What to watch: Are the Jayhawks ready to take care of business? The No. 1 seed in the Southwest was handed a huge potential gift Thursday when the 4 and 5 seeds in the region, Louisville and Vanderbilt, both lost. That means Kansas will face either a No. 12 (Richmond) or a No. 13 (Morehead State) in the Sweet Sixteen … IF it gets there. Last year, as the overall No. 1 seed in the tourney, the Jayhawks were shocked by Northern Iowa in the second round, and there have been other early NCAA pratfalls in Bill Self’s time in Lawrence. Odds of a loss Friday to Boston U. are astronomical, so the question is whether or not Kansas passes the “look test” as a title contender against the Terriers.
Who to watch: The Morris twins are where it starts for the Jayhawks. Marcus and Markieff combine for 31 points and 15 rebounds and will be a major challenge for a Boston front line that is not overly long. The Terriers counter with America East Player of the Year John Holland, a 6-5 combo player who averages 19.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Holland already has set the school record for points in a season and is No. 2 in school history in scoring.
Why to watch: If history is made and Boston becomes the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, you’ll hate yourself if you miss it.
What they’re saying: Kansas guard Mario Little, on Self putting copies of the Sports Illustrated cover of Northern Iowa hero Ali Farokhmanesh in every locker: “Kind of got flashbacks. Couple of guys took the clippings and threw it in the garbage. I don’t think anybody laughed, but it brought back memories.” … Boston coach Pat Chambers, a former assistant at Villanova, where he saw the Morris twins play a lot growing up in Philadelphia: “I just saw them in the hallway and they gave me big hugs, so it was good to see them. They got bigger.” … Self, on his all-over-the-board tourney history: “If anybody has lived out all ends of the spectrum, we probably have, because we lost in the first round a couple times and we’ve cut down the nets. I don’t know if there are too many people that can say they’ve done all those things. So our guys understand that one or two possessions is the difference in advancing or going home.”
Of note: If you’re into omens, note that Kansas’ two recent first-round flameouts came against schools with the initials B.U. -- Bucknell and Bradley. Now comes Boston U. … If the Terriers are somehow in contention late, they should have confidence going to the foul line. They’ve made 73 percent of their free throws in the final five minutes plus overtime this year, and 81 percent in the final one plus plus overtime. … Boston’s only two NCAA tourney victories came in 1959.
What to watch: Who rules at the 3-point arc, the Vegas offense or the Illini defense? UNLV predicates its offense on driving and kicking the ball to open shooters. The Rebels have four players capable of shooting the 3 – but the rangy Illinois defenders have done a solid job this year covering the perimeter. Illini opponents have made just 30.5 percent of their 3-point shots. But it may be more complicated than the stats indicate; Illinois is susceptible to quickness, so it must concern itself with UNLV’s drivers and then try to recover to the shooters.
Who to watch: A pair of veteran guards who have had roller-coaster seasons. UNLV is led by Tre'von Willis, whose scoring and shooting percentages have dipped from last year. but who remains the most important Rebel. Illinois is led by Demetri McCamey, who went from first-team all-Big Ten as a junior to third team as a senior but nevertheless dictates the offense as the team’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and distributor (6.1 apg).
Why to watch: To see which disappointing team can help salvage its season with a first-round NCAA win. With seven experienced players back at UNLV and after a 9-0 start, more was expected of the Rebels than a distant third-place finish in the Mountain West Conference. The same can be said for Illinois, which starts four seniors and was ranked as high as No. 12 nationally in December. One fan base will feel a bit better Friday night, while the other will be left to ruminate on a season that got away.
What they’re saying: Illinois coach Bruce Weber: “We’re good enough. We’ve just got to find that new life and hope some balls bounce our way a little bit. Maybe March will be good to us.” … Vegas’ Anthony Marshall, on trying to bring the program back to prominence: “I think right now is a big platform for us to make a national statement.” … Illinois senior Mike Davis, on a sense of urgency: “It’s do or die. It’s our last game if we lose.”
Of note: UNLV is 2-7 against teams in the tournament, while Illinois is 8-10. … Illinois has lost its past four games away from home, while UNLV has won its past four. … They might as well name this place Reunion Arena for Illinois. Vegas coach Lon Kruger is a former coach of the Illini, and so is Bill Self. His Kansas Jayhawks could be next up for Illinois if both teams win Friday.