Better than you think
Bill Self has seen 15 seeds, and he says there’s no way Detroit should be a No. 15.
“This isn’t just coach speak,” the Kansas coach said of tonight’s opponent. “They are very athletic. They’re as athletic as the most athletic teams in the Big 12 this year — Baylor and Missouri.
“After watching film on these guys, they’re much better than a 15th seed.”
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At least that’s the message he’s delivering. KU is 4-0 as a No. 2 seed in the first round.
“They are athletic,” KU senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “They like to pressure the ball. It’s going to be a challenge for us defensively, and they’re going to make us work offensively. We’ve got to be as hungry as they are.”
Detroit is a collection of six transfers, a high school All-America and coach’s son in Ray McCallum, and some role players who have provided valuable minutes in the Horizon League championship season.
Conference sixth man of the year Eli Holman was a Big Ten talent who transferred from Indiana when Ray McCallum got the job, and Holman became one of the Horizon League’s best big men.
“This is the reason I came here. I wanted to play a big-time opponent, and now we have the opportunity," Holman said. "I’m excited about the chance to face Kansas. I know Thomas Robinson is a great player. I also know that he gets a lot of baskets off the fast break, which means he’s not under the basket rebounding. It comes down to heart and pride, and that’s what we’re going out there to do: play with heart and pride."
For the Titans to compete inside against Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, they’ll have step out of their norm of using a four-guard lineup and play both their 6-10 seniors, Holman and LaMarcus Lowe, at the same time. A starter in the past, Holman has been coming off the bench this year.
“No matter how it matches up,” Holman said, “our defense gives us our best chance to win.”
Detroit’s field-goal defense percentage this year is a relatively soft 43.9. KU led the Big 12 at 38.3
I’ll guard that guy
The game should be a matchup of two good point guards, Detroit’s McCallum and KU’s Taylor. At least in theory.
But McCallum isn’t expected to draw Taylor as his main defensive assignment. That will go to Jason Calliste, a 6-2 junior.
“We have confidence in Jason,” 6-7 guard Chase Simon said. “I’ll be checking off and helping out with Robinson down low.”
Pressure on the Titans
Detroit, which is in its first NCAA Tournament since 1999, is trying to extend the Horizon League’s streak of winning at least one tournament game to eight straight years.
In that stretch, Butler did it four times, Milwaukee twice and Cleveland State once.
Detroit assistant Derrick Thomas is the son of Emmitt Thomas, a former Kansas City Chiefs player and now an assistant for the NFL team.
“He’s going to have the Kansas scout,” said McCallum, the Titan coach. “He should have a head start because he grew up with the Jayhawks.”
Hoping to be hot
McCallum said his team can open a game up with three-pointers. Really?
Detroit has made only 30.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. His son has made only 25 percent — 30 of 120. Simon is 30.5 percent (47 of 154) and Calliste 35.2 percent (56 of 159).
“We’re streaky,” the coach said.
This is KU’s 41st NCAA Tournament appearance, ranking fourth behind Kentucky (51), North Carolina (42) and UCLA (42). KU’s tournament record is 88-39, fifth highest in total wins. Holman and Lowe rank second and third on Detroit’s career shot-blocking list.
— Rick Plumlee