Kansas Jayhawks (31-3) vs. Portland State Vikings (23-9)
When: Thursday, 12:20 p.m.
1. Joe Morgan disapproves. According to the VORPies over at Basketball Prospectus, Kansas has the #1 Pythagorean winning percentage in all the land. In addition, they are ranked #1 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. I have no idea what this means (other than Mario Chalmers clogging up the bases, obviously), but, hey: We're #1!
2. Seniors Rule. In a stark contrast to the youthfully exuberant Kansas teams of the past couple years, this year's team features six seniors, four of whom see significant minutes somewhere outside of practice. Much has already been written about Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson and Darnell Jackson. Brad Witherspoon, Jeremy Case, and Rod Stewart, on the other hand, toil in obscurity. Why? Because they're not as good as the other guys. Witherspoon is a gritty walk-on from Humboldt, KS who I am sure plays the game The Right Way and probably pulls more tail in a week than I did in all my many years of college. Jeremy Case is the last remaining link to the Roy Williams Era. I hear he's been lighting it up in practice. I have, however, been hearing that for five years. Rod Stewart takes the downtown train (didn't see that one coming, did you?) and has finally found a place in the rotation as a defensive specialist, several seasons after transferring from USC.
3. 20 years. It was 20 years ago that Kansas, led by Danny Manning and coached by Larry Brown, won the 1988 NCAA Championship just down I-70 in Kansas City. The team was feted at halftime of the Colorado game several weeks ago. In a delicious bit of coincidence, the broadcaster assigned to the team was none other than former Oklahoma star (and former Rockford Lightning head coach) Stacey King, whose heavily-favored Sooners team lost to Danny and the Miracles in the aforementioned championship game.
Bonus tidbit: Which former coaching stops of naturally coiffed Bill Self will not be joining KU in the NCAA tournament? Tulsa and Illinois. Suck it, Illini! — Pete Gaines
PORTLAND STATE VIKINGS
1. Ok, so what's the deal with P. State? After 12 years in the NCAA hinterlands, your Portland State Vikings are ready for their national media close-up. Why do I say "your" Portland State Vikings? Because, inevitably in the run up to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament game next week you will be inundated with stories (and a likely CBS video montage) about the plucky Big Sky champions and by the time you're done hearing about the Vikings pint-sized point guard and the school that couldn't even get respect in its home town you're going to want to drop everything, buy a Jerry Glanville mask and move to Portland. It's the largest public university in Oregon (bigger than Oregon and Oregon State) and is nestled in downtown Portland in the lovely Park Blocks. Pretty much everyone and their mother in Portland has at one time or another taken a class there, but few claim the commuter campus as their school. (We call it PSU, not P-State, Nittany this, Lions!).
2. Jerry Glanville is here. The school just moved to D-I in 1996, but hiring Glanville got our football team some serious press earlier this season. But this doesn't mean Portland State gets any respect, even from the local press. I ran into Portland's premier sports columnist en route to a game a few years ago and even he had no idea where the gym the Vikings play in was. This is a gym so small most high school's couldn't even hold assembly there and so outdated that bomb shelters would take offense if you compared the two. Amazingly, the Vikings can't even fill it. When the team won the right to hold the conference tournament by rolling through the regular season with a 14-2 conference record, the conference made them find a larger venue. Even with a surplus of local media coverage that would make Paris Hilton blush, the Vikings barely filled a fifth of the Rose Garden arena.
3. We are good because our coach hated it here. Why would a head coach leave a year after winning the regular season championship to become a glorified assistant coach? Would Jack Bauer hand the reins over to Chloe so he could kick it in CTU? I think not. But that's exactly what former PSU coach Heath Schroyer did three years ago though. Dude had just had enough. His departure opened the door for current head coach Ken Bone. Bone, who kinda looks like Ichabod Crane, has overcome local high schoolers' refusal to even consider PSU by luring some impressive transfers and his rapid success already has Viking fans fretting about his imminent departure to a bigger program. The two transfers who've led the team to the best season in school history are point guard Jeremiah Dominguez and forward Deonte Huff. Combining the best of Mighty Mouse and Astro Boy into a 5-foot-6 frame, Dominguez became the first player in Big Sky history to win Newcomer and Player of the Year honors this season after sitting out last year as a transfer. Huff is the Vikings high-flyer who does a little bit of everything while sporting a refined version of Chris Partlow's haircut from The Wire. — Ian Ruder