LAWRENCE — Bill Self and Kansas will not be scheduling Wichita State anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean the two schools won’t be in competition.
As the college basketball season reaches its stretch run, fifth-ranked Kansas and second-ranked Wichita State could be in unfamiliar territory: Battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s rarified air, a state of fewer than three million people having two Final Four contenders and a third school (Kansas State) likely in the NCAA field.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Self said Thursday, “and when others are good in your area, that kind of raises your own level.”
The Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2 Big 12) may have a decent case for a No. 1 seed if they win the Big 12 regular-season title outright, but count Self among those who believe that Wichita State deserves a No. 1 seed if the Shockers (30-0) finish the regular season and Missouri Valley Conference Tournament undefeated.
“They’ve had an unbelievable year,” Self said, “and I personally think they deserve the 1-line if they’re able to go ahead and take care of business. You hear the so-called pundits say, ‘Well, their schedule this or that.’ Well, it’s hard to win on the road, especially when you’re everybody’s Super Bowl game, and they’ve been able to do that, so you have to respect that.”
Of course, there is also the intriguing scenario that Wichita State and Kansas could be paired as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the Midwest Region, which will be held in Indianapolis. Self said on Thursday that he hasn’t paid much attention to the growing chatter about a possible Battle of Kansas in the Elite Eight.
“If that were to happen and both teams meet in the tournament,” Self said. “That means that both teams have probably done quite well in the tournament to get to that game.”
The two schools haven’t faced off in more than 20 years; KU defeated Wichita State five straight times from 1989-93, while Wichita State last defeated KU 54-49 in Wichita in 1987. The Shockers also won the only NCAA tourney matchup between the two schools, a NCAA Midwest Regional game in New Orleans in 1981.
The matchup would also pit Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins against WSU senior Nick Wiggins, his brother.
“If it happens, it happens,” Self added. “But I’m not the least bit concerned or consumed with, ‘Hey, I hope this or I want this or we’re in competition with them.’ All we’re in competition with is ourselves and the teams that are lined up to play in front of us, no one else.”
Self, as you might expect, was then asked if he’d ever reconsider his long-held stance of not scheduling Wichita State. The answer: Maybe … but probably not.
“I don’t want to say never,” Self said. “But I mean, we’re pretty locked in on what we’re trying to do from a scheduling standpoint and that stuff, and that’s not a knock to anybody, but without getting into it, I would say that’s probably not on the immediate horizon.”
Self’s reasoning has always been relatively consistent. He says schools should make scheduling decisions that are best for them, and he sees little to gain from playing Wichita State. He’d prefer, he says, to use those nonconference opportunities to play games in bigger markets on the East and West coasts. Kansas has scheduled nonconference games in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Diego and Los Angeles, among other places. But even if Kansas never relents from its stance, that doesn’t mean the two sides will never play.
“There may be an opportunity for us to play them very soon, sooner than what even a regular-season scheduled game would be played,” Self said, hinting at the NCAA Tournament matchup. “But who knows if that’s the case, and I’m certainly not going to spend any time worrying about that.”