Eastern Kentucky junior forward Eric Stutz is more than just the only big body in the Colonels’ starting lineup.
He may also be the most colorful character in the NCAA Tournament. Stutz showed up to Eastern Kentucky’s news conference wearing a rainbow “peace and love” headband around his long, flowing hair.
“My mom bought it for me,” said Stutz, a 6-foot-8 forward. “So I asked her which one I should wear; she told me this one. I decided to go with the ‘peace and love’ for the press conference.”
Stutz, who averages 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds, will have quite a challenge matching up with Kansas’ frontcourt players. But the Colonels have already played NCAA Tournament teams VCU, Wisconsin and N.C. State this season, and Stutz believes that has prepared them for the matchup.
He’ll also enjoy the opportunity to showcase his personality on national television. His long hair and beard, he says, spark plenty of conversations.
“I’ve gotten Jesus, Fabio, the list is pretty long,” Stutz said. “I just try to be an individual.”
• If No. 2 seed Kansas was down about playing without freshman center Joel Embiid for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, it didn’t take long for them to get over it.
“We’re not worried about that,” junior Naadir Tharpe said. “We’re just worried about JoJo getting better. When it’s time for him to come back, that’s when we’re going to be worried him coming back. Right now, all we’ve been trying to do is focus on each other.”
Kansas coach Bill Self has used Embiid’s injury as an opportunity to challenge his team. And KU players say Embiid has stayed in good spirits while he’s rehabbed the stress fracture in his back.
“He’s not frustrated at all,” freshman Brannen Greene said. “(He’s) still just the joking Jo that he is; his personality hasn’t changed. He’s excited to get back and help us, and we’re excited for it, too.”
Self says Embiid is progressing toward returning next week, if the Jayhawks can win two games this weekend. So for now, Kansas is keeping its same goals.
“We got a chance to do something special,” sophomore forward Jamari Traylor said. “We want to make it all the way to the championship game and win it all. So if that doesn’t happen, that’s pretty much a let-down. We got our eyes on the prize.”
• Eastern Kentucky, a No. 15 seed, knows what it’s up against meeting second-seeded Kansas. But the players know upsets happen.
“Growing up, I watched Butler play in two Final Fours and championship games,” said Stutz.
Junior guard Corey Walden remembered Duke’s loss to Lehigh in 2012. It had the added bonus of being a No. 15 seed over a No. 2.
Coach Jeff Neubauer, a former Richmond assistant, has a deeper memory well. He was a member of the Spiders’ staff in 1998 when they beat third-seeded South Carolina.
“As a young coach, that was very rewarding,” Neubauer said.