The Kansas Jayhawks are bound for Des Moines, Iowa in the first weekend of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and they’ll head there as the No. 1 seed in the bracket’s West region.
It’s the second year in a row that the Jayhawks are a one seed, setting up an opening-round matchup with the 16th-seeded Howard Bison, but this year’s honor comes with one of the most challenging roads to a Final Four that a top seed has ever faced.
KU is the third overall seed in the field of 68 teams, behind the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Houston Cougars. Alabama is the top overall seed and will play in the South region, while Houston tops the Midwest and will play in its closest regional site, Kansas City, Missouri.
Of course, that’s also the closest site for Kansas, which was bumped to the West region instead.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have played in Kansas City if that had been an opportunity,” KU acting head coach Norm Roberts said.
Sunday’s bracket reveal was alarming for fans and players alike, with Kansas sophomore forward K.J. Adams saying he was “shocked.”
Houston has been championed by advanced and predictive metrics throughout the season, though the quality of its wins pale compared to those of Kansas. KU had nearly twice as many Quad 1 wins (17) as Houston had Quad 1 games (9) this season.
“It’s a tough deal for the committee. Nobody’s ever going to be happy,” Roberts said, adding: “At Kansas, we’re never going to be upset about being a one seed.”
Chris Reynolds, the chairperson of the NCAA tournament selection committee, told the CBS Selection Show that the committee factored record against both Quads 1 and 2 into Houston going over Kansas on the overall seed list, plus the margins of losses for both teams this year.
“Houston, they were competitive in all their games that they lost, except for today, and we understood today that they were without their best player,” Reynolds said.
That player is Marcus Sasser, who missed Houston’s 75-65 loss to the Memphis Tigers in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship. That was just the Cougars’ third loss of the season and their largest margin of defeat.
The Jayhawks, by contrast, lost by 20 to the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament championship, the fifth time this season they had lost by 14 or more points.
Reynolds also mentioned that the committee took KU coach Bill Self’s health into account when finalizing this year’s bracket. Self missed the Big 12 Tournament due to a medical situation, but Roberts said he expects Self to return to work on Monday.
“He’s getting stuff done right now as we speak,” Roberts said Sunday.
Kansas should also be getting healthier on the floor this week with the return of senior guard Kevin McCullar. The Texas Tech transfer missed the loss to Texas with a back issue, but Roberts said McCullar is feeling better and will work his way back this week.
This will be the 16th time No. 1 seed for the Jayhawks since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and they’re a perfect 15-0 against No. 16 seeds. Their opponent, Howard, won the MEAC’s automatic bid this year, and the Bison will enter the tournament with a 22-12 record, their highest win total in the last 50 years.
Howard is ranked 214th in the NET and 215th by KenPom.
Should KU avoid making history and advance to the second round of the tournament, it will face either the eighth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks or ninth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini. The Jayhawks and Illini are at least somewhat familiar with each other after participating in a “secret scrimmage” in November.
“The region’s very strong. You knew you were going to play a really good team in the 8-9 game,” Roberts said, adding: “Both teams are very good, but Howard’s a very good team, too.”
Kansas and Howard will play their first-round game at 1:00 p.m. central time on Wednesday in Des Moines.
The full 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket can be found here, and the tournament will begin with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday.