St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The champions of the Ohio Valley Conference take on one of the nation's best in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon, as the 15th-seeded Eastern Kentucky Colonels square off against the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks at the Scottrade Center.
Awaiting the winner in the third round on Sunday will be the survivor of the New Mexico/Stanford matchup.
EKU (24-9) finished the regular season in third place in the OVC at 11-5 but worked its way through the conference tournament with wins over Southeast Missouri State (84-76), Murray State (86-83) and top-seeded Belmont (79-73) en route to the automatic bid. This marks the eighth NCAA Tournament appearance for the Colonels, but they have lost their first matchup each time, most recently falling as a No. 16 seed to No. 1 North Carolina in 2007, 86-65.
Kansas (24-9) won the outright Big 12 Conference regular-season title with a 14-4 record, its 10th straight year with at least a share of that honor, but it failed to earn the conference tournament championship after falling to Iowa State in the semifinals, 94-83. Even with nine losses, the Jayhawks' resume was still strong enough for a No. 2 seed with non-conference wins over Duke, New Mexico and Georgetown in addition to its 14 league victories in arguably the country's strongest conference. KU's 95 NCAA Tournament wins are tied with UCLA for fourth-most all time.
The teams met just once before, with Kansas winning at home on Dec. 5, 1970, 79-65.
The Colonels set the tone early in the OVC title bout, running out to a 12-0 lead less than four minutes in, and while Belmont climbed back to tie the score with 5:57 left, EKU surged ahead for good with eight unanswered points. The squad was paced by its shooting attack, as it sank 51.1 percent of its field goal tries (including 11-of-22 from 3-point range) while going 22-of-29 at the foul line. Corey Walden was the spark plug with 29 points (on 10-of-11 at the line) to go with seven assists and five rebounds. Glenn Cosey added 23 points and five assists and Tarius Johnson scored 15.
EKU's stellar season has been predicated on its outstanding offensive attack, as it shoots 49 percent from the field (including 9.2 3-pointers per came at a 39 percent clip) for 79.0 ppg, and while its defense has been suspect (.482, 70.6 ppg), it makes up for it with the nation's second-best turnover margin (+6.3). Cosey (18.8 ppg, 4.2 apg) has drained 110 3-pointers at 42.5 percent efficiency. Walden brings 14.1 ppg to the table, and Marcus Lewis, Orlando Williams, Johnson and Eric Stutz all score between 9.9 and 8.4 ppg for the balanced squad.
The Jayhawks saw their stay in the Big 12 Tournament end prematurely as they lost the high-scoring affair to Iowa State by 11 points, getting outshot from the field, 54 percent to 46.8 percent, while shooting a lowly 4-of-15 from beyond the arc. Perry Ellis did all he could to lift the team to victory, scoring 30 points on a nearly flawless day at 11-of-12 from the field and 7- of-8 at the foul line. Andrew Wiggins was just 7-of-21 from the floor, but still finished with 22 points, Tarik Black hauled in 10 rebounds and Naadir Tharpe handed out nine assists.
Kansas has the nation's sixth-best field-goal percentage (.495) and pours in a lofty 79.6 ppg this season, and it also owns a +7.3 rebounding margin and plays solid defense (.416, 70.5 ppg). Unfortunately the team will be without the services of star freshman center Joel Embiid (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) as he deals with a lingering back injury. Wiggins (17.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) has only gotten better as the season has gone along, as he has averaged 31.0 ppg over the last three games. Ellis (13.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) pulls a larger share of the frontcourt duties with Embiid out, while Wayne Selden Jr. (10.2 ppg) and Tharpe (8.7 ppg, 5.2 apg) are also regular contributors.