"I don't know if you can follow a better coach," Self raved.
"Bill's just terrific in every way." Kruger volleyed back.
Yeah, we're pretty much looking at a strictly coincidental reunion between two men with a lot of mutual respect, whose teams just so happen to be colliding tomorrow in the NCAA's Round of 32. And that's where each would prefer the focus remain.
It's hard to say whether Jayhawk fans should be concerned with UNLV. On paper the Rebs don't present too significant a challenge. But as the players are quick to point out (and when isn't a favorite eager to promote the fact that his team isn't looking ahead?) the scrappy, little guys are sometimes the one's you need to worry about the most. Tell you what - I'll give you the devil's advocate and the... devil's devil's advocate for why KU will/won't be heading to Detroit.
The Hawks will run the Rebels right out the gym:
UNLV is, in short... short. At least compared to KU. Only three players who see significant minutes are over 6'5. The tallest of them is 6'8 Matt Shaw, who's only averaging about 20 minutes per contest. Darrell Arthur (6'9), Sasha Kaun (6'11), Darnell Jackson (6'8) and Cole Aldrich (6'11) must be positively salivating at the chance to exploit a sizeable mismatch (sorry couldn't resist the pun).
Sure we saw the Rebels in the Sweet 16 last year, but it wasn't these Rebels. Only one starter is back from last year's group. UNLV has faced only one other ranked team all season, a forgettable 20-point loss that saw them shoot 25% from the field.
UNLV can hang:
Don't underestimate Kruger - a finalist for NCAA coach of the year. In a way, he's molded this group in his own playing image, winning with a group of undersized guys by emphasizing toughness and high basketball IQ.
This year's Rebs play a little faster than your average Kruger club, but don't mistake that for recklessness. In fact, the thing they do best is actually what they don't do - turn the ball over. UNLV averages just 10.6 turnovers per contest - 6th in the nation. (Side note - Texas, strangely enough, is #1 at 9.4 per, which struck me as odd considering how fast they play. I guess that's what good guards will do for you).
UNLV also has the nation's number two three-point field goal percentage defense. KU has been unbelievably good from behind the arc over their last three games, but that doesn't figure to continue tomorrow.
OTHER NOTES -
*KU players aren't counting on a whole lot of moral support from their fellow statesmen. A lot of K-Staters with tickets to the opener figure to lend their vocal chords to their new second-favorite team: UNLV. Then again there could be a small minority who cheer for the Hawks, mostly because they want K-State to have the honor of finishing KU off for themselves.
Sasha Kaun figures the purple nation will be split about 50/50. Yeah right.
Self is a little more realistic. "It would be nice if somehow we could have a truce and support eachother, but I doubt that will happen."
*Sherron Collins won't be 100% tomorrow. Word is he tweaked his knee some time last week. Self said yesterday that he expects his point guard - who hobbled through the Hawks win over Portland State - to be good to go on Saturday. Today he backed off that stance a little.
"I'll be fine. I'm a little sore," Collins said this afternoon. "I'll still play tomorrow, and I'll still come out and be ready."
Collins will wear a sleeve over the knee to keep it loose.