Kansas did not get a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, costing the Jayhawks a chance to potentially play the regional round just down the road in Kansas City.
The Jayhawks are still a No. 1 seed, however, and will have their coach back for their bid to repeat as national champions.
Bypassed for Houston in the Midwest Region, Kansas is the top seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region and learned coach Bill Self should be on the sideline when the Jayhawks face Howard in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday. Self missed the Big 12 Tournament after complaining of chest tightness and undergoing a hear procedure but was discharged from the hospital Sunday.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, so that’s a big bonus for us,” Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. said. “He’s been in March Madness a long time. He knows what he’s doing and we just have to have his back.”
Kansas (27-7) won its first two games at the Big 12 Tournament without Self before losing 76-56 to No. 7 Texas in the title game.
The Jayhawks appeared as though they would slip to a No. 2 seed when top-ranked Houston got the top spot in the Midwest, but the NCAA selection committee still made them the No. 1 in a West Region that ends in Las Vegas on March 23-25.
“I’m just shocked we didn’t get the overall No. 1 seed, but that happens sometimes,” Kansas forward K.J. Adams said. “They mark it how they feel and we’re just going to do what we need to do to get where we need to be.”
Kansas, the bracket’s third overall seed, faces a difficult road in its bid to become college basketball’s first repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07.
The stacked West Region includes No. 2 UCLA, No. 9 Gonzaga, No. 11 UConn, No. 16 Saint Mary’s and No. 22 TCU.
Get by Howard, which is in its first NCAA Tournament since 1992, and the Jayhawks will get a stiff test in the second round against Arkansas or Illinois.
The Illini and Razorbacks limped to the finish of the regular season, but have talented rosters and will be tough outs for any team.
UCLA (29-5) earned the No. 2 seed in the West but will be without one of its top players.
Junior guard Jaylen Clark, the Pac-12’s defensive player of the year, suffered a season-ending lower-leg injury against Arizona on March 4, depleting what was once one of the nation’s best backcourts.
The Bruins still have Pac-12 player of the year Jaime Jaquez and veteran point guard Tyger Campbell. They’re also led by Mick Cronin, who took UCLA to the 2021 Final Four in his second season and to the Sweet 16 last season.
UCLA opens against UNC Asheville (27-7) on Thursday in Sacramento, California.
PITINO VS BIG EAST
Iona coach Rick Pitino has been linked to several open high-major jobs, including some in the Big East.
HIs 13th-seeded Gaels will play on in the first round, against No. 4 seed UConn.
Pitino led the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons after closing the season with 14 straight wins and a Metro Atlantic Conference Tournament championship.
The Huskies, led by Dan Hurley, are in the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons for the first time since going to five straight from 2002-06.
WCC OUT WEST
Gonzaga (28-5) and Saint Mary’s (26-7) will have a chance to renew their rivalry in the NCAA Tournament but that wouldn’t come until the Sweet 16.
The Zags open against Grand Canyon on Friday in Denver and the Gaels face Virginia Commonwealth in Albany, New York.
Gonzaga won two of the three meetings with Saint Mary’s this season, including 77-51 in the WCC Tournament title game.
ROAD TO HOUSTON
Kansas’ road to the national championship may be the toughest among the No. 1 seeds.
Get out of the first two rounds, the Jayhawks could end up facing Saint Mary’s or UConn in Las Vegas. After that it could be UCLA, Gonzaga or TCU with a trip to the Final Four in Houston on the line.
“The region is very strong,” Kansas assistant and acting head coach Norm Roberts said. “There’s just so many good teams.
The West Region kicks off Wednesday with a First Four game between Arizona State and Nevada in Dayton, Ohio, with the winner moving on to face TCU. Arizona State’s Warren Washington and Desmond Cambridge Jr. played at Nevada last season.
The opening round also includes Northwestern, in its second NCAA Tournament in 85 years, against Boise State.
AP Basketball Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.
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