TULSA, Okla. -- This has become the Bill Self Subregional.
The Kansas coach is everywhere or, more accurately, his past is everywhere.
He’s an Oklahoma native and Oklahoma State alum whose first two head-coaching jobs were in this city, at Oral Roberts and Tulsa. Then he went to Illinois, where he succeeded Lon Kruger and preceded Bruce Weber.
Kruger played Weber Friday for the right to face Self Sunday. Weber won, which pits Self and Kansas against Weber and Illinois. And that means the subject of the mock funeral Weber held for Self early in his Illinois tenure -- in an effort to get players and fans alike to quit talking about the departed coach -- came up Saturday.
This also marks the second straight year that Self has faced an underdog that defeated UNLV to get to the Jayhawks. Last year it was Northern Iowa, and you know how that turned out -- also in a game played in Oklahoma.
But despite all the Self connections, that’s only half the matchup here. And the potential exists for two excellent games at the BOK Center Sunday night.
What to watch: Can the Wildcats’ efficient offense produce against the Longhorns’ relentless defense? Arizona shoots 51.6 percent from two-point range and 39.6 percent from 3. Texas allows opponents to shoot only 42 percent and 28.7 percent, respectively. Whoever gets the advantage in that strength-on-strength matchup will probably win the game.
Who to watch: Arizona forward Derrick Williams against Texas’ Tristan Thompson. Williams is the guy who makes Arizona go, an All-American who has cranked his play up even higher -- through four postseason games he is averaging 22 points and 8.5 rebounds. Williams also had the spectacular blocked shot that clinched the game against Memphis on Friday -- but Thompson is the guy who swats shots in bunches. The freshman rejected a career-high seven of them against Oakland, and he’s likely to get the first defensive call against Williams.
Why to watch: Arizona has been must-see TV its past two games, winning one (Memphis) and losing one (Washington in the Pac-10 tournament final) at the very end. Texas has at times looked like the best team in the nation, including for about 30 minutes against Oakland on Friday. And there will be plenty of future NBA players on the floor, whenever they decide to turn pro.
What they’re saying: “I’m coming back next year. I’ve already signed up for summer classes.” -- Texas’ Thompson, who projects as a lottery pick but delivered that news in the Longhorns locker room Saturday. Now we’ll wait and see whether he really means it.
“He’s not going to like this, but he took a lot of shots. That’s just his game. Any kind of shot is a good shot for him.” -- Williams on former AAU teammate Jordan Hamilton, volume-shooting forward for Texas.
“It’s overwhelming as a coach that’s getting ready to play against Texas to watch him offensive rebound. … He might be the nation’s best offensive rebounder.” -- Arizona coach Sean Miller on Thompson.
Of note: Both schools have demonstrated impressive recruiting reach. Arizona has two players from New York and one from St. Louis in its probable starting lineup, plus a pair of Californians. Texas starts one Texan, Gary Johnson, but otherwise fills out its first five with two Canadians, a Turk and a Californian.
What to watch: Last year at this stage, the top-seeded Jayhawks felt the pressure and played tightly against underdog Northern Iowa in a shocking loss. Self said he wants this year’s team to relax and enjoy the NCAA experience, but acknowledged that he thought Kansas was again tight for a half against Boston University on Friday. Illinois, meanwhile, should be afforded the chance to play with a relaxed attitude. The seasoned Illini are significant underdogs with nothing to lose, and a victory would redeem what has been a disappointing season. Kansas has the better team, but also the greater pressure.
Who to watch: Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey. Leading his team in both scoring (14.9 points per game) and assists (6.1), he’s vital to the Illini’s chances. Especially his distributing. They’re 15-0 this year when McCamey dishes out seven or more assists. For Kansas, the focal point of Self’s pound-it-in offensive approach is the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff. They’ll take their muscular physiques and all-court games up against an Illinois front line that has an abundance of length but not the same amount of girth.
Why to watch: After what happened last year to KU in the round of 32, miss this game at your peril. But also because Illinois, if it plays the way it did Friday against UNLV, could have a legitimate chance to win.
What they’re saying: “Last year we were kind of No. 1 the whole season, and everyone had us picked as the favorite. I don’t know if that was more of a burden to us than a good thing. We’re not trying to hold onto anything this year. We don’t have anything to hold onto.” -- Kansas guard Tyrel Reed, on the (slightly) lesser pressure on the Jayhawks this season.
“When he plays and plays well, we’re a top team in the country. We can compete with anybody.” -- Weber on McCamey
“I wouldn’t say he’s one of my best friends, but we have a cordial relationship.” -- Weber on Self.
“I have total respect for him as a coach. … But we’re not close. We don’t talk.” -- Self on Weber.
Of note: One of the things that makes Kansas so hard to cover is the shooting ability of its guards. If defenses distort themselves too much to collapse on the Morris twins inside, they risk leaving Reed, Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor (among others) open on the perimeter. And lately, that’s been a bad trade-off. In KU's past two games, the Big 12 title game against Texas and the NCAA opener against BU, the Reed-Morningstar-Taylor trio has made 12 of 25 3-point shots. ... Weber had no update on the status of swingman Jereme Richmond, who was suspended for the UNLV game for what the coach termed a violation of "athletic department team rules." Weber said the school will discuss Richmond's status privately Saturday and make an announcement on his status Sunday.