Postseason Gets Underway

Kansas cruised to its sixth-straight Big 12 championship this season, winning the league by a convincing four-game margin.

Now, the stakes start getting higher as the Jayhawks hope to make this a magical postseason.

It all begins Thursday at 11:30 a.m. (CT) when the No. 1 Jayhawks (29-2) play their first game in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship against Texas Tech (17-14) at Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Red Raiders beat Colorado, 82-67, on Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinal game.

KU coach Bill Self likes the way his team is playing, but is concerned the Jayhawks have less margin for error this postseason with their overall lack of experience, compared to say, the 2008 national championship team.

"Maturity would be a big thing," Self said. "We are the 265th-youngest team in America. That team (2008) was experienced at all spots and all times. They had been through it and been to an Elite Eight and done some other things that the majority of these guys have not experienced. ... This team is balanced and hard to guard, but I don't think from a maturity or experience standpoint that we are quite where that team was in 2008.

"If we are not at our magic level, then anybody can beat us," Self added. "For instance if we are not mature enough to handle distractions, if we are off a little bit, that could be enough to go home right there. To me that is one thing that the 2008 team was so good at. That was a focused group."

Still, Self said that "we are a lot better basketball team than we were last year. Last year if one guy out of two did not play well, we probably did not have a great chance to win. This year it has been proven that we probably have enough depth and balance that different guys could step up different nights."

Indeed, KU has many more weapons than it did last year with the likes of the improved twins Marcus and Markieff Morris and freshman sensation Xavier Henry. While KU has better balance this season, Self needs his big stars — Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich — to step up the most.

"No matter what team it is in the tournament, the best players on those respective teams need to play well," Self said. "Sherron and Cole are our two best players. They need to play well and for the most part, they have been consistent all year long. I do think that there is another gear that they could both get to."

Collins, Aldrich and company are ready to roll into March Madness with first winning the Big 12 Tournament. Freshman forward Thomas Robinson said the key to to winning this three-game tourney is "having our minds right and make sure that we're focused and keeping our eyes on the prize. That will be our motivation."

If KU beats Texas Tech, the Jayhawks will win their 2,000 game all time. And for KU's returning players, the upset loss to Baylor in its opening round of the Big 12 Championship last season in Oklahoma City will be plenty of motivation as well.

According to Collins, that 71-64 defeat still "stings."

"It was embarrassing," Collins said. "For us to win the conference and then lose our first game in the tournament was very disappointing. We're trying not to let that happen. We're working hard and staying positive. We're staying on top of our game and playing like we've been playing.

"... We're on a roll and playing pretty well right now. We're trying not to lose and win every one."

KU, which ascended back to No. 1 in the polls this week, is aiming to play like the number one team in the nation the rest of the way.

"We still have to prove that we're the best team in the country," Robinson said. "We want to go play like we're the best team in the country and finish the season off as the best team in the country."

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