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Preview: Kansas vs. Western Kentucky

Preview: Kansas vs. Western Kentucky

An impressive run through the Big 12 tournament lifted Kansas to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it will take on Sun Belt champion Western Kentucky in the second round on Friday in Kansas City, Mo. The Jayhawks find themselves on the top line for the third time in the last four years and will be trying to reach a second straight Final Four after falling in the championship game to Kentucky last April.

The 16th-seeded Hilltoppers are making their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth in the last six seasons. Western Kentucky has won at least its first game in its last three appearances, but will be challenged attempting to become the first No. 16 seed to knock off a top seed in the men's tournament. Kansas has won 10 of its last 11 games since a slump at the beginning of February, and will attempt to push the tempo against a Western Kentucky club that got comfortable playing tight, low-scoring games in the Sun Belt tournament.

TV: 9:50 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY (20-15): The Hilltoppers finished sixth in the Sun Belt during the regular season but won four games in as many days to earn the conference's automatic berth. They took the last three games in the tournament by a combined seven points, getting 17 points and 13 rebounds from sophomore forward George Fant in the finale against Florida International. Fant went 13-for-16 in the first two games of the Sun Belt tournament but did not manage a field goal in the 58-56 semifinal win over Arkansas State. After thanking his teammates for picking him up in that contest, Fant carried Western Kentucky in the second half of the championship game and helped hold off the Golden Panthers.

ABOUT KANSAS (29-5): The Jayhawks had little trouble in the Big 12 tournament, winning their three games by an average of 19.7 points. Kansas endured disappointing early exits in its last two NCAA Tournament appearances as a top seed but did win the championship from the top line in 2008. Jayhawks freshman star Ben McLemore struggled in the final two games of the conference tournament, accumulating 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but the senior backcourt of Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford helped pick up the slack. Releford, Johnson, Kevin Young and Jeff Withey give Kansas four senior starters with the experience of a deep NCAA Tournament run last season.

TIP-INS

  1. Western Kentucky has faced Kansas twice in the NCAA Tournament, falling 75-70 in the second round in 1995 and knocking off the Jayhawks in the third place game 77-75 in 1971.

  2. Releford has been held to single digits in scoring in each of the last four games.

  3. Hilltoppers leading scorer T.J. Price has averaged 18.7 points over the last 11 games.

PREDICTION: Kansas 85, Western Kentucky 66