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Sunflower State well-represented in NCAA tourney
College basketball
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LAWRENCE (AP) — The last time Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State reached the NCAA tournament in the same season, things turned out pretty well for fans from the Sunflower State.
The Shockers may have lost in the opening round, but the Jayhawks and Wildcats just kept winning. It took the two playing against each other in a regional final for Kansas State to be eliminated, and Kansas eventually won the program’s fourth national championship.
At Kemper Arena in Kansas City, of all places.
That was 1988. Fast forward more than two decades and all three of the state’s Division I schools are back in the bracket for the fourth time in their collective history.
The Jayhawks lead the way with a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. Wichita State earned the fifth seed in the West, while Kansas State received a No. 8 seed in the East.
“It’s a good state for basketball,” said Bill Self, who was born in Oklahoma but has led the Jayhawks since 2003. “I’m happy for K-State. I think they’re very deserving. And Wichita State a five? Very, very deserving.”
Kansas may have been deserving of a No. 1 seed, and NCAA tournament selection chairman Jeff Hathaway said Sunday night that the Jayhawks were the first No. 2 seed.
Regardless, the seed it received combined with those of its in-state brethren ended up making the Sunflower State one of the best represented in this year’s field.
Kentucky landed the overall No. 1 seed and is joined by fourth-seeded Louisville and No. 6 seed Murray State, giving the Bluegrass State a good showing. Perennial hoops hotbed North Carolina landed the Tar Heels at No. 1, Duke at No. 2 and North Carolina State at No. 11.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin has become an adopted son in Kansas for all the success he’s had with the Wildcats. He took over the program following Bob Huggins’ departure for West Virginia, and a man born in Miami quickly managed to embrace the school’s Midwestern values: hard work, dedication to one another, expect nothing for free.
That’s why he was so proud to see the Wildcats’ bitter rival, Kansas, receive its high seed, and Wichita State — about 130 miles to the south — get its recognition.
“Not bad for the little, old state of Kansas,” Martin said. “Some other states have a lot more people, some other states probably have some schools that have bigger facilities or whatever else you want to say, but the state of Kansas produces three winners.”
That’s not hyperbole, either.
The Jayhawks won their eighth consecutive Big 12 championship when they navigated an expanded round-robin schedule at 16-2. Wichita State won the regular-season Missouri Valley title, while the Wildcats won an in-season tournament in Hawaii.
“That’s a credit to the kids and the administrations at the schools,” Martin said, “that they have all been able to work in unison to represent their schools in the right way.”
The Wildcats (21-10) will be the first Kansas school to play this week when they step on the court against ninth-seeded Southern Miss on Thursday afternoon in Pittsburgh. Wichita State (27-5) follows that evening against No. 12 seed VCU in Portland, Ore.
Kansas (27-6) plays the final scheduled game of the second round — tipoff is slated for 9:57 p.m. EDT in Omaha, Neb. — against No. 15 seed Detroit.
“The last time I checked, basketball has always been important in the state of Kansas,” said Martin, whose team lost twice to Kansas during the regular season. “It’s good to see the schools maintaining that level of excellence.”
Making it all the sweeter is that several key players are Kansans, born and raised.
Kansas State guard Will Spradling is from Overland Park, while reserve forward Victor Ojeleye is from the small town of Ottawa. The Jayhawks’ Connor Teahan is from Leawood.
Not bad for a state that ranks 33rd in population and 40th in density.
“That just speaks to the universities we have in Kansas, the coaches and players and everything,” Teahan said. “It’s been a great year for us and K-State and Wichita State. I think all Kansas people should be proud of that.”