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Samford not blinking with spotlight shining ahead of Kansas tilt

SALT LAKE CITY – Samford and fourth-year coach Bucky McMillan meet one of the country’s so-called “blue bloods” in the NCAA Tournament in a first-round game tonight.

The Bulldogs are understandably the underdogs, but there are a couple of factors in their favor: The Jayhawks are dealing with injuries, and hoop aficionados don’t call it March Madness for nothing.

Samford will put an undersized but super-charged offense onto the Delta Center court, but its doubtful the Southern Conference tournament champions will back down against the mighty Jayhawks of the Big 12.

McMillan, a Mountain Brook native who led Mountain Brook High School to state and national prominence, has won the SoCon’s Coach of the Year award in three straight seasons.

“For Samford, it’s always big to be in this spotlight,” McMillan said. “This isn’t going to be the last time we’re in this spotlight.”

A win over Kansas would certainly be considered an upset, but underdogs generally capture the nation’s fancy during the Big Dance, and Samford is hoping to capitalize on that opportunity. 

“Hopefully, we will make a run in this tournament,” McMillan said. “The further you can get deep in March, the more you’re in that national spotlight and the more people get to learn about your program.”

Kansas will be without senior guard Kevin McCullar. Social media chat was critical of Kansas receiving a No. 4 seed in light of the star player not being available for the tournament, which wasn’t disclosed until after Selection Sunday.

Others, however, didn’t blame it if the Jayhawks were holding cards close to the vest in light of Florida State getting left out of the football playoff after an injury to the starting quarterback.

Kansas coach Bill Self downplayed all talk with a statement on X (formerly Twitter). Part of that statement:

“I’ve been told Kevin and this situation have been portrayed inaccurately. What I said in a 45 second video clip is true. His knee hasn’t improved in the last two weeks. It hurts too much to continue playing. He hasn’t practiced in 6 weeks. We made the decision to shut him down. That’s all 100 percent accurate, but what I didn’t say has caused a false narrative to question Kevin inappropriately. He worked tirelessly in rehab to try to play and everyone within the program knows it. We’ve known the only way the bone bruise would heal is time off. Kevin elected not to do that and try to play. For 6 weeks, it’s been one step forward two steps back. He hurt it worse in the KSU game and tried to play at Houston. Since then, all involved felt 9 days off would position him to play in the tournament. That did not happen.”

No. 4 Kansas (22-10) vs. No. 13 Samford (29-5)

  • First round: Midwest Region
  • Odds: Kansas -7.5
  • Date: Tonight
  • Time: 8:55 p.m. CT
  • TV: TBS
  • Arena: Delta Center, Salt Lake City
  • NET, KenPom Rankings: Kansas (19, 24); Samford (74, 82)

 

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