No Pressure

If you've been watching all the experts pick their brackets there seems to be one overwhelming favorite – the 32-2 Kansas Jayhawks. KU is such a popular choice that not a single ESPN analyst/writer/contributor omitted the 2008 champs from the Final Four in Indianapolis.

So if you find yourself penciling in "KU" on that line that says "National Champion" you're not alone. Even President Obama, who picked North Carolina to win it all last year, is going with the chalk, as in Rock Chalk. Now that's pressure. But who's the only coach in America who can withstand the pressure of the world's most powerful man? KU head coach Bill Self.

"I think the President is a very wise man," said Self with a smile. "He picked Carolina last year, if I'm not mistaken. So hopefully that will play out to be true, but at least we'll get some publicity out of it. But, you know, there's been a lot of people that have picked us to do quite well in the tournament, and I don't know if that's good or if that's bad, but certainly something that we certainly going to try hard to strive for."

"I like Obama, and I liked him more when he picked us to win, but I guess he picked North Carolina last year and they won it. So I hope it plays out the same way," added sophomore Markieff Morris.

The Jayhawks clearly had fun and embraced the challenge of being the overwhelming Oval Office favorite. But that's the theory Self has been able to instill during a season where much of it has been spent with his team residing at the number one spot in the nation. The pressure has been there since the preseason so the Hawks are used to dealing with the hype. There's no doubt though the "bracket frenzy" sends being the favorite to a whole new level

"He told us to limit the distractions because we know it's going to come," Taylor revealed about what Self told the team. "When you get the number one team, I guess a lot of distractions come but we've been the number one team for a long time, for awhile this year. So, I mean, the distraction that's we get now are kind of the same we had all year."

"We've been number one for the majority of the season and it doesn't feel different to us. We don't feel pressure at all. We just feel like we have to come out and play every game," Markieff concurred.

Whether its maturity or a mood conveyed by the coaching staff KU certainly appears comfortable in its own skin.

"I think we're dealing fine with it," said Self about the pressure of being the number one overall seed. We don't talk about it a lot. You know, it's you work your tail off for six months and try to get the best seed as possible, and now that you get the best seed that you possibly can, everybody wants to know did you really want this, is it too much pressure?"

"You know, whether you know you're the overall number 1 or not, that's irrelevant. That doesn't make any difference. We know that we have an extremely tough bracket," he added.

Self takes the approach of many coaches, let's go out and win a two-game tournament this weekend. You can't win the second game if you don't take care of business in the first one. KU is a 20-plus-point favorite but Lehigh (22-10) is the only team Kansas can play in the tough Midwest bracket at 8:40 CT on Thursday.

"Our focus is on Lehigh and then hopefully have a chance to play Saturday against a couple of good teams, whoever comes out of that game, but I think our guys have handled it well. We've had good practices," Self said.

Lehigh enters the tournament as the Patriot League tournament champion and let's face it there best chance to stay in this one is to shoot lights out from three. 6-5 freshman C.J. McCollum averages close to 19 points a game and shoots nearly 43 percent from three. There's no doubt perimeter defense will be the focus for KU. Lehigh doesn't really have the bigs to compete inside with Kansas and not a single player on the roster stands over 6-9. Richmond is the only other NCAA Tournament team they have played and they lost to the Spiders 65-53 back in November.
 
"We haven't really seen too much," Taylor admitted. "From what we've seen, we think they're a good team. They shot a lot of 3s. They got a really good freshman guard in McCollum and a point guard who is really solid. We got our work cut us for us. It's going to be a tough game, ready to play. Not like sleeping on our opponent."

"We're coming in approaching this just like we do most any other game as far as what we need to do to play well for ourselves and -- we think Lehigh is very capable. There's no question about that. They've got a great player that can go get 30 any night and he's got help, too," said Self referring to McCollum.

"He's a very smart man (laughter)," said McCollum in response to Self's statement about scoring 30. "I'm not approaching it like that the all. I'm going to go out there and play my game. If I score 30, it happens. If I don't, no big deal. I'm going to do whatever is necessary for my team to win."

Lehigh, who is making its first NCAA appearance since 2004, will do its best to play its game, it won't be easy but the Engineers worked too hard to get this far in their minds. They will not be thinking about 1 vs. 16 and the daunting task those numbers have provided in the past. To them it's just Lehigh vs. Kansas.

"Honestly, we step on the court, you know, everybody is the same," said senior forward Zahir Carrington. "There's no 1/16. We've been playing basketball our entire lives. We've worked just as hard as anybody else. You have to have the utmost confidence in your ability. If we were to come down here and think we're going to play hard or, you know, come and thinking we're going to lose, I would rather not come at all.We're happy to have an opportunity to be a part of this, but we're coming to win."

Probably and there may come a day when a 16 will beat a 1 and Lehigh coach Brett Reed talked about the intriguing idea of being the first to do this. No disrespect to Lehigh but I highly doubt it will be Thursday night in Oklahoma City. Self will make sure he and his team approach this game like it's the most important one of the year because in March the next one is the most important.

"One reason why the tournament is so great is because of Cinderella and there's a lot of teams out there that have worn that slipper, and we've had people do that against us and our job toys make sure we do everything we can from a competitive standpoint and approach it like it's the biggest game of the year because it is the biggest game of the year we've played so far," said Self.

The last time out in Oklahoma City the fourth-seeded Jayhawks went down to a Patriot League foe in Bucknell. That was a tired and injured team and this KU team appears to be ready, willing, and able to take on all the challenges that March presents.  

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