Jayhawks are wary of No. 16 Penn: ‘They don’t resemble a 16 seed’
WICHITA, Kan. — A.J. Brodeur knew the moment Penn beat Harvard for the Ivy League title that the Quakers were headed to the NCAA Tournament, the only questions left being their seed, opponent and destination.
No. 16. Against Kansas. In Wichita.
“We were a little surprised by it,” the sophomore forward said ahead of Thursday’s first-round matchup in the Midwest Region, where some are brazenly picking the Quakers (24-8) to become the first No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1 seed since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“At the same time,” Brodeur said, “we’re excited by it. This is an opportunity for us. All season we were counted out, we were underappreciated, even in our league. This is just another example.”
Brodeur isn’t the only one who thought Penn was slighted, either.
Bill Self remembers the down-to-the-wire test that Cornell, coached by current Penn coach Steve Donohue, gave his Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse a few years ago. And after watching film of the Quakers, and getting a look at their size and veteran backcourt, the coach who has directed Kansas to a record 14 consecutive Big 12 championships came up with a rather simple deduction.
“They don’t resemble a 16 seed at all,” Self said.
The great irony of that statement is that there have been plenty of times that Kansas (27-7) has hardly resembled a No. 1 seed. Remember, this is the same team that lost to Washington in December and was swept in the regular season by Oklahoma State, which failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
The second of those losses to the Cowboys was a blowout less than two weeks ago.
“You don’t really want to be that team that does it,” Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham said when asked about the prospect of becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose its opener. “It’s one of those things you think about in the back of your head. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.”
Most years, the 1-16 game is a mere speed bump on the way to the second round, a chance to shake out any lingering fatigue from the regular season or conference tournament. And that kind of soft toss would have come in handy this season for Kansas, which is hopeful 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike can get back on the floor after hurting a ligament in his left knee last week.
The Jayhawks enjoyed a breakout performance from Silvio De Sousa in winning the Big 12 Tournament, but Self acknowledged that a large chunk of their offensive system is designed for their big man.
“The docs feel he’s making unbelievable progress,” he said. “I’m optimistic he can get in the game. I’m not overly optimistic he can play a lot of minutes and be a real positive force inside for us, but if he can play 80 percent or 70 percent, we’ll play him a few minutes.”
That would be just one more hurdle for the Quakers, right alongside playing a Final Four contender a two-hour drive south of its campus in what will no doubt be a road environment.
“We had nine true road wins, which I think was one of 10 teams in the country. We challenged ourselves on the road,” Donohue said. “Maybe we’ll be able to get a few fans on our back a little bit if we can get on a roll. But as a competitor, you love that environment.”
PUTTING THE `D’ IN DUKE
Duke (26-7) and Michigan State are the only teams ranked in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, while the Blue Devils led the ACC in steals and were third in field-goal defense.
The Gaels (20-13) have been held under 70 points just twice since mid-December.
“We’ve gotten better,” Krzyzewski said. “Throughout the whole year, we’ve gotten better to right now we’re the best that we have been all year.”
SHHH, SIR CHARLES
Oklahoma heard the outcry over its at-large bid, which was earned despite going 2-8 over the past 10 games — especially when it was Charles Barkley on national TV.
But the best way to silence Barkley and the critics would be for the No. 10 Sooners (18-13) to beat seventh-seeded Rhode Island in their opener Thursday in Pittsburgh.
“You hear it,” said Sooners star freshman Trae Young, who leads the nation in scoring and assists. “We’ve been good just blocking out everything and focusing on ourselves and how we can get better as a team, being prepared for them, but you definitely hear it. You see it all.”