Jayhawks’ NCAA journey begins with UC Davis

Landen Lucas and the Jayhawks learned the identity of their first-round opponent -- UC Davis -- Wednesday night.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not Kansas is a popular pick to work its way through the NCAA Tournament bracket this time around probably doesn’t matter to the Jayhawks.

This Kansas team has already overcome doubters this season.

When Jayhawks freshman center Udoka Azubuike, a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, tore ligaments in his left wrist in December, it made Kansas’ quest for its 13th straight Big 12 title seem in jeopardy.

All the Jayhawks did after that was go 16-2 in the Big 12 to win the conference yet again.

And now Kansas (28-4) is ranked No. 3 in the nation and has the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.

The Jayhawks will play University of California Davis (23-12) in the opening round Friday evening at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

UC Davis defeated North Carolina Central 67-63 in a play-in game Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

Although a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas coach Bill Self can see how it will be a challenge to stay out of tournament lore for such a blemish.

“I do think it’s a little bit of a disadvantage not knowing who you’re going to play the first game,” Self said earlier in the week. “We’re happy that we’re a 1 seed. I’m not sure that’s a huge advantage. We’re obviously happy that we get to stay fairly regional with our travel, especially going down to Tulsa the first weekend.”

As for the Aggies, they seem ready to dance with the Jayhawks.

“I think our guys are great about, as we prepare for a team, respecting all of our opponents,” UC Davis coach Jim Les said. “And we’ll do that. But we also like our competitiveness, and feel like in a one-game situation, we’re going to come, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to compete and let the chips fall where they may. So, we’re excited for this opportunity. And we’ll concede nothing. But we’ll be ready.”

The last time Kansas took the floor, TCU defeated the Jayhawks 85-82 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. But Kansas was missing All-Big 12 first-team freshman guard Josh Jackson, who was suspended for one game for leaving the scene after backing his car into a parked car in February.

Jackson will return for the Jayhawks as they begin the NCAA Tournament.

“Josh Jackson has probably played about as consistently as any player in the country, I would say, the last two months,” Self said. “I think 18 out of 20 games he’s scored 14 or more points, and that’s not what he does. What he does is all the other things and then the points come as he does all the other things. I have every reason to believe that he’ll handle everything very well.”

If Kansas, which is trying to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2012, can advance past UC Davis, it will set up an intriguing matchup with the winner between No. 8-seed Miami and No. 9 Michigan State.

“You look at that potential matchup if you advance past the first game of Miami and Michigan State and you say, ‘Didn’t Miami beat Duke?'” Self said. “And then you look at Michigan State and you say, ‘Hasn’t he been to seven or eight Final Fours?’ So, I personally didn’t feel a ton of comfort or warm feelings by seeing that. It’s a hard first weekend, without question.”