KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Can you (Hill)top this?
Kansas almost did. With visions of NCAA tournament upsets past dancing in their heads, the top-seeded Jayhawks survived a monumental scare from No. 16 Western Kentucky winning 64-57 Friday in a South regional opener. KU flirted with history, trailing by a point halftime before overrunning the fourth-place team from the Sun Belt's East Division.
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Western Kentucky is no TCU – which KU lost to earlier this season – but it did lead the Jayhawks into the second half. Despite that 2008 national championship, Kansas has recent tournament upsets at the hands of Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa. A win by 16-seed over a 1-seed would have been a first since seeding began in 1985.
After playing that No. 16 seed we still know that Kansas struggles to score, has issues at guard and has seven-foot Jeff Withey to bail them out on both ends. Withey saved the Jayhawks on a night when they didn't have a three-pointer scoring 17 and blocking seven Hilltopper shots.
The overwhelmingly KU crowd at the Sprint Center – just 45 minutes from Kansas' campus – had to be nervous. Western Kentucky's best win this season has been over Arkansas State – No. 154 in Jerry Palm's RPI. TCU is No. 238.
The competition gets tougher Sunday. Kansas will play eighth-seeded North Carolina to go to the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks have beaten the Tar Heels by a combined 41 points in the previous two meetings since Roy Williams left Kansas.