LAWRENCE The Kansas Jayhawks say they aren't looking at the seeds attached to the names on the bracket of the NCAA Tournament's Southwest Regional. Still, they know the numbers 1, 10, 11 and 12 and they know that anything short of securing the program's 14th trip to the Final Four will be considered a failure.
"ESPN analysts, I see them talking all the time about how we're a lock," KU forward Marcus Morris said. "I don't really see how we're a lock."
Here's how: No. 1-seed Kansas plays No. 12-seed Richmond on Friday night, and a top seed has never lost to a team seeded 12th in the tournament. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, three double-digit seeds have never advanced to the same regional. Four teams have had the chance to advance to the Final Four by beating back-to-back double-digit seeds in the regional semifinal and final, and all four teams capitalized including the 2008 Jayhawks, who beat No. 12-seed Villanova and No. 10-seed Davidson.
Make the Final Four, beating possibly two no-name schools from Richmond, Va., this weekend, and all KU will be able to claim is that it did what was expected.
The last thing KU coach Bill Self wants is for his team to fall into the trap of playing to protect something instead of going out and taking it. The Jayhawks will have to have the mentality of the hunter even when they are the hunted, which will be the biggest challenge of what should be a crazy couple of days on the Riverwalk with Richmond, No. 11-seed Virginia Commonwealth and No. 10-seed Florida State.
Morris, who apparently has been watching a lot of ESPN, credited college basketball analyst Jay Bilas with a correct observation about this KU team.
"He said it right: When we play against lesser-caliber teams, we play not to lose," Morris said. "I just think we need to go out there and let it go and try to crack a team from the beginning."
The Jayhawks were confronted with this same storyline last week in Tulsa. A year ago, they had lost to Northern Iowa in the second round because they did not show the Panthers enough respect and did a poor job of attacking from the lofty perch as the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. This year, against Boston University and Illinois, the Jayhawks battled some nerves but were able to make the tournament's second weekend.
Well, so much for relief. By the time Florida State was finished dismantling No. 2-seed Notre Dame on Sunday night, it was clear the Jayhawks once again were going to have to focus on being focused.
"Normally when we play against guys that we know we're better than, we just go, 'Let's get out of here with this win,' " Morris said. "We don't really put them down how we're supposed to."
But this is the NCAA Tournament, where motivation should never be an issue.
"Just knowing what's at stake," KU forward Markieff Morris said, "knowing what we can accomplish by beating those teams."
Plus, the Jayhawks learned from Northern Iowa that they can be had by anybody.
"Knowing that we can be beat if we don't come to play," KU guard Tyshawn Taylor said, "that's definitely going to make us come to play."
Taylor disregarded the notion that the Jayhawks could play scared as the heavy favorite to advance to Houston for the Final Four.
"We're over that tight stage," Taylor said. "That's over with. We're just coming to play now."
The Spiders of Richmond, the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth and the Seminoles of Florida State stand in Kansas' way. The path may not be what many imagined, but it shouldn't alter KU's mind-set too much.
"I say the pressure's always on us," Markieff said. "We're going to be the aggressors, because that's who we are."