Matchups, not seeds, matter for Jayhawks
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Before you start reaching for your Mike Bobinski voodoo doll and cursing the Bracketville gods in strange tongues, consider this:
Kansas — the beast of the Great Plains, the bringer of the oncoming storm — actually has a better record in the NCAA Tournament, lifetime, as a 2 seed than as a 1.
Seriously. One seed? A mark of 27-9, or a .750 winning percentage. Two seed? Eighteen up, five down — .782.
"I'm not going to make a plea that we should definitely be a 1," Kansas coach Bill Self said after his men smoked No. 11 Kansas State, 70-54, in the Big 12 tourney Championship game Saturday night. "We've been a 1 and lost in the second round. Been a 2 and played in the championship game.
"But it would be nice for our kids. You work so hard, and everything's ‘The Road To The Final Four,' and No. 1 seeds get notoriety, especially with recruiting. So it would be awesome to be a 1 seed, but I'm not going to beg or plead or anything like that, because I know they wouldn't listen to me anyway. But I think our resume is pretty good. I could be wrong, but I think we have 13 or 14 wins against teams in the top 50 RPI."
(Quick aside: Whenever Self starts a sentence with ‘I could be wrong,' about anything — statistics, the weather, horses, movie trivia — he is absolutely, unequivocally NOT wrong. And, sure enough, as of Saturday night, the Jayhawks, according to StatSheet.com, had 13 top-50 RPI victories.)
And look — the point isn't that Kansas doesn't have the goods, or doesn't "deserve" to sit on the top line. It does. The Jayhawks are seventh in the country, 29-5 overall, won a Big 12 regular-season title, snatched the Big 12 tournament crown, and whupped the second-best team in their league — a dang good K-State team — three times in the same season.
KU totes the top NBA prospect on the planet (silky wing Ben McLemore), the best post defender in college basketball (center Jeff Withey) and enough athletic pieces to keep rival coaches awake at night for weeks on end. The Jayhawks are a ridiculous 13-4 away from Allen Fieldhouse and 6-2 against the RPI top 25. They're deep. They're smart. They're tough. They're ...
"They're old," Wildcat swingman Shane Southwell observed.
Well, yeah. That, too.
"For some reason, they've always got four seniors on the court," Southwell continued. "And that's big. And a superstar freshman (McLemore) — he's not really a freshman. (They) have four seniors on the court, they pretty much know (their roles), they're battle-tested, all of them, and they're a disciplined bunch. Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country.
"That's hard to beat on any given day. You've got to make shots and you've got to defend for 40 minutes, and we didn't do that."
Trust us here: If the Jayhawks land in Bracketville as a 2 instead of a 1 — those are the only realistic options on the table, at this point — it's not a "snub," and it's not worth getting so enraged that your pet feels inclined to seek shelter under the furniture.
In the 2013 Big Dance, seedings figure to be, in most cases, purely cosmetic. This party is going to be about matchups. Matchups and two central, pivotal questions:
1) Who the heck are we dancing with?
2) Where the heck are we dancing?
"You know, looking at how we lost to TCU this year, I don't think (seed) matters," Kansas reserve Justin Wesley allowed. "I mean, it does matter, and you do want to be a No. 1 seed. I don't think we should look at it as, ‘We're a No. 1 seed, (so) this should be an easy game for us.' We shouldn't take any game lightly.
"So we've got to be prepared. Got to take every team seriously. I think that's why we were so (good) last year, because we took every game like that, like they could beat us. That's how we came out on top (of) every game."
Because, let's face it — from here on out, everybody's legit. OK, fine, everybody other than Liberty (15-20), but you get the point.
To wit: The Jayhawks, as a rule, pack the lane and dare you to shoot 3s while feasting off turnovers and transition buckets the other way. Teams that take care of the rock AND nail a lot of treys — Duke, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Illinois, LaSalle, South Dakota State, for example — might prove trickier than, say, the rest of the field. It's a chess game, a battle of relative strengths.
So every little edge helps, including sites. Barring something TCU-beating-Kansas nonsensical on the part of the selection committee, the Jayhawks will likely open tourney play Friday at Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. In Self's world, this is perfect: It's fewer than 45 miles from campus, and a spot where they're already 6-0 this season — including three wins this past weekend as part of the Big 12 bracket.
"Yeah," senior point guard Elijah Johnson said, nodding to the hundreds in blue shirts in the stands Saturday, pulling long strings of confetti out of their clothes. "I mean, you see all these people still sitting here after this? It definitely feels like home."
KU's upperclassmen like to refer to Sprint, the jewel of the Power & Light District, as Lawrence East. That familiarity may not be huge, per se, but it won't exactly hurt, either.
"There (are) a couple of teams out there that you look at on paper and say, ‘Wow, if they play their best, they'd be hard to deal with,' there's no question about that," Self said. "But I don't know of anybody that's played their best for six games. It's hard to do.
"The key to the tournament is going to be winning games when you don't play your best. And that's going to be more difficult this year because obviously the margin, the talent margin, has been reduced significantly compared to years past, especially with the elite teams."
One? One is just a number, my friend. And this March, it just might turn out to be the loneliest number of all.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler
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