Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self is happy his team earned the No. 1 overall seed when the brackets were released Sunday night. He just doesn’t think it means all that much starting now.
While standing in front of reporters Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse, the 13th-year KU coach compared the situation to a basketball player having a stellar high-school career before heading off to college: That might be nice for a while, but it means nothing if you don’t prove yourself again.
“Certainly now,” Self said, “is where it counts the most.”
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KU, which is in the South Region, will open with 16th-seeded Austin Peay at around 3 p.m. Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The game will be shown on TNT. With a victory, the Jayhawks will face either eighth-seeded Colorado or ninth-seeded Connecticut on Saturday. That time and TV channel is to be announced.
There are other potentially tough teams past that point as well. No. 4 seed California and No. 5 Maryland could be Sweet 16 opponents. No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 7 Iowa were both in the top three in the AP poll earlier this season, while No. 6 seed Arizona is a perennial power.
Self stopped a reporter, though, when he started to list off those potential foes in particular.
“I’m not concerned about the second weekend at all right now,” Self said. “I think whenever you get to a second weekend, you’re going to play good teams no matter what. I’m concerned about the first weekend and trying to win two games.”
That shouldn’t be surprising given KU’s recent history.
The Jayhawks have failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons. KU fell as a No. 2 seed to Stanford in 2014 and to Wichita State last year.
Forward Landen Lucas reiterated his message from Saturday’s locker room after the Jayhawks’ 81-71 victory over West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament: Players come to KU to make deep postseason runs.
“I’m looking forward to doing that this year,” Lucas said. “We definitely have the team to do it. It’ll be tough, but we’ve been battle-tested.”
Self says there’s reason to like KU heading into the season’s most important games. He was impressed by his guys following Saturday’s victory, as they celebrated, but not to a point where they got “wild and crazy” while preparing themselves for what was next.
The coach used Saturday’s game as an example of his team’s focus. The Jayhawks won by double digits against a top-10 opponent, but the players knew they struggled guarding the post while allowing a career-high 31 points to Devin Williams. Guard Frank Mason didn’t score like he often has, and forward Perry Ellis only emerged late in the second half. KU also was careless, committing a number of unforced turnovers and botching a few transition opportunities.
“I still think our guys feel like there’s better play out there for us,” Self said. “Certainly I do.”
That remains the tantalizing part for Self as he leads a team on a 14-game win streak into the NCAA Tournament. It was the second time KU received the overall No. 1 seed since the selection committee started announcing that information in 2005. On the only other occasion in 2010, KU fell to Northern Iowa in the round of 32.
Every other overall No. 1 seed has at least reached the Sweet 16, with three of those teams winning titles.
Self mentioned to reporters that he hoped his team wouldn’t consider the NCAA Tournament a reset button. The players have enjoyed each other, had fun and played well as of late, and he wanted that to carry over to this week’s games.
“I don’t think they are satisfied, I don’t,” Self said, “and I think that’s good.”
History of NCAA Tournament No. 1 overall seeds
Year, team, final round reached
2005, Illinois, NCAA runner-up
2006, Duke, Sweet 16
2007, Florida, NCAA champion
2008, Memphis, NCAA runner-up
2009, Louisville, Elite Eight
2010, Kansas, Second round
2011, Ohio State, Sweet 16
2012, Kentucky, NCAA champion
2013, Louisville, NCAA champion
2014, Florida, Final Four
2015, Kentucky, Final Four
2016, Kansas, TBD