Perhaps the best part about not being a No. 1 seed to Kansas coach Bill Self is he won’t have to convince his players that the first opponent is worthy.
The second-seeded Jayhawks take on No. 15 seed Detroit, champions of the Horizon League tournament, in Omaha, Neb., on Friday. Tipoff is about 8:57 p.m., and the game will be televised by truTV.
If that conference sounds familiar, it produced the national runner-up each of the last two years in Butler.
“I don’t think that Detroit is an easy first-round game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “When you think of 2s and 15s in the past, you certainly don’t see Detroit being on that line. They’re very capable.”
A Big 12 comparison based on RPI would be Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, who battled the Jayhawks tough in Stillwater three weeks ago, are No. 121, the Titans, who are 22-13, are No. 125.
If the Jayhawks win their first game, which has happened every year since 2005, they’ll take on the survivor of seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s, champion of the West Coast Conference, and 10th-seeded Purdue.
The Jayhawks watched the selection show as a team, and the group included former KU coach Larry Brown. When their pairing was announced by CBS, the television cameras caught a polite if subdued response.
Self said there was an explanation.
“When we actually heard it on TV, our guys were all excited,” Self said. “But it was all fluff until then. The timing was off. What they showed, the bracket hadn’t even come up yet, so it was hard to be excited when you didn’t know.”
The Jayhawks, 27-6, landed in the Midwest Region, which holds its regional semifinals and championship game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Speculation about the Jayhawks’ bracket destination had focused on being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and likely in the Midwest or West Regional.
To hear Self, it’s almost better the Jayhawks didn’t get a No. 1 seed.
“If we would have been a No. 1 seed,” Self said, “there would have been much surprise in their minds because I told them we blew it by not performing better in Kansas City.”
North Carolina is the region’s top-seeded team. The third seed is Georgetown, a team Kansas defeated at the Maui Invitational in November, and if the seeds hold, that would be a Sweet 16 matchup. The No. 4 seed is Michigan.
Advancement doesn’t happen unless Kansas shores up the problems that doomed the Jayhawks in Friday’s loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
Kansas seemed lethargic early and fell behind by 14 early in the second half before rallying for a two-point lead.
But poor shooting and an inability to get defensive stops at critical moments sent Kansas to its first league tournament defeat since 2009.
Detroit, which finished the regular season tied for third, upset top-seeded Valparaiso in the conference tournament title game and earned an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks seek to avoid the rare No. 2 seed to fall to a No. 15. It’s happened four times since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and it hasn’t happened since Hampton defeated Iowa State in 2001.
But what’s certain is Detroit is more familiar with Kansas than vice versa.
“Our players have watched them four or five times this year,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. “Their top five or six players are as good as any in the country.”
McCallum knows a bit about the Jayhawks. He served as an assistant coach at Oklahoma under Kelvin Sampson from 2004-06 — Self’s early years with the Jayhawks. McCallum also has been a head coach at Ball State and Houston.
But Kansas knows one of the Titans well. Guard Ray McCallum Jr., the coach’s son, was recruited by the Jayhawks.
McCallum averages 15.6 points and scored 21 against Valparaiso in the Horizon title game.
“He’s a good guard,” Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “I’ve been hear about lot about him these last few years. He’s tough, and I’m sure he’s going to be aggressive since the team runs through him.”