By Rustin Dodd
Tribune News Service
LAWRENCE -- On Sunday afternoon, in the hours before the NCAA Tournament selection show, Bill Self was sifting through stats and pulling numbers on possible opponents for his Kansas team.
Self assumed that KU would be slotted as a No. 2 seed, and to make this early scouting process easier, he began by selecting a pool of 10 teams he thought could end up as 15 or 16 seeds. Among the teams he didn't select: New Mexico State.
"I had New Mexico State like as a 13 (seed)," Self said, slipping into amateur bracketologist mode for a second.
A few hours later, as Kansas gathered inside the Naismith Room at Allen Fieldhouse to watch the bracket reveal, Self watched as New Mexico State popped up on the screen as a No. 15 seed -- the Jayhawks' first opponent.
"They weren't in my pod of teams I selected," Self said. "So I was surprised."
For Self and Kansas, it was just the first bracket curveball from a mischievous selection committee. The Jayhawks landed as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, a wacky funhouse of a bracket that features undefeated top seed Kentucky, ACC Tournament champion Notre Dame (the No. 3 seed), two other Big 12 teams (No. 5 West Virginia and No. 11 Texas) and, oh yeah, another rather notable team from the state of Kansas.
Kansas, 26-8, will open the NCAA Tournament at 11:15 a.m. Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. If the Jayhawks handle New Mexico State, 23-10, they could be staring at a head-to-head battle with No. 7 seed Wichita State, which will face No. 10 Indiana in the following game Friday. Both will air on CBS.
"How in the world they are a 7 seed blows my mind," Self said of the Shockers.
By late Sunday night, Self perhaps could feel rightly wronged by the NCAA Tournament gods. Just by virtue of landing in the same region as Kentucky, the Jayhawks' odds of making a run to the Final Four were greatly reduced.
Four months ago, Kansas suffered a 72-40 beatdown at the hands of Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. The Wildcats, of course, still haven't lost a game, sitting just six victories from an NCAA title and a historic 40-0 season.
But if Self is concerned about the prospect of another night in the ring against the Wildcats' loaded roster, he didn't show it on Sunday. In part, of course, because there was little reason to. The Jayhawks will have to sweat it out just to get another possible shot at Kentucky.
"If this team gets a chance to play in the Elite Eight game, then it's been a hell of a year," Self said. "Let's just call it like it is. Regardless of who you play, it'd be a great opportunity for a one-shot deal to go to the Final Four.
"But you look at the other brackets," Self continued. "Do you want to play Wisconsin? Do you want to play Duke? Do you want to play Villanova? And the answer would be they're all good. Now Kentucky's been at a different level, without question. But we don't even know if we need to talk about that. I hope we have to talk about that next week."
While Self spent most of Sunday night offering similar coachspeak, he did spent part of Sunday afternoon musing with assistant coach Norm Roberts about Kentucky's dominance over this college basketball season. Roberts had noticed that Las Vegas oddsmakers had given Kentucky 10-11 odds to win the NCAA championship. The other teams on the list all had long odds, and Roberts was curious.
"What does that mean," Roberts asked Self.
"Well," Self recalled answering, "it means you have to bet a dollar and ten cents to win a dollar, where everybody else would bet a dollar to win $25, if you're 25 to one.
"He figured out real quick, 'Well, they are favored then.'"
For now, though, Self is less concerned about Vegas odds or Elite Eight matchups, and more focused on getting healthy over the next few days before heading north to the CenturyLink Center in Omaha -- the same building that launched KU Final Four runs in 2008 and 2012.