The Kansas Jayhawks are back in Fort Worth, Texas this week for the first time since losing to TCU on March 1. That was the last time the Jayhawks lost.
That was also regular-season competition, and while it was a crucial game for the Big 12 race (it cost Kansas a chance to win the conference title outright), it paled in comparison to what’s next for KU.
It’s March, and that means the time of year basketball fans and programs, especially one of KU’s pedigree, live for. Fort Worth is home to one of the eight opening-weekend sites for this year’s NCAA tournament, and the Jayhawks are riding into the weekend on a wave of momentum they’ve had since that loss early in the month.
“I don’t know that any losses are great,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But I do think it was definitely humbled us, which, you know, I do think that’s good to have your team humbled from time to time. It probably put a new emphasis on some things that we need to do to give us the best chance to win, i.e., you know, emphasizing making the other team play poorly as opposed to just trying to outscore people.”
Kansas also entered the week not knowing who it would face in the first round, but it’s since learned Texas Southern will be on the opposing sideline Thursday night. Texas Southern beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the First Four Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in the tournament’s Midwest regional, which historically has almost guaranteed a win over a 16 seed like Texas Southern, but Self refused to take this Tigers team lightly.
“I think they’ve got a good team,” Self said. “I don’t think that by any stretch, after studying them, they don’t look like a 16 seed to me at all. So we know we’ll have to really compete and play well.”
This will be the first “normal” NCAA tournament since 2019, after the event was canceled in 2020 and was held in a bubble in Indiana in 2021. That means that for several key Jayhawks, this will be their first exposure to a true March Madness environment.
After speaking this weekend about how much the last two years changed what it meant to play at Kansas, Self discussed what this tournament means on Wednesday.
“I do think the thing that can be lost sometimes with this is this is the reward of a lot of people’s hard effort over a long period of time,” Self said. “You can’t lose sight of that. It’s fun, it’s a reward. But sometimes, I think we can look at it as a ‘we got to’ or ‘we must,’ and I don’t think that’s the correct approach.”
Senior guard Remy Martin is getting his first exposure to postseason play as a KU player after playing the first four years of his career at Arizona State. He expressed gratefulness that he gets to be a part of the Big Dance once again.
“I’m just grateful to be able to play basketball, and March is a very big month for college basketball,” Martin said. “And just really grateful that we’re able to play. Because I know other teams, as well, season is over with … So I think it’s a great opportunity for everybody. I’m happy it’s back to normal.”
Because the Tigers played in the First Four, they already have NCAA tournament exposure and experience this year. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, haven’t played since ripping off three wins in three days to win the Big 12 Championship tournament.
Self said that break was important for Kansas, while Martin added that he thinks Texas Southern will still come out energized in the first round.
“I think they’re going to come out with tons of energy and excitement to play against us,” Martin said. “On our end, I think that we’ve just got to remain ourselves. You know, do what got us here, stay connected. They may make some runs, but as long as we’re together and stick to the basics and stick to what we know what to do, we’ll be fine.”
BetMGM currently lists the Jayhawks as 21.5-point favorites over the Tigers, while Stats Perform gives KU a 98.3% chance to win in the first round (and a 7% chance to win the national championship, tied for the third-best chance of any team alongside Arizona).
If KU picks up a win over Texas Southern, it will take on the winner of eighth-seeded San Diego State and ninth-seeded Creighton on Saturday.
“I think all we got to do is just be who we are,” Self said. “But certainly take the time to enjoy what we’re doing. And the teams that I have had that have enjoyed it the most are usually the teams that perform the best in it.
Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks said Wednesday to preview the NCAA tournament first-round game against Texas Southern.