It's been eight seasons since Bill Self left the University of Illinois to take the head coaching job at Kansas. In that time the Illini have played in a national title game, the Jayhawks have won a national title and the players have completely turned over. From that standpoint the storyline of Bill Self and Illinois is a bit overplayed. At the same time for the Illini fanbase the game will certainly be important and even coach Self acknowledges that the matchup provides a little more excitement for him headed into Sunday evening.
Certainly the fact that we're playing a school that I coached at, in my mind, isn't motivation, but in my mind I'm probably a little bit more amped up and watched a little more tape or whatever the case would be, just like I'm sure they're doing too.
As for the game itself, both teams are coming off very different games two days ago. For Kansas it was a game that the Jayhawks looked fairly tight early and eventually pulled away on pure talent. For Illinois, Thursday was as good a game as they've played in a while and the Illini were confident, efficient and very effective for 40 minutes.
Obviously the question is how much of that carries over. Illinois hasn't won back to back games since December. Kansas enters the second round knowing full well this is where they came up short a year ago. This year the name Illinois across the chest of the opponent isn't a mid major, it's a power conference team that has been ranked very highly at times this year and Kansas will need to be focused in order to advance to the Sweet 16 where the Richmond Spiders wait.
Kansas must find a way to embrace the pressure this year and rise to the occasion rather than let it overwhelm them as it did a year ago. The coaches know that, the fans know that and as Tyshawn Taylor explains, the players know that too.
We kind of felt like we were expected to win. We kind of felt like it was something that was just going to happen for us. I think that's really it. We kind of looked past some teams and we were looking further into the tournament when we weren't there yet. It's just something that this year we realized we can't do, because every team is capable, especially now. So I think that's what is the biggest difference between last year and this year.
The Jayhawks and Illini tip at 7:40PM CST and will be the first of two prime time games on Sunday night. At the end of the day the first weekend and the greatest weekend of college basketball will be complete. For Kansas today provides an opportunity to extend the season at least one more weekend and right now Illinois stands in the way.