Kansas Hopes To Avoid First-Round Exit

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 6:32 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- It wasn't long after No. 2 Kansas was finished soaking in a surreal Big 12 championship win when postseason reality started to set in.

After losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament two straight years, will there be another Jayhawk jinx?

"We are going to get that question a lot," coach Bill Self said.

Kansas was a No. 3 seed in 2005 when it lost to 14th-seeded Bucknell in the first round, and a No. 4 seed for last season's early exit against Bradley. This time, they'll have the advantage of being the top overall seed and playing the winner of a play-in game between MEAC champion Florida A&M and Metro Atlantic champion Niagara.

"I will tell you this," Self said. "This team had nothing to do with the Bucknell loss. Nothing. They didn't score one point in the game."

Other than roster turnover, Self said he hopes his team's focus is better this year -- although he doesn't anticipate taking a different approach to the Jayhawks opening game on Thursday in Chicago. He hopes big-game experience will take care of that.

"I think when you have never been in it ... and you get into it basically for one week and now distractions start coming your way, being able to focus and eliminate those, I don't think we did as good a job last year as I hope we do this year," Self said.

The last time the Jayhawks (30-4) got a No. 1 seed was in 2002, when they made the first of two consecutive Final Four appearances under Roy Williams. Self took over before the 2003-04 season and is 3-3 in the NCAA tournament with Kansas. He's 13-8 in the NCAAs overall at Kansas, Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts.

"We've experienced success in the tournament at our stops," said Self, who led the Jayhawks to the round of eight in his first season. "The last two years have been miserable."

Despite having prominent freshmen Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur who'll be making their first NCAA appearances, the Jayhawks' starters have all been through it before.

"Last year's team was not as prepared as this year's team, and we were very young," Self said. "Three freshmen and two sophomores starting, and it was a different type of feel when we got in the tournament."

This time, they'll take in an 11-game winning streak – their longest of the season -- that includes two double-digit comebacks against Texas and several games where the Jayhawks had to grind out wins instead of playing their uptempo transition game.

"We've got to come into the game with a different mind-set than what we did last year," leading scorer Brandon Rush said. "Stay focused on what we are trying to do, and that's get past the first round."