Toppers face Kansas in NCAA tourney‘MORE HUMBLE’ JAYHAWKS NO. 1 SEEDWire, Staff and Special Reports Western Kentucky will face No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday in the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City.
“About what we anticipated,” Hilltoppers Coach Ray Harper said. “It’s close enough we will be able to have some fans travel. Now it’s about getting some tape together. Obviously it’s a team we’ve seen play a bunch this season, now it’s trying to get prepared for Friday night.”
Guard Jamaal Crook wasn’t disappointed the Toppers got a 16 seed.
“Nah, it doesn’t matter to me,” Crook said. “Our number got called, saw Kansas, that’s who we play, so we just got to get ready and I’m pretty sure we will be ready.”
Kansas’ Elijah Johnson is the first to admit there have been far more talented teams to play at the school, even in the four years he’s been part of the program. Turns out it was still talented enough to earn a No. 1 seed.
“You might hear this from Coach’s mouth, but this isn’t the most talented team we’ve had,” said Johnson, a senior guard, who has been a part of three teams to earn No. 1 seeds.
“This is a more humble team, a more — I don’t really know the word to explain it, but yeah, I don’t feel like those old teams,” Johnson said. “I feel like we’re not the most talented, so we’re willing to go out there and work hard, and do whatever we need to do.”
Kansas should have an advantage by beginning the tournament at the Sprint Center, where it is 6-0 this season. The Jayhawks beat Washington State and Saint Louis in an early season tournament, and Oregon State during the regular season, before winning three times in the Big 12 tournament.
“It can go both ways,” Jay-hawks Coach Bill Self said of playing close to home. “I think there can be some extra distractions. We have to work with our guys on that. But we get a chance to play in a building that we’re very familiar with, and where we’ve had some success.
“I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
The 16th-seeded Hilltoppers (20-15), led by sophomores T.J. Price and George Fant, will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. They earned the automatic berth out of the Sun Belt by beating Florida International in their conference champion ship game.
Crook said this won’t be the first time he’s faced off against Johnson: “When I lived out in Vegas my senior year, I got a chance to play against him and I played AAU with him a little bit.
“I owe him. I played him my first game I played in, my debut, and they beat us. I’ll remember that game in the back of my head as we do go down there and take this ride.”
Despite losing Big 12 player of the year Thomas Robinson, along with several other important pieces from last year’s national runners-up, the Jayhawks (29-5) still managed to win a share of their ninth straight regular-season Big 12 title, and then captured the tournament crown, too.
“Great program, great team,” Harper said. “Bill Self does a good of a job as anyone in the country. Big challenge, but like I said earlier, I know our guys will go compete.”
Harper said not playing until Friday won’t necessarily be an advantage for the Toppers.
“This time of year, what are you gonna change, really?” he said. “Bottom line, you’re going to have to be very efficient. We know that, we’re going to have to be efficient on the offensive end and on the defensive end.
“If you look at their defensive personnel, they’ve got two for sure first-round draft picks and a lottery pick in (Ben) McLemore. Perry Ellis was one of the top five players in the country coming out of high school and he doesn’t start. It’s an extremely talented group and a group capable of winning the national championship.
“It’s what you play for, it’s what you work for and to enjoy the whole process.”
FRIDAYWestern Kentucky vs. Kansas When: 9:50 p.m. (TNT)
Where: Kansas City, Mo.
Records: Western Kentucky 20-15, Kansas 29-5
Location: Lawrence, Kan.
School colors: Crimson and blue
Head coach: Bill Self (327-63 in 10th season at Kansas; 534-168 in 20th season overall)
Conference: Big 12
Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2012
All-time NCAA Tournament record: 93-40
Series vs. WKU: Kansas leads 3-1