"Coming back from practice we were sitting in the hotel room and we watched, I think it was the Louisville game. The guy put up and hit a three. And that's the NCAA Tournament for you," said senior Brady Morningstar. "Seeding is a big deal sometimes, but everyone in this tournament is very capable of winning games and you can see that."
"We had reminders all during the season, and during the season when we win big even sometimes somebody will bring up the Northern Iowa game," said senior Mario Little. "But that was last year. We're moving on. We've got bigger and better things to accomplish right now."
The Jayhawks sound determined to not suffer the same fate of a season ago but their coach offered up a not so subtle reminder putting some press clippings in their lockers this week.
"No, we definitely didn't laugh about it," said Morningstar about the articles the coaching staff placed in their lockers. "Yeah, there were some clippings in our locker of Farokhmanesh pumping his fists, or what not, after he hit a big time shot against us."
"Couple of guys took the clippings and threw it in the garbage," Little confessed. "I don't think anybody laughed, but it just brought back memories. I couldn't really do anything last year. Only thing I could do is talk to guys and try to wake them up and like we've got to go."
"It wasn't anything to bring back negative thoughts as much as it was a reminder of what can happen this year if you're off just a little bit," said KU head coach Bill Self who was asked if he thought a coach putting those clippings in the locker was a good idea.
"I hope our guys get that. We've already seen today in the tournament. I mean, this is wild. Expect the unexpected."
Self and his staff's motivational tactics may or may not pay off. A year later this is a different team with a different feel, and with a different set of leaders.
Self has been harping on his team enjoying the journey. He felt his team a season ago was too tight and played like it. It's a delicate balance for a coach when his team is a favorite in the NCAA Tournament. Escaping the pressure isn't easy if you're heavily favored but Self wants his team to enjoy every single moment and every single win.
Below are three key things that have to happen for KU to go all the way and cut down the nets in Houston.
Kansas will win the national title if…
Tyshawn Taylor is aggressive
The junior point guard is critical to success. When Taylor is aggressive and engaged as we've said many times this year that is when Kansas truly clicks on all cylinders. Taylor doesn't have to put up gaudy numbers but he has to get back to doing the things that help his team win the game. Arguably KU"s two best performances this season were in the Big 12 title game against Texas and a home blowout of Kansas State. Guess who had really good games on those days? To beat the best teams in the country Kansas needs Tyshawn.
A couple of days ago I asked Self if Tyshawn's play was critical to how far this team goes and asked him if he was as important as Sherron Collins was back in 2008 and he quickly answered, "more."
The Twins play smart and stay on the court
Watching the twins mature into two of the county's top players has been a joy. Their bodies have matured, their minds have matured and in turn their feel for the game is uncanny.
"To see the development they've shown over the last three years is pretty remarkable," said Self. "I had a chance to work with a guy named Bryant Reeves big country at Oklahoma State. Very similar, and I would almost compare their progress with that of his. It's unbelievable to me how they've matured and they're ridiculously smart."
And they are without question the leaders of this team and have been since the final buzzer sounded a season ago.
I see something in the twins that I really felt like when we left that locker room in Oklahoma City is that there was a commitment that they made which led to commitment of other guys, because without question, they lead us," said Self. "They can get guys to rally around what their focus is better than anybody else."
When they are on the court they are a duo unmatched by any other in the tournament. The Twins have had some incredible moments this year but there's those few dark clouds lingering. They just can't afford a slipup at a critical time or silly fouls or technicals. Kansas needs its two best pro prospects on the court as much as possible because there isn't a team in the tourney that has anything like Marcus and Markieff Morris.
"They're very, very bright players and understand the game. Probably have about as good a feel as anybody I've ever coached," said Self complimenting his junior tandem.
Marcus has earned most of the postseason accolades and deservedly so, there isn't a player on this roster anyone would rather have with the ball in his hands during a critical stretch of the game.
"He can do more things on the basketball court than anybody I've ever been around," Self lauded. "He's 6'8". He can post. He can score over the shoulder. He can face. He can drive it. He's a great passer. He can stretch it. He can slide. He is a complete basketball player."
Markieff isn't far behind.
"He's a low post presence," said Self comparing the two. "He didn't have the perimeter skillset that Marcus has. But he can stretch it, and he's a great passer like Marcus. He just doesn't put it down as well. He's not far behind. Everybody talks about Marcus, but Kieff's improvement has probably been more rapid from last year to this year."
If the twins can lead and control their emotions there's nothing anyone involved in the KU program would rather see than these two pillars cut down the nets.
The defense continues to be stout
Last and definitely not least, it must still come on the defensive end. At times this season scoring has come so easily it has hurt KU on the defensive end of the floor. Self has been frustrated with the team's ability to guard at times.
"That is the number one thing you have to work on and the offense will come to you," said Morningstar who made the Big 12's All-Defensive team. "You've got a lot of guys on offense that can score. If one player's not hitting their game, you can always hit it to another guy."
"But defensively number one is definitely where we have to start if we want to make it far in this tournament. That's where we have to start."?
Though he admits this team is not his best defensive unit Self says they have made strides down the stretch.
"You've got to defend because I think playing good defense and getting out in passing lanes starts your offensive game. If you can get some fast breakpoints it makes your half court offense a little easier. You get a little bit of momentum," according to Morningstar.
Kansas gets the advantage of starting on Friday, the second day of second round play and there isn't much doubt that these Jayhawks will show up ready.