If you talk to fans of the Kansas Jayhawks, and you ask them how well their team plays when not expected to make the Final Four, you will often — if not always — elicit a few smiles.
Kansas was not expected to make the Final Four last year. Duke was. Kansas, though seeded higher, was viewed as the inferior team. It defeated Duke in the Elite Eight to make the Final Four.
Kansas was a 2 seed to North Carolina’s 1 seed in 2012. Yes, the Kendall Marshall injury was the biggest factor in that year’s Midwest Regional. Nevertheless, Kansas didn’t have the same high profile entering the NCAA Tournament that Carolina did. (Marshall was injured on the first weekend of that NCAA Tournament, against Creighton in the second round.) Kansas beat UNC and went to the Final Four in New Orleans.
In Bill Self’s first season, Kansas labored and struggled and got a No. 4 seed. It made the Elite Eight before losing to Georgia Tech.
Roy Williams’ first Final Four team at Kansas was a 3 seed, beating Oliver Miller and Arkansas in 1991. Roy’s second KU Final Four team was a 2 seed which defeated top-seeded Indiana in the 1993 Elite Eight.
This sets the stage for 2019, in which Kansas — after all sorts of injuries, suspensions, and player dislocations — has a 4 seed and a chance to play the Sweet 16 in Kansas City… if it can get that far.
The Jayhawks must win two games in the state of Utah, beginning with Thursday’s contest against the Northeastern Huskies.
Self talked about this different experience in a year when the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign over the Big 12 came to an end.
“This is new for everybody,” Self said after learning his team is the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, and will face Northeastern in the opening round Thursday in Salt Lake City. “The biggest thing will be to have fun and enjoy it. It’s a reward for the guys doing a good job on every team throughout the season, and we will approach it that way and hopefully play free.”
Kansas generally does play freely when not expected to do much. Conversely, huge expectations have often overwhelmed the Jayhawks, especially in regional finals. This program likes having less pressure.
Something new can be something KU can push through to avoid feeling blue.
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