The Tournament Starts Right Now

OMAHA, NEB. — For Kansas, the NCAA Tournament officially began with an 85-61 win over Portland State on Thursday. But KU coach Bill Self sees a different picture.

”The tournament is starting right now,” Bill Self said after KU’s victory. “I don’t say that out of disrespect, but it will be very difficult (in the second round against No. 8 seed UNLV). We’re going to have to certainly play better, especially on the defensive end. We got to tighten some things up.”

Look for KU’s defensive intensity and energy to pick up as the Jayhawks (32-3) face Lon Kruger’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels at approximately 5:50 p.m. at the Qwest Center Omaha on Saturday.

UNLV (27-7) has won eight of its last nine games and is coming off a 71-58 victory over Kent State on Thursday. Vegas held Kent State to just 10 points in the first half, which is tied for the lowest offensive output by a team in one half in the modern history of the NCAA Tournament. UNLV also forced the Golden Flashes into 17 turnovers the first half.

UNLV, which lost four starters and its sixth man from last season’s Sweet 16 team (three expected big contributors also left/were dismissed this season, in addition to 7-0 freshman recruit Beas Hamgas being declared ineligible), is a speedy, undersized squad (Vegas’ tallest starter is just 6-7) that creates mismatches with their mobile big men and tall guards.

UNLV is paced by 6-0 junior guard Wink Adams, who averages 16.6 points. Adams, a first-team All-MWC selection and the lone returning starter from last season, also leads the squad with 66 three-pointers. Six-foot-seven junior center Joe Darger ranks second in scoring at 11.4 points and is tied for second on the team with 6-5 senior guard Curtis Terry with 65 treys.

Terry, a third-team All-MWC selection, is third in scoring (11.1 ppg and team-best 5.0 assists per game), followed by 6-6 junior guard Rene Rougeau (9.1 ppg and team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game), 6-8 sophomore reserve forward Matt Shaw (6.9 ppg), and 6-5 senior forward Corey Bailey at 6.6 points per game.

“Terry and Adams can play with anybody in the country,” Self said.

Vegas certainly won’t be shy about shooting the three ball; the Runnin’ Rebels have gone an NCAA record 702 games with a made three-pointer. While UNLV shoots just 42.6 percent from the field, the Rebels hold opponents to 61.9 points per game and are second in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage defense (.307).

Self was extremely impressed with UNLV’s performance against Kent State. And what stands out most about Vegas?

“I’d say as much as anything would be team speed,” Self said. “Obviously, their defensive pressure, in large part, because of their speed, was fabulous yesterday. I don’t know that we played against anybody that defends or are in the right spots or positions better than what I saw UNLV do against Kent State. They totally took Kent State out of their offensive sets before they even crossed half-court with their positioning playing so high on the floor. And their pieces are interchangeable defensively, because they can switch ball screens.”

While KU has a huge size advantage, the Runnin’ Rebels could cause Kansas problems with their great pressure defense on the perimeter.

“You’ve got to be able to eliminate pressure in order to get the ball in the scoring area,” Self said. “If you get the ball in the scoring area, maybe you’ve got a chance to throw it inside.”

Self is also concerned about guarding Vegas’ undersized big men on the perimeter.

“I don’t believe (we’ve) played against any five men that shot 176 threes,” Self said about Darger, who is shooting 36.9 percent beyond the arc. “It’s unique because we’re more of a traditional team and they’re not traditional at all with their size. It’s a tribute to Lon because he’s a fabulous coach.”

Despite KU’s obvious size advantage, rebounding edge (KU has a 7.8 rebounding margin, compared to a minus 1.5 margin for UNLV) and overall talent level, Self knows the Jayhawks will get the test of their lives from a team that can play with anybody in the country.

“When you have good guards and have big guys that can shoot, you always have a chance because they create mismatch problems,” Self said.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” sophomore guard Sherron Collins added. “They have a big guard in Terry. He does a lot of things. Our tallest guard is probably 6-1, 6-2. We’ve got to do a good job of guarding the guards, and they’ll post us up, do a lot of things we haven’t seen this year. ... They’re a great team. They run and they run their sets pretty well.”

Collins will not likely be 100 percent for Vegas. He “tweaked” his knee in practice a few days ago, and wore a sleeve on his knee against Portland State.

“(I wore the sleeve) to keep it warm, keep it loose,” Collins said. “It’s fine. It’s a little sore. I’ll still play tomorrow and I’ll still come out and be ready.

KU will need a big game from Collins and company on Saturday. Indeed, the NCAA Tournament now “begins “for Kansas against a strong UNLV team.

“They’ve had great success playing the way they play,” Self said. “Who plays well early will probably be a big key because that will kind of set the tone for how the game will be played at least the rest of the first half. ... It’s about can we defend them and can they defend us.” Top Stories