ST. LOUIS — With Eastern Kentucky cast in the role of David to the basketball Goliath that is Kansas, enquiring minds in the media were quizzing EKU players Thursday over their favorite all-time NCAA Tournament upsets.
EKU center Eric Stutz, a Newburgh, Ind., product, mentioned Butler's back-to-back runs to the 2010 and '11 NCAA title games.
Colonels guard Corey Walden went with Lehigh's stunner over Duke in 2012.
Eastern standout Glenn Cosey did not look backward. "I'm hoping we pull off (an upset), and that would be my favorite memory," Cosey said.
If No. 15 seed Eastern (24-9) were to beat South Region No. 2 Kansas (24-9) when the teams face off Friday around 4:10 p.m. (EDT) in the Scottrade Center, it would be one of the biggest surprises in NCAA Tournament history.
EKU has never won an NCAA tourney game (0-7 all-time) in its history.
Kansas has appeared in a nation's best 25 straight NCAA Tournaments, won 95 games all-time in the tourney and has claimed three championships (1952, 1988 and 2008).
Eastern Coach Jeff Neubauer noted there are very few programs that "live in Kansas' neighborhood. They are here every year. They are a one or a two seed every year. They understand what this is all about."
Yet, with all that, there are reasons to think that — if certain things happen — EKU can give the Jayhawks a battle.
The Colonels are making their third NCAA tourney appearance since 2005 because of three-point shooting and a ball-hawking, turnovers-forcing defense.
Even without injured 7-foot freshman center Joel Embiid (back), the Jayhawks will be far larger than Eastern. The Jayhawks starters will go 6-foot-8, 6-8, 6-9 across the front line and 6-5 and 5-11 in the backcourt.
EKU essentially plays four guards and Stutz, a 6-8 center.
Led by its standout guards Cosey (18.8 points) and Walden (14.1), Eastern has shot better than 50 percent in six of its last seven games. "If we have any chance of staying in a game with Kansas, we have to shoot threes and make threes," Neubauer said.
To negate the Kansas size superiority, EKU must force turnovers. The Colonels are good at that, generating 17 a game with a plus-6.3 turnover margin. KU, meanwhile, is underwater, committing 13.2 miscues while forcing 11.2 a contest.
"There are a lot of things (about Eastern) that concern me," Kansas Coach Bill Self said. "Offensively, they don't turn it over. They shoot a ton of threes and shoot it very, very well.
"Defensively, they play a little different because they play very, very high on the floor, probably higher on the floor than anybody we've played in recent memory. And certainly they turn you over with quickness."
To stay in the game, Eastern must find a way to slow the late-season surge of Kansas freshman forward Andrew Wiggins. In his last three games, the ballyhooed 6-8 Canadian has averaged 31 points. The key to slowing him, Walden said, "is not to let him get the ball. ... If he does get it, just crowd him, don't let him get an easy shot. Just contest everything."
There are some historical trends that should encourage EKU to dream upset.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, No. 15 seeds are 7-109 against No. 2 seeds. Yet three of those seven victories have come in the past two NCAA tourneys.
Kansas under Self has been a boom or bust tournament program. Besides the 2008 NCAA championship, KU also lost to Kentucky in the 2012 national title game.
Yet, in the Self era, Kansas has also lost to a No. 14 seed (Bucknell in 2005), a No. 13 (Bradley in 2006), a No. 11 (VCU in the 2011 round of eight) and a No. 9 (Northern Iowa in the 2010 round of 32).
Last year, as a No. 1 seed, Kansas trailed No. 16 Western Kentucky at halftime and led by only four inside the last 30 seconds before pulling out a tense 64-57 victory.
The longer EKU can keep it close, the more Kansas could face some negative memories.
"What we do is the right equation, the right formula for beating somebody like Kansas," Neubauer said. "... We just have to do what we do — we just need to do it incredibly well."
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.