Western Kentucky (20-15) vs. Kansas (29-5)
Friday, March 22, 9:50 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sprint Center (18,972) -- Kansas City, Missouri. Television: TNT. NCAA Tournament Record: WKU 19-23, KU 93-40. Series Record: Kansas leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: As the top seed in the South Region, the Kansas Jayhawks will tip off their 2013 NCAA Tournament run on Friday night when they take on the 16th- seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in second-round action at the Sprint Center.
The winner will advance to the third round on Sunday to play either eighth- seeded North Carolina or ninth-seeded Villanova.
WKU's season as a whole was nothing special, as it went just 10-10 in the Sun Belt Conference, but for the second time in as many years, it made an improbable run through the conference tournament, earning wins over South Alabama, Arkansas State and FIU in consecutive days to win the championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hilltoppers (20-15) are no strangers to the Big Dance, having made 23 overall appearances, including four in the past six seasons. Since 1993, WKU has seven NCAA Tournament wins, while the rest of the SBC has gone a dismal 0-14.
Kansas (29-5) put together another dominating season, winning the Big 12 Conference regular-season crown for the ninth straight year and breezing through the conference tournament with wins over Texas Tech (91-63), Iowa State (88-73) and Kansas State in the championship game (70-54) for its sixth tournament title in Bill Self's reign as head coach. The Jayhawks have made 42 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 24 in a row, the longest active streak in the nation, and this marks their 11th No. 1 seed since 1979. With one more victory, they will also become the first team in NCAA Division I history to win 30 or more games in four straight seasons. KU has won three national titles (1952, 1988, 2008).
Kansas leads the all-time series with Western Kentucky, 3-1, and the Jayhawks won the most recent meeting in November of 1997, 75-62.
The Hilltoppers have pieced together rather modest numbers this season at both ends of the floor, as they score 67.5 ppg on just a shade over 43 percent efficiency from the field, while surrendering 65.7 ppg. They are a strong rebounding team with a +3.2 margin, but then again they haven't had to play many teams as athletically gifted as Kansas. T.J. Price is the team's top scoring threat with 15.3 ppg, doing the majority of his damage from 3-point territory (79-of-218, .362). George Fant is a quality piece down low with 12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 1.1 bpg, while Jamal Crook is a solid point guard with 12.0 ppg, 4.0 apg and 1.5 spg. Crook missed 11 games due to injury earlier in the season, and WKU went just 3-8 in his absence (17-7 with him).
The Jayhawks haven't ascended to No. 1 seed status by accident, as they are one of the most well-rounded squads in the nation, scoring 75.4 ppg and allowing 61.5 ppg, while outshooting their opponents from the field by an astound margin (.480 to .360). Leading the way is freshman sensation Ben McLemore (16.4 ppg), who has proven to be one of the deadliest shooters in the country, making 50.7 percent of his field goal attempts, 43.7 percent from 3- point range, and 86.7 percent from the foul line, while adding 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg and 1.1 spg for good measure. Jeff Withey, a 7-0 center, tallies 13.6 ppg and 8.4 rpg and is an elite interior defender with 3.8 bpg. As the third option, Travis Releford (11.5 ppg) has shined by making greater than 56 percent of his field goal attempts, while Elijah Johnson nets 10.1 ppg and gets his teammates involved with 4.8 apg.
Ray Harper has done wonders in two seasons as head coach of WKU, making the most of his modestly-talented squad, but wading through the waters in the Sun Belt is much different than facing a national power like Kansas. The Jayhawks should barely break a sweat in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas 83, Western Kentucky 64
03/22 10:32:06 ET