Kansas enjoys a smooth path
SAN ANTONIO — So far in this NCAA Tournament, the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks are riding an easy-looking path toward the Final Four.
The Jayhawks returned to the Alamodome yesterday for the first time since winning their last national championship here in 2008. Most recall that overtime win over fellow top seed Memphis after first beating North Carolina to open the Final Four.
Easier to forget is how the Jayhawks got there: Beating seeds that were 16, 8, and then a 12 and 10.
Sound familiar to this run?
Kansas has beaten a 16 seed (Boston University), a nine (Illinois), and will face a No. 12 seed in the Richmond Spiders tonight. Then it’s a 10 or 11 seed.
“When you’re in the business long enough you’re going to have things like that crop up,’’ Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But I haven’t thought about the [similarities] at all.’’
If the Jayhawks (34-2) return to the Final Four this year, they’ll join Michigan State in 2001 and North Carolina in 1991 as the only schools to get that far without having to beat a seed higher than nine. Awaiting Kansas if it beats Richmond will be either 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth or 10th-seeded Florida State.
Only five teams have reached the Final Four by feasting on teams seeded eighth or lower, according to STATS LLC. One of those schools: the 2008 Jayhawks, who beat 12th-seeded Villanova in the round of 16 that year.
Richmond (29-7) is hoping to fare better. The Spiders have only one other round of 16 appearance. That was in 1988, before most players on their roster were even born. Richmond did stun Kansas in its only other meeting, breaking the Jayhawks’ streak of 52 wins against unranked opponents at Allen Fieldhouse, but that was back in 2004.
“Their experiences are fairly limited,’’ Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “So to be able to play Kansas in the Sweet 16 in the Alamodome is probably big stuff for them, and for all of us.’’
It’s big for the city of Richmond in general. The Spiders arrived in San Antonio with Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond’s neighbor back home.
But the Spiders don’t want to be remembered as a novelty. Mooney has combed through film trying to figure out how to beat the Jayhawks, looking not only at recent games but any the Jayhawks survived with a slim margin of victory.
Kansas has rolled so far. It started by beating both 16th seed Boston University and ninth-seeded Illinois by double-digits. Richmond, meanwhile, edged fifth seed Vanderbilt before cruising past Morehead State. The Spiders are the lowest seed still around, which technically makes them the biggest underdog in a region that is already the first in NCAA to have three double-digit seeds still alive this late in the tournament.
“I think everyone is confident,’’ Richmond guard Cedric Martel said. “We’ve shown in the past we can compete with bigger teams. It’s a great experience to play a number one seed in the tournament. We’re trying to make history.’’
So could Kansas — or at least tie history. The 2001 Spartans are owners of the easiest — at least on paper — path to the Final Four. The seedings of Michigan State’s first four opponents added up to 48, a total Kansas can match with a win over Richmond, and if it winds up playing Virginia Commonwealth.
Self brushed aside questions about any apparent bracket luck. He called facing 12th-seeded Davidson in the round of eight in 2008 — which came down to the last possession — the toughest of that tournament apart from the final with Memphis.
Seeking to bolster his case, Self then pointed out Richmond’s NBA prospects, making a nod to 6-foot-10-inch forward Justin Harper. He said the Jayhawks won’t look at the Spiders as a 12th seed but instead as being “incorrectly seeded’’ from the start.