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Good things happen to Kansas when it advances this far in tourney

by | CBSSports.com
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ST. LOUIS -- Minutes after North Carolina held off No. 13 seed Ohio on Friday night, I mentioned to Cindy Self that her husband's Kansas Jayhawks nearly caught a break by getting to play underdog Ohio instead of No. 1 seed North Carolina in Sunday's Midwest Regional final.

"It probably doesn't matter," she said, laughing. "We sometimes have trouble with those mid-majors."

That has been Kansas' M.O. Great season, win 30 games or so, rock chalk up another Big 12 title -- eight straight and counting -- and then stumble against a lesser opponent in the NCAA tournament. Four of Kansas' past six NCAA tournament losses have come to teams seeded ninth or lower: No. 11 VCU in 2011, No. 9 Northern Iowa in 2010, No. 13 Bradley in 2006 and No. 14 Bucknell in 2005.

Friday night, the Jayhawks avoided another loss to a double-digit seed, holding off No. 11 seed North Carolina State 60-57 in the Edward Jones Dome.

For a while, it looked like the Jayhawks might again suffer from the upset bug -- falling into an early 10-point hole. But the Jayhawks rallied from behind, something they hadn't accomplished before this season in the NCAA tournament.

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Entering this year's NCAAs, Bill Self's Kansas teams were 0-5 in NCAA tournament games when trailing at the half. However, the Jayhawks overcame halftime deficits to win consecutive postseason matchups against Purdue and N.C. State.

They weren't easy, though. Last week, Kansas needed two buckets in the final 30 seconds to get past Purdue and then Friday, the Jayhawks nearly blew a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes to outlast N.C. State.

They may not have been pretty, but those comebacks earned Kansas its fifth Elite Eight appearance in nine seasons under Self.

The funny thing is this year Kansas was supposed to be, well, un-Kansaslike. Only one starter returned from last season's 35-3 squad. Outside of Lawrence, Kan., not a lot was expected from the Jayhawks this season.

"One thing about coaching at my school is even though faces change, expectations don't," Self said. "And I think that's one thing that really helps is these guys expect. And they have great pride and I really think between their ears and their effort and all those things have had as much to do with our team's success as it has been just raw talent.

"Talent's gotten better, but the reason it's gotten better is because these guys have put pressure on themselves to get better."

And the Jayhawks have gotten better, much better. I told Self I thought this was the best coaching job he's done at Kansas. He laughed. "Yeah, but you should see us at practice."

Back in October, Self did admit the Jayhawks "weren't very good."

"We had our coaching clinic and Thomas [Robinson] was hurt and he couldn't practice," Self said. "Whoa, that wasn't the best looking team out there.

"And we had people tell us, if you can go .500, somehow figure out a way to go .500 -- and these were people that we paid to come in and speak at the clinic, so you know, I mean they were experts. But to see how far they have come."

Since losing to Davidson on Dec. 19, the Jayhawks have been anything but a .500 team, winning 23 of their last 26 games.

Now they're back in another Elite Eight, despite shooting 38.6 percent in their three games -- the lowest percentage of any Sweet 16 team. But the Jayhawks have compensated for their shooting with hard-nosed defense, holding their three opponents to 32.7 percent.

N.C. State's shooting was limited to a season-low 28.4 percent against the Jayhawks, thanks in part to Kansas center Jeff Withey, who racked up a career-high 10 blocks. Robinson also came up big (18 points, 15 rebounds); and while Tyshawn Taylor struggled from the field (2 for 14), he pulled down 10 rebounds, nearly doubling his career high.

The Jayhawks have won 30 games for a third consecutive season and for the fifth time in six seasons.

"We are so spoiled," Kansas radio color commentator Chris Piper said.

That's a credit to the job Self has done ever since replacing Roy Williams in 2003. How will this season end for Kansas? No. 1 seed North Carolina and the Williams' angle awaits Sunday afternoon. If Kansas survives, Self will have guided the Jayhawks to their second Final Four.

The last time the Jayhawks got there this far, of course, they won it all, bringing home the 2008 national title. With the double-digit seeds out of the way, don't count out Kansas or Self from winning it all in New Orleans.

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