ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Eastern Kentucky’s Colonels are banking that their ball hawking defense will turn over the Kansas Jayhawks enough to give the 15th-seeded Colonels a shot at an upset of the No. 2-seeded Jayhawks today when those two teams hook up in the second round of the South Regional today.
Tip is set for 4:10 p.m., with the winner moving on to a third-round matchup Sunday against the New Mexico-Stanford winner.
Coach Jeff Neubauer’s Colonels (24-9) will have to overcome a significant size disadvantage against coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks (also 24-9), though that’s nothing new for EKU. The Colonels have not matched up size-wise with very many opponents this winter, but their defensive intensity has given EKU a 6.3 turnover advantage.
“We have never been the biggest team on the court, so we just have to play hard, and we have to out-effort them to try to be tougher than them,” said EKU junior center Eric Stutz, who stands just 6-foot-8.
“Ball pressure is going to be key for us, especially denying on the wings and making them go back door,” added EKU guard Glenn Cosey, who leads the Colonels in both scoring (18.7 points per game) and assists (4.2). “I think it will come down to us turning them over.”
Neubauer said the challenges for his team are multiple, but all lead to the kind of defense Cosey and Stutz refer to.
KU turns the ball over 13.2 times per game, to just 10.7 for the Colonels. The Jayhawks pull down 38.1 rebounds per game, to just 26.2 each time out for EKU.
Kansas is led by super freshman Andrew Wiggins, a 6-8 forward, who’s projected to go in the NBA lottery in June. Wiggins averages 17.4 points per game, and he’s been red hot in recent games since a back injury sidelined freshman center Joel Embiid.
“We can’t let him get the ball,” said EKU junior guard Corey Walden of Wiggins. “You have to deny him. If he does get the ball, just crowd him.”
This is the Colonels’ first NCAA trip since 2007 and the second under Neubauer, who said his team is embracing the experience.