Kansas City, Mo. — The No.1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks (30-5) are coming into the round of 32 match up with North Carolina after beating Western Kentucky 64-57 last night.
Jeff Withey was the leading scorer with 17 points but that’s not usually the case for the Jayhawks. For the season, Ben McLemore is Kansas’ leading scorer as he averages 16.2 points per game. McLemore is the only freshman in the starting lineup. The other four starters are seniors and three of them are fifth-year seniors.
In his first NCAA tournament game, he scored 11 points and made just two field goals.
“You know, it’s just my first time on the bigger stage,” McLemore said Saturday afternoon. “Since I didn’t get to play last year, I sat out. Like I said, it was a bigger light for me. I was just trying to get my move and groove on.
“But, you know, I tried to do some things to help out my teammates. My offense wasn’t great, but I tried to help the best I could for my team.”
The Jayhawks struggled from pretty much anywhere outside the painted area in Friday night’s win and didn’t make a single 3-point shot in six attempts.
North Carolina on the other hand made 11 3-pointers in their win against Villanova and will be looking to keep that success from outside going. But to do so, they’ll have to score over Kansas’ lengthy wing players.
“Probably the most important thing is for our bigs now because North Carolina, they can shoot the ball really well,” Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe said. “They play a little four-guard set. Our bigs are going to have to get out to the shooters as well.”
Kansas coach Bill Self admitted that his team doesn’t have a lot of experience against a lineup like North Carolina’s but he did think that they had seen lineups with some important similarities.
“I think personnel there are some similarities (to Iowa State),” Self said, “except Carolina’s got a guy you can throw it to at 10 feet or throw it to him at three feet and you can come away with two points or a foul, where Iowa State liked to spread it all over, all five spots.”
“Certainly we haven’t played against a so-called 4-man that can stretch it and shoot it with the range that Hairston does, not at all. Iowa State did have some 4-men that could make threes, but this is ridiculous how he makes threes and how many he can make, what a streak he can get on.”
Two rich traditions
Kansas has the second most wins of any NCAA program and North Carolina is third on that list but the two teams have met only ten times.
But Self insists that his team, while excited to play a team with the caliber of North Carolina’s, won’t be consumed by storylines about the programs or about Roy Williams’ role in the histories of both teams.
“I think our guys enjoy playing in games where the appearance is that it’s for the highest of stakes,” Self said. “That’s not always the case … And I also think this: I don’t think getting up for Coach Williams has anything to do with whether we win or lose. I think we’ve got to get up for North Carolina. Certainly with our players, there’s no side-bar at all other than getting ready to play their team.”
Kansas big man Jeff Withey agreed that the Jayhawks need to turn a deaf ear to all the hype around the programs.
“We can’t really listen to the hype. We are going to go out and just play,” Withey said. “We have a great history with them, but to us, it’s more important to just go out and play. There’s going to be a lot of hype around it with Roy Williams coming back, but I didn’t play for him. None of us played for him, and we don’t really know him.
“We are just going to let the fans do all the talking and go out and have fun.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.