Kansas men’s basketball, a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, is set to face No. 2-seed Duke in the Elite Eight on Sunday as two of the game’s most storied programs battle it out for a spot in the Final Four.
The Jayhawks’ position might not seem that extraordinary. At least not when Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 crown for 14 straight seasons and is in the Elite Eight for yet another year.
Nonetheless, Kansas is looking to end a five-year Final Four drought, last appearing in 2012. It’s the team’s longest stretch without a Final Four appearance since coach Bill Self arrived in Lawrence, and the longest for the program since Kansas went 9 years without making the Final Four from 1993 to 2002.
That can all change on Sunday if the Jayhawks are able to make their way past Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. And after missing a prime opportunity to make the Final Four a year ago, Self has a little extra confidence this time — thanks to some of the team’s critics.
Self told reporters on Saturday that he feels his team has benefited from the criticism it has received at times throughout the year — more than the Jayhawks are traditionally accustomed to.
“Players need to feel free and they need to be relaxed and have fun as opposed to sometimes you want something so bad it creates pressure. And I do think that that’s been the case a lot of times with us. You want something so bad that sometimes maybe you don’t give yourself the best chance. But I don’t think that will be the case this year. This year’s different. This year is, I mean even though we’re a 1 seed, everything — every time you talk to somebody it’s always: ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Nobody ever says what’s good with us. Everybody says, ‘What’s wrong with them? They’re too small, they don’t defensively rebound, they can’t defend their home court, they’re this or that.’ And the guys still end up pulling it together and with very little depth.”
Kansas’ 2017-18 regular season had more than its fair share of hiccups. After losing standouts Josh Jackson and Frank Mason at the end of the 2016-17 season, the Jayhawks were dealt an early hit when freshman Billy Preston was held out after a car crash he was involved in prompted financial questions surrounding the incident. Preston never played a regular-season game with Kansas before he left to play for a Bosnian professional team.
Kansas’ historical home-court advantage also took a hit during the regular season. The Jayhawks lost three times at Allen Fieldhouse in addition to a contest vs. Washington at nearby Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Those home woes included Texas Tech’s first victory at the venue on Jan. 2 and a loss to Oklahoma State under first-year coach Mike Boynton on Feb. 3. Oklahoma State went on to post the first regular-season sweep of Kansas in the Self era of Jayhawks basketball.
All the concerns from those slips didn’t stop Kansas from winning the Big 12 regular-season and Big 12 Tournament crowns. Now, the Jayhawks are one win away from packing up for San Antonio to return to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Kansas and Duke tip off at 4:05 p.m. CT. The Jayhawks are joined by Texas Tech in the fight to send at least one Big 12 team to the Final Four. Kansas State also made the Elite Eight, but was eliminated by Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.