Bill Self watched a horde of reporters jostle for position in front of the coach of the Midwest Region’s No. 1-seeded team just before 4 p.m. Tuesday in the lobby of the Westin Crown Center Hotel.
“Gosh guys, it’s just a basketball game, geez,” Self, Kansas’ 14th-year coach, said with a big smile, after hopping off the team bus that delivered the Jayhawks (30-4) from Allen Fieldhouse to team headquarters on a trip to Kansas City that he hopes will include an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 win over Purdue (27-7) about 8:40 p.m Thursday at the Sprint Center, then another over either Oregon or Michigan on Saturday.
“We’re excited. The guys are in a good frame of mind, (a) little tired to be honest,” Self said, joking that he was ready to take a 30-minute nap after his five-minute media session.
He indicated the Jayhawks “had a pretty good practice, hard practice,” Tuesday prior to boarding the bus for close-to-home KC.
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Self gave the players a day off Monday following a pair of first- and second-round victories over UC Davis and Michigan State on Friday and Sunday in Tulsa, Okla.
“We (didn’t) get back until late Sunday night (with) just one day off,” Self said, explaining why some players and coaches might still be sleepy-eyed.
“The reason you’d be a little tired is because you are playing Sunday/Thursday as opposed to Sunday/Friday or Saturday/Friday,” he added.
Of course, the traveling parties from Purdue, as well as Oregon and Michigan (they tangle at 6:09 p.m., Thursday in the other regional semifinal), had many more miles than KU to traverse on Tuesday.
“We’ll get our bellies full tonight at the Capital Grille (on the Plaza), treat our guys like kings there for at least a couple of hours. Then it will be all business tomorrow,” Self said, adding, “We like being in Kansas City. We like exactly where we are at.”
The Jayhawks will practice at an undisclosed location, then hold a shootaround from 3:10 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center.
That shootaround is open to the public.
“I think it’s ingrained in our guys’ minds this is their reward of hard work,” Self said of advancing in the tourney and being in the field of 16. “The real reward of hard work would be winning two more this weekend (and advancing to the Final Four in Phoenix). One of these four teams would be fortunate enough to do so. Then you can experience something that’s off-the-charts good. This is great. There’s still better out there.”
Self said the Jayhawks had no injuries or illnesses plaguing the team heading into Wednesday’s practice and shootaround.
“I think the fun should start right now,” Self said. “I always think there’s always pressure the first weekend to get to the second weekend because really the NCAA Tournament, it starts for everybody when tournament play begins. The reality of it is you are spreading the wealth between 68 teams and now it’s just 16. The attention is heightened (as he discovered again with all the media at the Westin). Certainly the experience is heightened the second weekend.
“I actually like our mind-set,” Self added. “You don’t get to the Sweet 16 unless your guys care a lot. All 16 teams have a team full of guys that it means a lot to them. It’ll mean even more moving forward and you can see the finish line. Last year we had an unbelievable mind-set. We were focused. We were loose. We didn’t make our shots the last game against Villanova and lost by a possession (64-59 in the Elite Eight after tourney wins over Austin Peay, Connecticut and Maryland). This year who knows if we’ll make shots? I sense the same type attitude.
“I don’t think we played well against Michigan State for 28 minutes (in a 90-70 win Sunday). I thought we played so hard, just like they did. It was still a non-rhythmic game but we still semi had control.”
Lest anybody be concerned about Self’s earlier comments about the Jayhawks perhaps being tired, he did comment on the topic again before heading to his hotel room. The tired he’s talking about would be cured with another night of restful sleep.
“Teams sometimes have a tendency to get tired late in the season. Last year it was Frank (Mason) wearing down at the end. I haven’t heard anybody say things like that yet this year. I think our team may be a little stronger and fresher,” he stated.
Self was asked if he’d ever seen anybody as imposing as Purdue’s Isaac Haas, a 7-2, 290-pound junior from Hokes Bluff, Ala., who averages 12.6 points and 5.1 boards a game.
“Yeah. He was in, was it Rocky IV? Ivan Drago … I’m gonna break you,” Self joked. “This guy is a lot bigger.
“We recruited Isaac some out of high school and he’s a monster. He’s a great-looking athlete. Certainly he’s improved so much. Matt (Painter, Purdue coach) and his staff know what they are doing because they run a lot of clever, unique things to be able to get the ball and isolate him and Caleb (Swanigan) on the post. They can play together, too. Caleb has gotten so good away from the basket.
“It’s a tough matchup. Other teams in the league (Big Ten) had trouble matching up against them. We’re not a particularly big team. We’ve got to do some good things in order to match up.”
Quick bus ride
As one might expect, KU’s “trip” to the Midwest Region site was uneventful.
“Describe the trip? Same as always. We ate and got on the bus and 40 minutes later we were here. Not much to tell,” Self said.
Purdue’s official basketball Twitter account, by the way, reported shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday that the Boilermakers had arrived in KC.
Purdue’s shootaround at the Sprint Center will be 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. Wednesday. Michigan will practice from noon to 12:50 p.m., and Oregon 2:10 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday. All of the shootarounds are open to the public.