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Jayhawks try to escape case of double-digit doldrums

  • Published Thursday, March 24, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.

The parting of the Red Sea didn't go this well for Moses. While Kansas has been taking care of business in the NCAA Tournament's Southwest Regional, the rest of the field in that region has been thrown into disarray, leaving KU with what looks like a nice walking path to the Final Four.

Tournament favorites such as Notre Dame, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Louisville and Texas A&M have been tossed out as if they refused to pay their NCAA bills. Meanwhile, giant killers Florida State, VCU and Richmond have advanced to San Antonio to play in this weekend's regional.

They're 10, 11 and 12 seeds, making this one of the most watered-down regionals in NCAA history.

Except for Kansas.

The Jayhawks are the '27 Yankees in this regional and everybody else is the '62 Mets. If KU doesn't win in San Antonio — against Richmond on Friday night and against the VCU-FSU winner Sunday — Jayhawks fans will forever remember the Alamo... Dome with mixed feelings.

It was, after all, scene of one of the great moments in KU history, its win over Memphis in the 2008 national championship game.

There's good Kansas karma in the building.

Still, these are probably the kinds of games that make KU coach Bill Self gnaw on his fingernails. Richmond might be a 12-seed, but when you see the Spiders you scream and beg your husband to kill them. Oh wait, that's the other spiders.

The Richmond Spiders have a pair of seniors, Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, who have jacked up 334 three-pointers between them. Anderson is a 6-foot guard; Harper a 6-10 center who loves to play on the perimeter and could present a defensive challenge for either Marcus or Markieff Morris.

There's a persistent belief out there that Kansas is in trouble when the Jayhawks play a team in the tournament it should handle.

Remember UTEP? Rhode Island? Bucknell? Bradley? Northern Iowa?

Of course you do.

But Kansas' tournament history isn't much unlike that of any of the country's top programs. Since the tournament began being seeded in 1979, all of the big boys have suffered unexpected losses to teams in the bottom of the field.

KU is 33-3 against seed 10 through 16. It just so happens that the three losses — to Auburn (11, 1985), Bucknell (14, 2005) and Bradley (13, 2006) —stand out.

The Jayhawks are good enough to sweep through this regional. You can even make the argument that's what should happen in this field. Most of the experts expected Louisville, Purdue and Notre Dame to be joining KU in San Antonio. But they were beaten by Morehead State, VCU and Florida State.

Kansas is 4-0 in tournament history against 12 seeds, 3-1 against 11s and 4-0 against 10s. The Jayhawks' record against 5 through 16 seeds is 50-7. Against teams seeded 1 through 4, they are 17-18.

But KU conceivably could get to the national championship game before it faces a top four seed if Butler (8) were to come out of the Southeast Regional.

I don't see any way Kansas doesn't get to Houston and the Final Four. Is Richmond capable of pulling a stunner? I suppose so, but let's not make the Spiders out to be more than they are — a nice team from the Atlantic 10 that lost by 23 to Xavier and 20 to Temple this season.

VCU is on a hot streak now, but the Rams finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association. It's a strong conference, for sure, but fourth is fourth. For perspective, Kansas has won seven straight Big 12 championships.

Florida State might be the most dangerous potential opponent for the Jayhawks. The Seminoles come out of the ACC and they can defend. Opponents are shooting 36 percent against FSU; it's the top field-goal percentage defense in the country. The Seminoles dismantled Notre Dame on Sunday in Chicago after holding Texas A&M to 50 points in the first round.

Senior forward Chris Singleton, though, isn't fully recovered from a foot injury that kept him out of games late in the regular season. He did play 16 minutes against A&M, but didn't score in only 10 minutes of action against Notre Dame.

If Singleton is healthier, he and 6-foot-10 Bernard James could provide at least some resistance to the Morris twins.

Still, there's no team in the Southwest that looks like more than a speed bump as Kansas chugs toward the Final Four.

Ohio State has to get through Kentucky and potentially North Carolina in the East. Out West, Duke has Arizona, Connecticut and San Diego State in its way. The Southeast is left without its No. 1 seed, Pittsburgh, and a wide-open field has emerged with Butler, Wisconsin, BYU and Florida.

But in San Antonio, there's a clear-cut favorite. Kinda scary, isn't it?

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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