Ready for battle in the River City

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Memories of the 2008 national championship are still strong with the Kansas fanbase, but the Jayhawks themselves are ready to forge new ones in the shadow of the Alamo.

There can be no doubt that the city of San Antonio holds a special place in the heart of Kansas basketball.

It was the site of Head Coach Bill Self's first Final Four berth, and a beatdown victory over the University of North Carolina. The Alamodome was where Mario Chalmers let fly with his "miracle," and the Jayhawks raised the 2008 National Championship trophy.

Tell that to Brady Morningstar, however, and the senior guard makes a valiant effort at skepticism.

"I don't even remember San Antonio," he said, unable to conceal a smile. "I don't know if we've ever been here."

He's kidding, of course. Morningstar is one of three members of the current Kansas team who shared in the celebration three years - the other two being fellow senior Tyrel Reed and junior Connor Teahan.

So Morningstar remembers well enough. He and his fellow elder statesmen have spoken of the experience from time to time in the past few days, as they pass the 2008 team hotel or eat at familiar restaurants. For the most part, however, the rest of the team hasn't been included in those wanderings down memory lane.

Why? Well, the Lawrence, Kan. native's logic is simple.

"That's then," he said. "That's back then. (The other players) knew how it was, they knew we won a championship, but I'm focused on getting it done this year, and then we'll worry about talking about how to compare the two."

Despite the assurances of pundits and fans alike that the Southwest region now resembles nothing so much as – yes – a gilded yellow-brick road to Houston for the Jayhawks, the team is mature enough to know better.

Emotionally, they have the bittersweet taste of their own 2009 NCAA tournament exit, a taste that still lingers, to remind them of the price of overconfidence. Intellectually, the evidence of their own eyes - and a few days spent scouring the scouting report on Friday's opponent, the No. 12-seed Richmond Spiders - provides still more motivation.

"I know that they have a solid team," said sophomore point guard Elijah Johnson. "I know that they have a solid offense, and I know that they capitalize on teams not being as aware as they should be. They make you pay for it, in other words. You have to respect them."

As Richmond head coach Chris Mooney is a 1994 graduate of Princeton University, it is perhaps only fitting the Spiders run the offensive scheme bearing his alma mater's name – and it's something they do very, very well.

An exceptional passing team, Richmond owns a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Kansas on the season, and assists on 60.1-percent of their made field goals (a statistic almost identical to the Jayhawks' own 60.6-percent).

One factor working in the favor of Self's squad is at least a passing familiarity with defending the Princeton offense. Not only do the Michigan Wolverines make use of it under head coach John Beilein, but until this season the Colorado Buffaloes did so as well, under form head coach Jeff Bzdelik.

"It's not exactly identical styles, but they're similar-type philosophies," Self explained. "And each one has kind of tweaked it in the best way that suits their personnel."

The Spiders also have considerable individual weaponry at their disposal, particularly in the form of guard-forward combo Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. The duo combine to average almost 35 points per game, and both shoot better than 42-percent from three-point range.

So despite what the media say, what some fans may believe deep down, about the chances of a No. 1-seed taking on a No. 12-seed, Richmond has the full attention of Kansas.

It is, after all, the Sweet 16. And that makes it "big boy basketball" by default.

"The first weekend is over," said sophomore forward Thomas Robinson. "It's all about playing now. We got all the nerves out, we got past two tough teams in the first weekend, and now we've just got to keep playing."

"It's the Sweet 16," Johnson added. "What more motivation do you need? If you're not motivated by that, you're probably not here."


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