LAWRENCE — Bill Self isn’t on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and for Kansas, that’s probably a good thing right now.
The No. 9-ranked Jayhawks (24-7) concluded their regular season with a whimper, saving their worst for last in Saturday’s 82-64 defeat at Oklahoma State. KU, though, is still seen as a likely No. 1 seed at most bracket projection outlets, including composite database bracketmatrix.com, which has the Jayhawks as the fourth No. 1 with an average seeding of 1.23 out of 110 total brackets.
Self isn’t quite sold on that placement — at least not yet.
“We shouldn’t be on the one-line. We don’t deserve that,” Self said Monday. “But, if we were to win out and somebody else loses, then yeah, you could make a case for that, I guess, because we’ve got so many good wins.”
KU has a 10-3 record this season in games classified as Quadrant 1, or contests against top-25 RPI opponents at home, top-50 RPI opponents at neutral sites and top-75 RPI foes on the road. The Jayhawks’ 10 victories in Quadrant 1 play is second nationally to only North Carolina (11), a likely boon to the team’s postseason seeding hopes as the selection committee uses that metric for the first time.
“You could certainly make a case for the two-line because of so many good wins, and you can make a case for the three(-line),” Self said. ”... My personal opinion is I would say somewhere in that range, but a lot depends on what’s going to happen, obviously, this weekend.”
The top-seeded Jayhawks open Big 12 Tournament play with a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal against either No. 8 seed Oklahoma or No. 9 seed Oklahoma State, with the Bedlam Series rivals clashing in a first-round matchup 6 p.m. Wednesday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The Sooners (18-12) and Cowboys (18-13) have gone a combined 3-1 this season against KU, with OSU earning the first-ever season sweep of a Self-led team in the coach’s 15-year tenure in Lawrence.
Self said KU will prepare for both potential opponents in the coming days, but added “the biggest thing I think we need to prepare for is us.”
“I think they’ll both be challenges, but I also think they’ll both be fun,” Self said. “No matter who we play, there should be an incentive for a lot of reasons. One, we lost in the first round last year. Two, if you get a chance to play OU, you get a chance to go against the leading scorer, leading assist guy in the country in Trae (Young). If you play Oklahoma State, you get a chance to play somebody that’s obviously handled us twice. So hopefully there will be plenty of motivation on our end.”
Of the 18-point drubbing to the Cowboys, Self said it was “probably good” for the team to go up against a hungry and desperate opponent, considering only seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk have “been in the fire” before, a concept Graham echoed. If the team refocuses and heeds Self’s words, Graham said, that ugly outcome could become a positive.
“Me and my uncle talked about that,” Graham said. “I feel like that loss, because everybody was telling us how proud of us they was for winning (the conference) outright and stuff like that, and then we go and get smacked, and kind of you open your eyes up and realize it’s do or die. We’ve got to focus a lot more. It could be a good thing for us.”
In a “perfect world,” Self said conference tournaments typically present a good opportunity to get key players more in-game breathers, especially with the potential for three games in three days. That won’t be the case for this year’s depth-challenged Jayhawks, though — “I think this is who we are, this is what we’ve got, and guys are going to have to play minutes,” Self said.
Rest or not, Graham is expecting the most competitive Big 12 Tournament of his four-year career.
“It’s been, I feel like, the most intense year in the Big 12 regular season, so I definitely know that everybody is going to be trying to claw their way into the tournament,” Graham said. “We’ve got to want it more than they do.”
And if they don’t?
“If we don’t have our minds right and focus on the right things and playing for each other, it will be a quick trip,” Graham said. “We’ll go down there and come right back, and that’s not something you want to do.”
GRAHAM HUMBLED BY HONOR — Graham was named a first-team All-American on Monday by Sporting News and will find out at noon Tuesday whether he can add Associated Press Big 12 player of the year to the same distinction he received Sunday in a unanimous vote of the conference’s coaches.
“I was shocked at first. I didn’t know what to think,” Graham said of Sunday’s honor. “And then I was just happy, because I get to get my name put in the rafters like Coach has been saying. It just hit me.”
Self reiterated Monday his stance that Graham is now assured to have his jersey retired and lifted to the Allen Fieldhouse rafters someday.
“It’s special,” Graham said of the future ceremony. “You look up there and see all the KU greats and legends. I get to be up there beside them. It’s going to be special. I get to show my kids and grandkids that when I bring them back here for some games.”