SALT LAKE CITY — Kansas is making its 48th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Thursday’s first-round game against Northeastern at Vivint Arena also extends the nation’s longest-active streak of inclusion to 30 years.
Northeastern, by comparison, is in the Big Dance for just the ninth time. The Huskies are in the mix for just the second time since 1991.
Despite the differences in NCAA Tournament experience, Northeastern coach Bill Coen isn’t looking for a slingshot. Far from it, as a matter of fact.
“I don’t think we’ve talked much about whether we’re an underdog or not. I think what we talk most about is just being true to ourselves and how do we play our best brand of basketball,” Coen said. “How do we play Northeastern basketball? And what does that look like, what does that feel like? How can we envision that on the brighter stage? Our guys are excited about that.”
History has been relatively kind to No. 14 seeds in recent years, Since 2001, 16 of them have knocked off No. 3 seeds. That includes two last year when Marshall defeated Wichita State and Buffalo topped Arizona.
Northeastern, which hasn’t won an NCAA tourney game since 1984, is taking an optimistic approach into the meeting with Kansas.
“We’re not looking at the name on the front of the jersey. At the end of the day, you tie your shoes the same way as we do, you put on the jersey the same we do,” said junior guard Shawn Occeus. “You have to come to play and we’re going to make sure we’re prepared to play.
“And we don’t care who we play. It happens to be Kansas and hopefully we will be able to execute tomorrow and put up a game plan and be ready to play,” he added.
No one on Northeastern’s current roster saw action when Huskies made their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015.
“Coach Coen talks about staying in the moment, just even keel. We have to take advantage of this and just take it all in,” Occeus said. “Because you never know when you are going to get this chance again.”
Occeus emphasized that the Huskies aren’t just happy to be here. They’re trying to win some games and make a statement.Comment on this story
Kansas, meanwhile, has a starting lineup featuring four freshmen — Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and David McCormack.
“We’re doing all we can to make sure our guys are as loose as they can be and it should be a reward to play in this tournament and to go on and have fun,” said Kansas coach Bill Self.
The Jayhawks do have an established veteran in junior forward Dedric Lawson, who averages 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Northeastern is led by guard Vasa Pusica. The senior has averaged more than 17 points per game over the past two seasons.