|Northeastern launching long-range upset bid of Kansas|
Pardon Kansas for doing something unusual this week before it begins play in the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 17 Jayhawks must board an airplane.
A first-round assignment at Salt Lake City finds Kansas (25-9), a No. 4 seed, opening against Northeastern (23-10), a No. 13 seed, on Thursday. It marks the first time in 10 years the Jayhawks have not opened the tourney in the old Big Six Conference footprint (Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska or Oklahoma).
A short trip possibly awaits, however. If Kansas can advance to the Sweet 16 it will play in nearby Kansas City, Mo., site of the Midwest Regional. North Carolina and Kentucky are the top seeds in the region.
"I was like, 'Wow, we've just got to win these games and get back home,''' junior forward Dedric Lawson said, recalling his thoughts after the bracket was revealed. "We need that energy to boost us and help us move forward.''
No guarantees exist, especially in the first two rounds. Nor in Kansas City, where Kansas fell in the Big 12 tournament championship game to Iowa State after a record 14-year streak of regular-season Big 12 titles was snapped with a third-place finish.
The Jayhawks went undefeated in their boisterous home, Allen Fieldhouse, but struggled elsewhere despite a remarkable debut season from Lawson.
The Memphis transfer became the first Big 12 player to lead the league in scoring and rebounding since Oklahoma's Blake Griffin a decade ago.
Lawson is one of five first-year starters for Kansas.
That has contributed to inconsistency, especially after starting 10-0 but losing junior center Udoka Azubuike. The team's lone senior, shooting guard Lagerald Vick, left the squad during conference play after getting off to a torrid start from 3-point range.
When he was told his team looked to be limping home, Kansas coach Bill Self said, "this team has won eight of our last 11 and that's after going through some stuff and we're close to getting it, even though we haven't quite gotten it yet. That tells me that there is still a great opportunity for our best to still be in front of us.''
Maybe, with freshmen Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and David McCormack all progressing of late. This year's NCAA bid was ithe 30th in a row for Kansas, the top active streak in the nation.
"For us, everybody here is just so excited to see your name pop up on Selection Sunday that I think the first emotion is just pure elation,'' Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. "And then the second emotion is, 'Oh, no. We've got to play Kansas.''
The Huskies, champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, have won seven straight but stood 0-4 against quadrant one opponents.
The 3-point line is where Northeastern thrives or dies. Four players have connected for 50-plus treys, led by junior guard Jordan Roland, who averages 14.7 points. Senior guard Vasa Pusica, who is from Serbia, averages a team-high 17.8 points.
"What worked for us at our level (was 3-point shooting),'' Coen said. "We'll see what happens at the next level.''
The last NCAA Tournament appearance for Northeastern resulted in a four-point loss to Notre Dame in 2015. No CAA qualifier has won in the tourney since James Madison in the 2013 First Four as a No. 16 seed. In 2006, when Kansas was last seeded fourth, it fell to Bradley in the first round.
--Field Level MEdia