The University of Kansas is well-known for its basketball pedigree, tallying 2,246 all-time wins, 61 conference titles, 47 NCAA Tournament appearances, and as of Saturday night, 31 Sweet 16’s, which ranks fourth-most in NCAA history.
Kansas advanced to Omaha with an 83-79 victory over Seton Hall in the round of 32, behind 28 points from Redshirt-Sophomore Guard Malik Newman.
The big-time performance from Newman couldn’t have come at a better time for KU, as Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham struggled, shooting just 1/7 from the field, his second-worst shooting performance of the season.
Graham spoke highly of his teammates’ timely production at media availability on Thursday afternoon. “They’ve been playing unbelievable. So it just makes it easier for me and makes me look good when I get the passes to them and they are knocking down shots and I get the rack-up assist.”
Newman had difficulty finding his rhythm early in the season, but since the month of March began has found his stride, averaging 19.5 points and shooting over 56 percent from the field in his last six games.
“Besides me just doing some soul-searching and things, I mean my teammates they kept confidence in me…” said Newman. “And I mean they played a really big part of it because when I was inconsistent, those guys, like Devonte’ and Svi, they were still coming to me telling me you’ve got to play and go score and be aggressive.”
The Jayhawks will now turn their attention to a new face in the number five seed Clemson Tigers. Kansas and Clemson have never faced in the history of the two programs, but to Coach Self, the Tigers remind him of his own team, citing strong guard play as the biggest strength for them.
“I would say they they probably were the most impressive team, I felt like, in the first weekend,” said Self. “For me personally, you know, being a defensive-minded coach first, how do we not allow those guys to have big nights? It’s not going to shut down. You’re not going to shut them down. And certainly one guy could — he obviously makes six 3’s or seven 3’s or whatever, but you can’t allow all of them to have big nights.”
The Tigers are coming off of a 31-point massacre of Auburn, the Tigers’ largest margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson hit seven 3’s and held Auburn to just 25.9 percent shooting, which is the second-lowest of the Brad Brownell era.
Clemson is making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons under Brownell, but the two wins this past weekend over New Mexico State and Auburn were the first NCAA Tournament wins for Brownell as well.
“It’s a big step for our program. We haven’t been to a Sweet 16 in 21 years,” said Brownell. “Obviously our football program is as good as any in the country. Our baseball isn’t much behind. They obviously have Omaha on their hats for a reason because that’s the goal every year and often they get there. So basketball-wise, this was a big step for us.”
Clemson and Kansas will square off at 6PM on Friday night inside the CenturyLink Center in Omaha for a chance to move to the Elite 8. The winner will take on the victor of Duke and Syracuse, in an ACC-dominated Midwest region. Tune in to the broadcast of the Jayhawks and Tigers on 90.7fm KJHK Lawrence, with Jackson Schneider and Braden Shaw on the call.