The NCAA selection committee did Big 12 champion Kansas no favors when putting the brackets together for the upcoming tournament. Kansas earned a two seed in Midwest Region, where the top seed, most notably is undefeated Kentucky, the odds on favorite to run the table and finish a 40-0 season with the national championship.
But, that’s only the beginning. The Jayhawks will face 15th seeded New Mexico State, Friday morning at 11:15 in Omaha. The Aggies were ranked 88th nationally by KenPom.com, a ranking that is much higher than most 15 seeds are.
Should Kansas get by New Mexico State, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall could finally have his much desired showdown with the Jayhawks, as they are the seven seed and will face 10 seed Indiana in the second game of the day. It may very well be the gauntlet of all gauntlets for the suddenly beleaguered Jayhawks.
“You know what, if this team gets a chance to play in the Elite 8 game, then it's been a hell of a year -- let's just call it like it is,” head coach Bill Self said. “And regardless of who you play, it would be a great opportunity, for a one shot deal, to go to the Final Four.”
“But look at the other brackets, do you want to play Wisconsin, do you want to play Duke, do you want to play Villanova? The answer would be: they are all good,” Self continued. “Kentucky has been a different level (of competition), without question. But, we don't even need to talk about that. I hope we have to talk about that next week.”
Kansas has been nursing injuries to several players, most notably forward Perry Ellis, who injured his knee in the regular season finale against West Virginia. They also are licking their wounds following a 70-66 loss to Iowa State in the title game of the Big 12 Championship over the weekend, a game in which they blew a 17 point second half lead.
All being said though, they have the chance to erase all doubts and doubters by getting past what will be a brutal opening weekend and advance to a regional in Cleveland, that could also feature third seeded Notre Dame, who won the ACC tournament in its first year in the league. For Self and his Jayhawks, first things first, get out of Omaha and win the “first tournament.
“We need to win a four team tournament this weekend, and that will be the same goal of New Mexico State, of Wichita State and Indiana,” Self said. “It will certainly be some pretty good ball; there are some good teams playing in our pod.
The biggest storyline however, is the potential matchup with the Shockers. The Missouri Valley champion and their fans have drooled over the thoughts of a battle with Kansas for years and it’s become a source of hate for them, led by Marshall, their head coach, who most famously referred to the Jayhawks as “Chickenhawks” during a celebration where they celebrated an NIT championship of all things in 2011. The two schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 1993.
They will have to get by a tough and streaky Indiana team first. As for Kansas, the bracket announcement were met with a more business like approach, as they ready themselves to chase bigger things in the weeks ahead.
“So their excitement level was basically, ‘Do we need to stay and watch the rest of this? We know who we're playing.’ So, I mean, they are ready to move on from there,” Self said. “But, I think that they are excited and I know one player that should be more excited than anybody else -- just from a potential standpoint -- and that would be Perry (Ellis), because potentially, if we win and if they (Wichita State) win, potentially that sets up a pretty big matchup for a guy from that hometown.”