Kansas Looks to Roll Over So. Illinois

Even with six straight NCAA tournament appearances, repeated national television dates and a No. 4 seeding this spring, Tony Boyle and his Southern Illinois teammates are convinced they don't get enough respect.

It's a familiar, potent motivational scheme for athletes at every level, and the Salukis will need every edge they can muster to survive their date with top-seeded Kansas on Thursday in the West Regional semifinals.

Oddsmakers have made Kansas -9 point spread favorites (College Basketball Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 125 total points (View College Basketball Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have

been placed on Kansas -9 (View College Basketball Bet Percentages).

``I'm sure there are people who still don't know,'' said Boyle, who might make his second career start in place of injured teammate Matt Shaw. ``Hopefully they will know after Thursday. That's our mission.''

And though Kansas seems loose and comfortable, the Jayhawks definitely aren't among the few remaining misguided basketball fans who see Southern Illinois (29-6) as the closest thing to a longshot or an underdog in this tournament.

After all, the Jayhawks were beaten in last year's first round by Bradley, another Missouri Valley Conference school - but one that can't match the Salukis' credentials and consistent excellence.

``The true basketball fans recognize us,'' said Jamaal Tatum, the Salukis' leading scorer and the MVC's player of the year. ``They have to. If you're up on college basketball, you have to notice us. We've got exposure in all the NCAA tournaments, but this year we came out and played hard, and it's put us on a pedestal nationally.''

Kansas (32-4) also has no lack of motivational fodder heading into the game in the San Jose Sharks' hockey rink. After embarrassing first-round exits in the past two tournaments, the Jayhawks are hoping they'll finally live up to their impressive regular season with a run befitting their loaded roster.

``After last year, we waited a long time to get this chance,'' said coach Bill Self, who has led three schools to nine straight NCAA tournament appearances, including four at Kansas. ``In a weird way, and not in a good way, I think the failures last year prepared us for this year. We don't really see the (No.) 1 seed as pressure any more. Everybody is here for a reason.''

While the Jayhawks got to San Jose with an up-tempo offense that bested Florida, Southern California and most of the Big 12 Conference, Southern Illinois is built to neutralize the nation's best offensive talent - and Kansas has more than its share.

Brandon Rush and his Kansas teammates have watched tape of the trapping, aggressive style with which the Salukis yielded just 56.1 points per game - the third-fewest among 336 Division I teams this season. Kansas can't recall facing a better defensive team, yet nobody in Jayhawk blue seemed distressed.

``The way they trap, the way they get through a screen, they're like piranhas,'' said Rush, who scored 19 points in the Jayhawks' second-round win over Kentucky. ``They look better than (Texas) A&M. They're going to be like little gnats, little piranhas. We're just going to have to deal with it.''

Despite the clubs' near-opposite approaches to the game, neither appears willing to change its style of play - which should make for a compelling philosophical clash before UCLA meets Pittsburgh in the West's late game.

Southern Illinois, which has won 15 of 16, went through numerous drills and study sessions Wednesday on coach Chris Lowery's ideas about stopping Kansas' speed game. Later, Self again emphasized the offensive aggressiveness that has made the Jayhawks unstoppable for most of their 13-game winning streak.

``We would be silly to try to do what they do,'' Lowery said. ``We can't allow them to get into a track meet. They way they play, they can turn a turnover or a long-shot rebound into a basket within two to three seconds. It's really amazing.''

Bradley's victory last season and Bucknell's upset of Kansas in 2005 could provide a template for Southern Illinois: Both teams remained patient, hit plenty of 3-pointers and slowed the Jayhawks' star players before executing just well enough in the final minutes to win.

Southern Illinois, which has never reached a regional final, also could get a boost from Shaw, who hopes to be in uniform. The junior participated in practice Wednesday after seriously spraining his ankle in the Salukis' first-round win over Holy Cross last week, but hasn't decided whether he'll play.

by: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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