the same reaction I have every year, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s what I initially thought,” Self said of what crossed his mind as he sat with his players and assistant coaches in the theatre room of McCarthy Hall for CBS’ Selection Sunday show.
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“Obviously I think it’s very difficult,” Self added.
The Jayhawks will play the winner of Wednesday’s First Four game between North Carolina Central and UC Davis at 5:50 p.m. Friday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.
A win and KU would play either Miami (Fla.) or Michigan State in the second round on Sunday at BOK Center.
“You look at that potential matchup if you advance past the first game — Miami and Michigan State. You say, ‘Didn’t Miami beat Duke?’” Self said. “Then you look at Michigan State, hasn’t he (Tom Izzo) been to seven or eight Final Fours or whatever? I personally didn’t feel a ton of comfort or warm feelings by seeing that. I think either way it’s a hard first weekend without question.”
Self realizes other coaches of No. 1 teams probably feel their regionals are just as tough or tougher than KU’s.
“I’m not going to fret or be disappointed at all,” Self said, “because all the No. 1 seeds are probably saying, Villanova (No. 1 overall seed; KU is No. 2 overall) is saying, ‘Look who we’ve got to go against.’ I’m happy we’re a 1-seed. I’m not sure it’s a huge advantage. Hopefully we’ll play well this weekend and win a four-team tournament, really it’s five-team tournament right now, but will be a four-team tournament (after either NC Central or UC Davis is eliminated). That’s our only focus. I’m sure it will be focus of every team in the field.”
Self’s surprise on Sunday included seeing Iowa State as a possible Sweet 16 opponent at the Sprint Center.
The fifth-seeded Cyclones would advance to KC if they beat Nevada and then Purdue or Vermont in the second round. Oklahoma State is a possible Elite Eight foe in the Sprint Center if the Cowboys advance from the other side of a bracket that includes No. 2 Louisville and No. 3 Oregon.
“I’m not saying (it’s) wrong but I was really really really really surprised not that they put Iowa State in with us, I think that’s fine, but they did it if both teams advanced that it could happen in the Sweet 16 rather than later on,” Self said. “They changed the format (this year). Now they will keep conference teams away from playing each other until the Sweet 16. They followed their guidelines (but) that one was a little bit of a surprise to me and of course both teams have to play well the first weekend to have a chance to play each other. I thought that was kind of different.”
Self said he had not spent any time thinking about the fact KU on Sunday was awarded a record 28th straight NCAA Tournament bid. KU passed North Carolina, which had been tied with KU with 27 straight bids from 1975-2001.
“There’s no guarantee you’ll ever play well, no guarantee you’ll for sure advance,” Self said. “It’s nice to know you will be in the game. That’s something this program has been able to do consistently for a long time, well before me.”
He took notice of the fact his former assistant, former KU great Danny Manning, has his team in a First Four game — against Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats.
“When USC got in, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, somebody is getting left out,’ and I thought it could potentially be K-State because I thought Syracuse would get in. That’s going by what the pundits have said,” Self said. “I was really happy to see and I know you may not believe this, I was happy to see our league get another team and the fact Bruce gets a chance to play Danny I think makes for a little interesting twist as well in that play-in game.”
Of Manning landing a bid in his third year at Wake Forest, Self said: “We text back and forth (Sunday), but not details. We text, ‘Congratulations’ and, ‘I’m happy for you,’ and those things. It’s one thing when you go in a league the program is down and in order to get in the NCAA Tournament you’ll have to win some games against Duke or Louisville or Syracuse or North Carolina or Florida State to have a chance to play in it. In three short years they’ve been able to do that. Their staff has done a great job,” Self added.
As far as his Jayhawks entering the tourney after losing on Thursday in the Big 12 quarterfinals to TCU, Self said: “It’s been my experience sometimes it’s not been a bad thing being able to refocus our guys going into the tournament.
“I hope so,” he added, asked if the team has had two productive practices since taking a day off Friday. “When the coach acts like a maniac you probably try a little harder,” he added, smiling.
“No, I was semi (kidding). I was joking a little bit,” said Self, whose team will travel to Tulsa sometime Wednesday. “I think the last two practices I’ve been pretty intense, probably the most intense practices we’ve had probably in the last month or so.
“Tomorrow (Monday) we’ll go light. Then Tuesday, I don’t know what we’ll do yet, but will be something but probably not too strenuous. Then we’ll get right back into it on Wednesday.”
KU senior Landen Lucas said the Jayhawks definitely wanted to win the Big 12 Tournament, but getting Friday off proved to be a positive.
“Looking at it, it definitely helped in another way,” he said, “because we were able to rest. I know the next day I woke up and my body was pretty sore and I was watching the guys play on TV (in semifinals). And I thought, well, OK, at least I do get to rest.”
Devonté Graham, who hurt his ankle Thursday vs. TCU, practiced both Saturday and Sunday.
“Absolutely no problems,” Self said. “I can’t comment to if he’s sore at all, but no limitations at all.”
KU is No. 2 overall seed
Self was told the Jayhawks were the No. 2 overall seed behind Villanova.
“You know, I think that’s good. I’m not sure what it means now,” he said. “But the guys certainly played at a high level for the most part all year long.”
Of landing the No. 2 overall seed, Lucas said: “I don’t really know what the big difference is (between 1 and 2). I am happy that we got in the Midwest Region that we were looking for. Other than that, I haven’t paid too much attention to that other stuff, or the importance of it.”
KU’s first-round game
When/where: 5:50 p.m. Friday at the BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla.
Who: vs. winner of No. 16 seeds North Carolina Central and UC Davis (First Four game at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday on truTV)