Of course, six victories would mean another national championship for the Jayhawks.
While a national title is KU's ultimate goal, the No. 1 Jayhawks know
they can't look past Round One and the No. 16-seeded Lehigh Mountain
Hawks (22-10, 10-4 Patriot League), who ride a five-game winning streak
and are coming off a 74-59 victory over Lafayette in the Patriot League
tournament championship game on March 12.
Lehigh's 22 wins this season are the most in LU history.
"From what we've seen, we think they're a good team," KU sophomore
guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "They shoot a lot of threes (16.6 per game).
They have a really good freshman guard in C.J. McCollum and a point
guard (senior Marquis Hall) who is really solid. We have our work cut
out for us."
Lehigh, which is making its fourth NCAA tournament appearance and first
since 2004, enters the Big Dance averaging 75.1 points per game and
allowing 70. LU shoots 45.6 percent from the field, 40 percent from
three-point range, and 71.6 percent at the charity stripe. The Mountain
Hawks outrebound their opponents 36.5 to 34.9 per game, while limiting
foes to 42.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from beyond the
McCollum leads the attack with 18.9 points per game (nation's leading
freshman scorer), 70 three-point field goals and 40 steals. His 76
assists are second on the team. Backcourt mate Hall averages 11 points
per game and has a dished out a team-high 182 assists, while ranking
15th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. Senior forward Zahir Carrington is the third player in double figures with a 10.8 scoring
average. He leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game and 39 blocks.
Junior guard Michael Ojo (7.0 ppg), freshman forward Gabe Knutson (9.6
ppg), senior guard Dave Buchberger (6.2 ppg), freshman forward Holden Greiner (3.6 ppg), junior guard Rob Keefer (3.6 ppg) and sophomore
forward John Adams (3.0 ppg) also contribute to the attack.
KU coach Bill Self said Lehigh will have his team's complete attention.
"We think Lehigh is very capable," Self said. "There's no question
about that. They've got a great player (McCollum) that can go
get 30 any night and he's got help, too. ... This is 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. We've had people do that
against us and our job is to 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
KU enters the game in good health and coming off some quality practices.
"This time of year we've been fortunate that we've remained somewhat
healthy," Self said. "This is a time of year where players get dinged
up pretty good. But we've been able to keep our full complement of
players in practice sessions."
Coincidentally, the last time KU opened the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma
City, its opponent was another team from the Patriot League — Bucknell
in 2005. The Jayhawks lost that first-round game, 64-63, exactly five
years ago today.
"There are similarities that we're playing a team from the Patriot
League and playing in Oklahoma City, that kind of stuff," Self said.
"But we have a different team, and this is certainly a different team
than what we played in '05. I don't even think I mentioned it to our
players. I may have mentioned it at one time just to try to get their
attention on us being ready, but that was a long time ago. And if you
talk about that stuff a lot, then you're dwelling on the negatives as
opposed to thinking positive the whole time."
That 2005 team entered the Big Dance as a No. 3 seed and losing two of
its previous three games. The 2009-10 Jayhawks, meanwhile, open the
NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and winning five straight and
18 of their last 19. They are the odds-on favorite to cut down the
national championship nets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on
President Barack Obama has KU winning it all in his bracket.
"I think the President is a very wise man," Self said. "He picked
‘Carolina last year, if I'm not mistaken. So hopefully that will play
out to be true; at least we'll get some publicity out of it. 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're going to try hard to strive for."
Sophomore forward Markieff Morris is thrilled Obama picked the Jayhawks
to win the championship.
"I like Obama, and I liked him more when he picked us to win," Morris
And if Kansas is the last team standing on April 5, the Jayhawks will
leave their mark as the winningest team in school history.
"I haven't even thought about that yet (38 wins)," freshman swingman
Xavier Henry said, "but that would be a great thing for the school and
a great thing for all the people that support KU."
First up, though, is Lehigh.
"It's going to be a tough game," Taylor said. "We'll be ready to play,
we're not sleeping on our opponent."
Preview: Kansas vs. Lehigh
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