KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Hand it to them. Hand the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to Kansas. Do it now and spare us any drama any number of Sunday’s bracket reveal teases might drum up.
Hand it to them, like Jerry Palm is doing, and don’t look back. The CBS Sports Bracketology Expert didn’t blink Saturday night. He still has the Kansas Jayhawks the No. 1 overall seed in his projected NCAA Tournament bracket even after a 76-56 blowout loss to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game. So does KU guard Dajuan Harris.
“This is one game,” said the Big 12’s defensive player of the year after a loss that bordered on embarrassing. “We have 17, 18 Quad 1 wins. I think we deserve to be a one-seed.”
In some sectors, these assertions will border on the outrageous. Kansas collapsed in the second half being outrebounded 20-12 as the Longhorns shot 53%. The 20-point margin marked the worst loss for Kansas ever in the Big 12 Tournament (since 1997). Texas has beaten the Big 12 goliaths by a combined 36 points on consecutive Saturdays.
But for wise observers of the bracket and conference tournaments, such conclusions would also mark business as usual. This is one game. If the selection committee wanted to save itself some sleep, it could have the seeds mapped out before Saturday night.
It didn’t need Saturday night to determine whether Kansas is still a No. 1 seed. The only question is whether it gets rewarded by being the overall No. 1 seed for its body of work, a legitimate advantage in the NCAA Tournament. The committee began ranking the No. 1 seeds in 2004. Since then, the overall No. 1 seed has reached the national championship game five times, winning three of them.
It wouldn’t be dereliction of duty. The reigning national champions got to this place winning 27 games, 17 against the best competition. Those Quad 1 games Harris referred to mean wins against the top 30, neutral site wins against the top 50 and road wins against the top 75.
Kansas was the best at it, and it wasn’t close. That is, if you don’t include Texas’ 14 Quad 1 wins which are second nationally. Baylor was No. 3 with 11. Turns out the country’s best conference had (another) one hell of a season.
“Man, it’s a great day to be alive,” said Longhorns’ interim coach Rodney Terry.
Back to the point. KU has played (24) and won more Quad 1 games than anyone in the country. Before Saturday’s games UCLA (8) had won less than half in that category than Kansas. Compare that to other top seed candidates. The majority of Houston’s wins — 16 of 30 — have come against Quad 3 and Quad 4 opposition. Purdue and Houston combined (16) had one less Quad 1 win than Kansas.
So should that broad body of work triumph over what qualifies as one of the worst performances of the season?
“I’m not really worried about it,” said KU’s Jalen Wilson, the Big 12 Player of the Year who poured in 24 points and much of his heart into the effort. “If they do give it to us, great. But we’ll still be a No. 1 seed, I’m assuming. No matter where we’re playing it wouldn’t get any easier here. Even if we were playing here to go to the Final Four, it’s still basketball.”
Finding a way back “here” – T-Mobile Center, 45 miles from campus – two weeks from now for the Midwest Regional is the goal. Playing close to home is a reward from the selection committee. It’s supposed to be a home-court advantage that greases the path to a championship.
Yeah, but where did that get Kansas on Saturday? Where did it get the Jayhawks the last time they played the Midwest Regional here? That would be a loss to Oregon in the 2017 regional final.
A lot has happened since then. Kansas has won 168 games, at least a share of three Big 12 regular-season titles, been to two Final Fours and won it all last season.
The future begins now.
“March Madness is a third season,” Harris said. “You’ve got to brush this off.”
Texas will wallow in Saturday night as long as Terry will let them. The Longhorns have won two of the last three Big 12 Tournaments and look like a solid No. 2 seed themselves next week.
There can be no Kansas excuses from Saturday. It was missing starter Kevin McCullar Jr., one of the nation’s best defenders, with muscle spasms. But Texas was missing senior forward Timmy Allen with a leg injury. There was no use in either team risking further injury with more important games coming up.
That alone points up the relative unimportance of one game.
“After the Big 12 Tournament I think everybody is going to be relieved we don’t have to play any more Big 12 teams for a little bit,” Kansas post KJ Adams said earlier in the week. “It gets you really prepared for March. Once you get out of this league and get ready for March Madness you feel like a little more of a breather than heartache.”
The game will endure with an asterisk, at least. For the first time in 19 years two interim head coaches faced off. Kansas’ Bill Self remains out after being hospitalized Wednesday night with an undisclosed illness. Terry succeeded in making a major push for getting the permanent gig.
The veteran Texas assistant is 19-7 since replacing Chris Beard. One outlet has already named him national coach of the year. There has to be growing sentiment for Terry to get the full-time job.
“Watch the game we just played,” said Texas forward Brock Cunningham.
Perhaps one game did mean a whole hell of a lot Saturday.
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Publish Date:2023-03-12 12:53:59