SAN ANTONIO — The Kansas Jayhawks are the only No. 1 seed left in the NCAA tournament, essentially favored to win it all at this point.
Then again, the Jayhawks should still be around. This is a team that reached No. 1 in the Top 25 this season, and all they've had to play so far are teams seeded 16th, ninth and 12th.
And they have to be called the team to beat considering what's ahead of them: the lowest seed left in the field, No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth, in the Southwest Region finals today, and No. 8 Butler awaiting in the Final Four.
With all due respect to the upset specialists still in Kansas' way, this roll call of fattened seeds is enough to make coach Bill Self wonder whether he has a team of destiny that catches all the breaks — or if this is some sort of elaborate setup.
No NCAA champion has ever had a path that, on paper, was as easy as this would be. In 1990, UNLV won the title by beating teams whose seeds added up to a record-high of 54. Kansas would be at 56 just by getting to the finals.
"We're not going to overlook no team," said Markieff Morris, Kansas' top rebounder and second-leading scorer. "I think that's making us go. I think we respect them enough to execute and guard them like they're the Dukes and North Carolinas."
But there's a difference between pretending a team is a battle-tested, proven champion and actually believing it when you step on the court and see an unfamiliar jersey like the Rams' black and yellow.
Maybe that's why history suggests Kansas could be in trouble, if not today then next weekend in Houston.
- The Jayhawks are the fourth top seed to play to a No. 11 with a Final Four spot on the line. Two No. 1s lived up to their billing, two didn't.
- Even if the Jayhawks make the Final Four, they'd be the third team to get there without facing anyone seeded higher than ninth. The others (North Carolina in 1991, and Michigan State in 2001) both went down in the national semifinals.
"Every team is vulnerable this time of year, especially No. 1 seeds because I think other teams like to gun for them," said Tyrel Reed, another senior guard. "But you can't try to protect being the No. 1 seed. You've got to go out and take what's yours, and just play the team that's in front of you."
Kansas is 35-2, winners of 11 straight. The Jayhawks are a deep, versatile team that can outscore foes or simply wear them down.
VCU coach Shaka Smart was so impressed by them from afar that he voted them No. 1 several times in the coaches' poll. After seeing them up close Friday night, he's even more convinced they're the real deal.
"There's really no correct way to guard Kansas, other than the fact that you've really got to do a great job personnel-wise taking away what they do best," Smart said. "You've got to be aggressive."
Self and several of his players have had some experience playing a tournament darling. In 2008, they were a No. 1 seed taking on 10th-seeded Davidson, led by Stephen Curry. The Jayhawks nicked them by a basket, then went on to win the first Final Four filled with No. 1 seeds — right here at the Alamodome, in fact.
Now that they're the only No. 1 seed left, Self joked that the only excitement is simply that they're still playing. Last season, the Jayhawks weren't just seeded No. 1, they were the No. 1 overall seed, yet didn't even make it out of the first weekend.
So it didn't take seeing Pittsburgh losing last weekend, Duke losing Thursday night or overall No. 1 Ohio State losing on Friday night for the Jayhawks to understand having a top seed guarantees nothing.
"The No. 1 seeds that have exited the tournament so far, I think, is more of a statement to what can happen in college basketball than anything else," Self said. "When you have this many good teams and good players, things like that do happen. But we're just worried about San Antonio, Texas, (this) afternoon, playing VCU, and if we're fortunate enough to advance we'll worry about whoever we're playing once we get there."
Most Kansas players were back at their hotel Friday night when Ohio State lost. Some of them realized that it made them the only No. 1 left. Reed was among those who didn't.
He found out when a trainer pointed it out to several players.
"We just shrugged," Reed said. "Whatever."