LAWRENCE, Kan. — Big 12 champion Kansas earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in seven years Sunday, and will open play in the South Region against Sun Belt champ Western Kentucky.
In the round of 32? The Jayhawks could get former coach Roy Williams and eighth-seeded North Carolina, whom they beat in a regional final last year on their way to the national championship game. The Tar Heels play No. 9 seed Villanova on Friday in their tournament opener.
Kansas (29-5) should have an advantage by beginning the tournament at the Sprint Center in nearby Kansas City, Mo., where it is 6-0 this season. The Jayhawks beat Washington State, Saint Louis and Oregon State during the regular season before three wins in the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas capped that run Saturday night, when it beat regular-season co-champ Kansas State for the third time this season, wrapping up the school’s ninth Big 12 tournament championship.
“It can go both ways,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of playing close to home. “I think there can be some extra distractions. We have to work with our guys on that. But we get a chance to play in a building that we’re very familiar with, and where we’ve had some success.
“I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
Self said he wouldn’t plead with the selection committee about making his team a No. 1 seed, though losses in other conference tournaments by some of the nation’s marquee programs and Kansas’ run to the Big 12 tournament title likely pushed them to the top line.
Besides, Self has had mixed success as the top seed at Kansas.
The Jayhawks lost to UCLA in a regional final in 2007, and then won their fifth national title the following season when they beat Memphis in overtime in a memorable final.
They were also ousted by No. 9-seed Northern Iowa in the 2010 tournament in Oklahoma City.
One of nation’s most consistent programs, the Jayhawks absorbed the loss to Big 12 player of the year Thomas Robinson to the NBA — along with several role players from last year’s national runner-ups — to win earn a share of their ninth straight regular-season conference championship.
Led by freshman guard Ben McLemore, a likely NBA lottery pick, and with four seniors in the starting lineup, the Jayhawks won 18 straight games at one point this season.
After losing three straight during Big 12 play, they rebounded to win seven more, and their only loss since Feb. 9 came at Baylor in their regular-season finale.
The Jayhawks will open the NCAA tournament against No. 16-seed Western Kentucky (20-15), which is in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. The Hilltoppers earned the berth out of the Sun Belt by beating Florida International in their conference title game.
Western Kentucky is 4-3 in the NCAA tournament since 2008.