A deflating Big 12 tournament quarterfinal loss last Thursday left a bad taste in Kansas' mouth heading into the NCAA tournament next weekend.
However, the Jayhawks look to capitalize on eight days of rest as they learned the potential road the Final Four in Sunday afternoon's selection show.
"We're happy we're a 1 seed," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I'm not sure that's a huge advantage. We're obviously happy that we get to stay fairly regional with our travel, especially going down to Tulsa in the first weekend."
Kansas, unsurprisingly, was picked as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region. The team is set to face the winner of NC Central vs. UC Davis in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The tournament berth makes for the 28th-straight NCAA tournament appearance for Kansas.
In his last year at Kansas, senior center Landen Lucas will strive to bring Kansas back to the Elite Eight. There's an added incentive, too. Kansas will play at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri if it makes it to the Sweet Sixteen. A game in front of an essential home crowd could give the Jayhawks a boost it didn't have last year in a loss to Villanova.
"Hopefully we've got a lot of Kansas fans out in Tulsa cheering us on," Lucas said. "And the biggest thing about getting the seed that we got is that we play in Kansas City. Our fans are great, especially helping us when we're going on runs or maybe coming back in the game. So we're all looking forward to playing in front of them in Tulsa and seeing them out there."
The Jayhawks fell to the Wildcats in an Elite Eight game last year that came down to the final possession in Louisville, Kentucky. Kansas was awarded the No. 1 overall seed last season, but had to play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Louisville rather than Chicago.
Kansas, Big 12 tournament champions for two of the last four years, lost in the conference tournament after the first game for the first time since 2009 with an 85-82 loss to TCU last Thursday.
Lucas told reporters Sunday he thought the team got better in the extra practice days that stemmed from the loss.
"Obviously, we wanted to be out there playing, especially guys won't be here next year, and you've got a limited amount of games." Lucas said. "We had a goal we wanted to accomplish, but then we didn't do that. But I think quickly as soon as we got into practice, it turned into focusing on our next goal and knowing that we could use this time to get better, get healthier, get rested and get focused for the ultimate goal."
"We tried to spin it as much into a positive as possible, and move forward after that."
Self said postgame on Thursday that the loss will give the team needed rest heading into the NCAA tournament. Self's update on Sunday was that the team made strides to re-focus.
"When the coach acts like a maniac, you know you'll probably try a little harder or what not," Self said. "I do think there are some things that we have to tighten up. Our ball screen defense was bad against TCU, and obviously rebounding."
Freshman guard Josh Jackson is set to return for the start of the NCAA tournament. Jackson sat out suspended for a traffic incident for the Big 12 tournament loss to TCU. Self called Jackson one of the most consistent players in the country for the last month, and told reporters he will be ready to compete.
"I think he'll respond favorably," Self said. "He was down, obviously, and he understood. I mean, he's a smart kid without question. I think he'll respond very favorably moving forward."
Currently, Kansas' potential road to the final four includes match-ups against 8-seed Miami, 4-seed Purdue and 2-seed Louisville.
Self looked at the bracket this season, and said he concluded the same thing he does every year.
"Obviously, I think it's very difficult," Self said. "But you look at it, I think everybody in the tournament could probably say the same thing, that it's very difficult. It's been my experiences in all the years, when you think you've kind of figured something out, it never plays out that way. So I'm not going to fret or be disappointed at all because I think everybody in the field, all the 1 seeds, would probably say, Villanova? Are you kidding me? Look who we've got to go against or whoever."
Kansas' first tournament game will tip off at 5:50 p.m. on Friday, March 17, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The game will be against the winner of NC Central vs. UC Davis, which tips off Wednesday, March 15 at 5:50 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio.
— Edited by Frank Weirich