University of Kansas

Why KU is an NCAA 2 seed now — and unlikely to fall below that on Selection Sunday

Devonté Graham and the Jayhawks have another game left this season against Big 12 leader Texas Tech. KU, which lost at home to the Red Raiders on Jan. 2, travels to Lubbock on Feb. 24.
Devonté Graham and the Jayhawks have another game left this season against Big 12 leader Texas Tech. KU, which lost at home to the Red Raiders on Jan. 2, travels to Lubbock on Feb. 24. rsugg@kcstar.com

Every week, before recording the SportsBeat KC podcast, co-host C.J. Moore and I ask Twitter users if there are any topics they’d like discussed.

A Kansas fan sent in a funny one two weeks ago: If C.J. shot 100 free throws and Jesse shot 200, who would make the most?

C.J. is much better than I am at basketball, so the question made sense. Yet, when C.J. saw it, he asked me something right away: “Can you hit more than 50 percent?”

The answer is likely yes, so it makes the question invalid; if I make 101 free throws, then C.J. doesn’t have a chance. For the hypothetical, getting more free-throw attempts is vastly more important than the skill of making them.

This all popped back into my head when watching Sunday’s Bracket Reveal on CBS.

Let’s start here: KU is not playing well right now. The Jayhawks have lost two of three and also three of six while falling into second place in the conference. In 12 league games, KU’s score differential is plus-7, which means the team is probably fortunate to be 8-4.

And yet … the Jayhawks are still squarely on the 2 line (and sixth overall), according to Sunday’s announcement from the selection committee.

“From my standpoint, I don’t think we deserve that,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday. “We need to play well from this point forward to be in that conversation.”

I know what Self is saying, but I don’t think he’s necessarily correct. Because the system for seeding teams — the way it is now — isn’t just one that is overrating KU at the moment.

It’s one that is likely to do the same over the next few weeks.

So how, exactly, did KU end up a 2 seed to begin with? Here’s the answer from chair of the selection committee Bruce Rasmussen, who spoke with Andy Katz on NCAA.com.

“Kansas had 13 wins in the top two quadrants,” Rasmussen told Katz. “And Kansas has some losses that are a little bit puzzling. I think (Self’s) done a tremendous job with the roster that he has. But they’re 8-2 away from Lawrence, and 13 wins in Quadrants 1 and 2 overbalanced the losses they have.”

Rasmussen’s first and last sentences are most important. They tell us:

▪ The committee puts huge emphasis on quality wins

▪ The committee does that while not necessarily penalizing teams for quality losses

KU is in a perfect situation to take advantage.

The Jayhawks have long had a secret weapon when it comes to seeding in assistant athletic director and schedule-maker Larry Keating, as he does extensive research to make sure KU’s non-conference opponents fare well in the RPI.

This year, that’s helped the Jayhawks to outstanding Quadrant 1 and 2 numbers.

(A quick primer: Quadrant 1 wins are home victories against RPI teams 1-30, neutral-court wins against 1-50 and road victories over 1-75. Quadrant 2 covers home wins against RPI teams 31-75, neutral-court wins against 51-100 and road victories against 76-135.)

When pulling up the actual document the committee uses, it’s not difficult to see why KU received so much respect.

The Jayhawks’ nine Quadrant 1 wins are the most of any team. And their 14 combined Quadrant 1 and 2 victories (this number went up one since Sunday because of change in the RPI) are tied for first with Xavier.

It’s not the full story. KU is 9-4 in Quadrant 1, and its 13 games in that category are the most of any NCAA team.

That’s not important, though. The committee is looking at the “9” without thinking much about the “4.”

In other words, KU is winning the bracket game with quantity … like me getting 200 free throws when C.J. gets 100. If the NCAA isn’t going to penalize the Jayhawks for racking up more opportunities to improve their résumé, then they’re smart to take advantage.

This isn’t going away, either. Based on current RPI, here’s how the rest of KU’s games project from a quadrant standpoint.

 

Projected quadrants of KU's remaining schedule

Opponent RPIProjected quadrant
at Iowa State882
vs. West Virginia342
vs. Oklahoma211
at Texas Tech121
vs. Texas482
at Oklahoma State892
Big 12 tournament ??

Every remaining contest is either a Quadrant 1 or 2 game, thanks to the strength of the Big 12. That includes two Quadrant 1 games, and that could become even more if West Virginia, Iowa State or Oklahoma State slightly improve their RPI numbers.

And that doesn’t take into account the possibility of three games in the Big 12 tournament, where KU will get an extra boost when those are denoted as “neutral,” even if that label at the Sprint Center likely won’t be accurate.

So KU is leading the nation in combined Quadrant 1 and 2 victories now, and every single game the rest of the way is a chance to add to that total. Even if the Jayhawks have a crummy finish, they’ll likely remain as the nation’s best through that lens.

KU’s 2 seed might not make sense to Self, and it certainly didn’t to quite a few fans. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Jayhawks are likely to get at least a 2 when the real bracket is announced in a few weeks.

The reason isn’t complicated. Right or wrong, the selection committee puts an immense value on quality wins.

And KU — by design — has plenty of those.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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